2020 Sunrises

March Sunrises

Au Naturel - 31/03/20

Part of the adjustment that we’ve all had to make over the last couple of weeks has meant that we’ve had to think about different ways to stay in touch and communicate with one another. For work, I now have meetings over ‘Zoom’ and I have a screen full of smiley, well dressed and presentable people – or are they? The last team meeting we had, I found myself smiling to myself. They all looked very presentable but then I guess I did too - the truth is my family have found it very amusing to observe my choice of outfit some days. From head to waist is very presentable but the waist down is all about comfort! I wouldn’t dream of leaving the house like that, or even answering the door! And then there is the hair. We might be ok for now but what will we look like in a month or two’s time? Should we just let our hair grow or should we risk the home cut?! For many of us it’s not only hair growth that we have to contend with and the promise of the return of the wonky do-it- yourself fringe, but what about hair colour?! I’m quite intrigued to find out what my natural colour is – I haven’t seen it since about 1985! I’m guessing it won’t be anything like I remember it but more of a middle-aged grey. It did make me smile though when I was doing some essential shopping a few days ago and whilst in search of the essential toilet roll; essential soap; essential shampoo; I noticed that the shelves of hair colour had also been decimated. Essential hair colour? This made me think about how we present ourselves to other people. How honest and true to ourselves are we really? How often do we only show the bit of us that we think is worth sharing while hiding away the bits of our personalities that we don’t want others to know about? Perhaps we don’t want people to think of us as being weak, anxious, sad or angry; but what if that is the reality? Thankfully, the truth is that we don’t need to hide from God because he already knows us. Psalm 139 says,

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”


Can I encourage you to read the rest of that Psalm – it’s beautiful! It speaks of how well our God, our creator, knows us and even knowing our every thought and action, our every imperfection, He still surrounds us and embraces us and never leaves us. I’m not going to promise to go all au naturel when it comes to hair colour and I’m definitely not going to stand up during a video meeting but I am reassured that I don’t have to have any pretences with God. I can bring it all to Him.

 

Here's Hoping - 30/3/20

We all have hopes. We hope we can avoid getting the virus. We hope we’ll be out of our homes before Christmas. Some people hope that Liverpool will win the League, some hope that they don’t. Not everyone’s going to be happy! Just hoping achieves nothing. Sometimes our hopes are in our own hands. “I hope I pass my exams.” Well if all you do is hope, you won’t. Teens and students all over the country will not have to sit exams this year. They didn’t even think to hope for that! I can still see the ear-to-
ear grin on the face of one of my granddaughters when she realised she didn’t need to do that ten hour art exam. Some students are now wishing they had worked harder for their mock GCSEs, but they can’t hope for that because hope is always and only in the future. You can’t hope that you had done something yesterday. It’s too
late. Mostly we hope for things which are outside our control. Often we hope for events that we believe are not humanly possible. But we hope anyway. The Israelites had been in Egypt for more than four hundred years, and were slaves. They wondered where God was and hoped He actually cared about them. There are people all around the world today thinking the same thoughts. God decided it was time to release His people from slavery but He didn’t send an army, He sent one man, Moses. His response to God’s plan was, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God’s reply was simply, “I will be with you.” Moses didn’t understand then that one person together with God is unstoppable, because God is in control. Always in control! That was going to be a lesson for Pharaoh as well as Moses. So let’s get a sense of perspective, this virus is worldwide but it’s God’s world, and we may not understand what’s going on, but God does. Our hope that the virus is defeated is not a forlorn hope, Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.” Writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul said, “May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with Hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Let’s trust in the God of Hope.

 

You've got this! - 29/03/20

For roughly the last 5 years I’ve felt it has been my calling to be a nurse. In September 2017 my dreams began to become a reality as I went to university to start my training. There have been days when I’ve felt privileged, humbled and proud; other days I have felt like I am using all my energy just to keep my head above the water. Days like that really make me contemplate why I am doing this, especially when you’re paying in excess of £9k a year to provide labour for the NHS. Yet a voice in my
head says, “keep going!”, “you’ve made it this far!”, “You are here because you are capable!” That voice comes from God, he walks by my side as I enter the hospital on those cold, dark winter mornings. He holds my hand while I hold the hands of those patients who might not make it though the next 24hrs. He pushes me to get up every morning and go do my job.
The Bible says in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Now when our NHS has asked me to step up, and work for them 6 months earlier than I was intended to, I opted in. Despite missing out on 6 months of theory, feeling scared and out of my depth God stands by me. He has given me the courage to say, “Yes I will step up and support our NHS”, so will not leave me now. Through God I am capable of so much more than I am alone. So, whether you too are a frontline worker, or need the mental strength to stay positive through this
time of social distancing, just know God is there. He will not forsake you now. He didn't promise us the easy road, however he did promise that he’d never leave us as we travel along it.

 

Grace - 28/03/20

Hello everyone and greetings from sunny Swindon! You may or may not know me. I grew up in Maghull but have lived in Swindon for almost 25 years. I’ve been friends with Jo since we were small and we have kept in touch throughout the years, meeting at Costa in the square for our annual catch up.
So it was with interest that I started to read the daily Sunrise messages and commented to Jo that they were really encouraging and up lifting. Now for those of you who know Jo well, know that she never misses out on an opportunity! Within seconds of me texting her , I received a message back asking me if I would like to contribute. Me and my big mouth!!
Like many of you at the moment, I find myself at home with my family. I work as a Teaching Assistant at my local primary school and although school is open for our most vulnerable children and those who have parents who are key workers, we are working on a rota so I’m not in school all of the time.
Since last week , my husband has been working from home. He has turned our dining room into his office/ work space, with a number of computers and screens set up on various surfaces. He often has his head phones on and informs when he’s due to be taking part in a conference call. That’s my cue to leave the room!
Our daughter is also home. She lives in London and works for a publishing company but like many is also working from home. She has commandeered the lounge as her work space!
Then there is our son Dan. He is home from university after having lectures cancelled indefinitely. He’s what I call a ‘ shifter’. He starts off doing his work in his room, then moves to the spare room, and then I might find him sitting in the kitchen..he’s happy moving.
The final family member and newest addition is Peanut. He is our class pet rabbit, who has taken up residence in my front room. For a very small animal, he certainly takes up a lot of space!
So where does that leave me, you may ask? Well, at the moment I’m sitting in the garden, enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine. But when I’m not outside, I’m normally tiptoeing about, trying to navigate my way around those, who through no fault of their own, have invaded my space.
It’s now that I find that little word ‘ grace’ is having it’s  moment in the spotlight.
In his book ‘ What’s so Amazing about Grace’, Philip Yancey urges Christians to be ‘ dispensers of grace’. He goes on to explain that ‘ grace is God’s unlimited favour to those who have no claim or reason to expect it’.
In other words “ There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, equally there is nothing we can do to make God love us less”.
Even when we fail, grace is always there to rescue us.
So in this time of great uncertainty, how can we be dispensers of Gods grace?
Psalm 86 v15 says “ But you oh Lord are a merciful God and full of grace, slow to anger and abiding in love”.
Responding to one another with grace means ‘ bearing with’ or graciously putting up with others. It means acknowledging that everyone has areas of weakness and that we are all ‘ works in progress’.
To be bearers of grace is to be more than tolerant. Grace is heartfelt ..more of a spill over gift of the God who extends undeserved favour towards us.
So as we try and navigate our way through these difficult times, let’s try and extend grace to those around us...Amazing Grace!

 

 

You'll never walk alone - 27/03/20

Some of you may have seen the film, “Hook” starring Robin Williams as Peter Pan. If not, you might be able to catch up with it during your social distancing.In the movie, Peter has grown up and is now a successful businessman in New York. Nonetheless, through the magic of fairy dust, and a host of special effects, he revisits Neverland and confronts his old enemy, Captain Hook. Peter looks him up and down and declares, “I remember you being a lot bigger”. To which Hook roguishly replies, “To a ten year old I'm huge”.Which goes to show that age, which is just another way of describing time, provides us with a different perspective. Things that worried us as children don't trouble us now that we are adults. Looking back, we can see examples of difficulties that we as individuals, or we as a nation have overcome. Some of them more serious than others, but all of them given a different perspective by the passage of time.Those problems may have seemed dreadful, but with the benefit, and possibly wisdom, of hindsight we can look back and see that we were able to endure them, painful though they might have been. We came through them. We are here now.There are many stories in the Bible that speak of God's people facing difficulties. Sometimes those difficulties looked insurmountable. Sometimes the people wanted to give up, to turn back, to lament their plight and fall into despair. On every occasion, God walked alongside them and helped them through to the other side.We need to see our present difficulties through the lens of time. One day, all this will be behind us; but right now, right at this moment whilst things might seem overwhelming, we need to look back to see who it is that walks alongside us. It is the God of history. The God of love. The God of peace. The God of hope.“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

 

Squash Your Enemies - 26/03/20

When I was a bit younger than I am today, my family moved house to a new town. I had to go to a new school where I was duly picked on and bullied because of; my haircut (my mum cut my hair, (those days may well be returning!),my shoes(they were not the platforms that everyone else seemed to be wearing) and my accent (black country twang was definitely weird in posher Bromsgrove).
One day I was in the playground when ‘Bob’ (not his real name) the bully, started on me again. Something inside me must have popped because this quiet, shy retiring 10 year old, turned round and promptly bashed him and his mate in with more punches than Mohammed Ali on a good day. Overnight, I became top dog in the school and was now hanging around with the ‘cool’ kids, including ‘Bob’ and his gang. I do remember, in the inevitable detention that followed the fight, being stuck in the English classroom singing Showaddywaddy songs with the rest of the gang and a poor teacher not being able to control us.
Today, my enemies are more likely to be the things that rob me of my peace. Worry,anxiety, stress, hurts, anger.

In Psalm 110 verse 1, it says this: “…Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
 

In these weird times, we will face enemies that rob us of our peace and bully our minds. God invites us to take time out, to be still, to sit alongside Him. He will then deal with the enemies for us, if we let Him. It is not always easy to hand over our battles to God as it means we have to let Him be in control not us.It might require repeated attempts to force ourselves to sit and hand them over, but those bullies can be squashed under our feet without us raising a finger.

 

 

Waiting for the Sheriff - 25/03/20

The other day I received a phone call from the Sheriff’s County Court in Alabama. It was a deep American accent and I was told I had to attend a court hearing or pay the fee. I asked them what the court hearing was about, he said he couldn’t discuss that with me. I told them I couldn’t attend because I was in Melling! He didn’t accept that excuse! Then I had an idea, ‘Do you want to join our choir?’ There was a moment of silence which I took advantage of....‘They’re the best choir in the world and on top of that they are the kindest, most wonderful people in the world. You’d be made so welcome! And...’ He hung up! 

I drove through Alabama about 20 years ago but I haven’t been since. I was intrigued to know what I’d done!

After that calI, I received several voicemails asking for me to deposit money. I did the dutiful thing and deleted the messages.  The Sheriff is going to have to come and get me. 

Since that call just a few days ago, I have been thinking so much about what kind of person chooses to benefit from other peoples hurt and fear, bank balance and vulnerability. Are they desperate? Vengeful? Were they brought up encouraged to cheat and abuse people’s trust? Do they some how believe it’s just fair game? Plain old uncaring and vile? Whatever their past, whatever their motives, scamming is wrong! Completely unacceptable! And can cause so much pain. But the scammer is not beyond God’s love. He loves the scammer. He hates the scam. I’m no scammer, I wouldn’t dream of doing that, nor would I murder or steal....but I have messed up. Many times. Wrong thoughts. Wrong words. Wrong actions. As I sit at home surrounded by my girls and black Labrador, I’ve been spending some time thanking God for not giving up on me. Time and time again I’ve experienced God’s grace, His forgiveness, His love. And when I mess up again, I experience them all over again. 

Lamentations 3:22-23 says, ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is His faithfulness’.

 

So, today I get up, get dressed, and thank God for His new mercies and great faithfulness....and wait for the Sheriff.

Living the life of Edward - 24/03/20

So I’m sitting at my dining table looking out over my garden. I shouldn’t be here of course, I should be at work in the office where I can only get a glimpse of daylight if I precariously lean back on my chair! However, here I am, still working but the view is considerably better. The sun is shining, the camellia’s are blooming, the blue tits are nesting and Edward, our local neighbourhood squirrel, has just visited. Don’t they know that the world is in crisis? Clearly not. Just 2 weeks ago at Melling Church Jo talked about ‘what a difference a day makes’ - well it’s been a little longer than a day but our lives have been changed beyond our imaginations in a very short space of time and we are all grappling with what this means for us. Our plans have been disrupted, we’ve had to rearrange our lives and worst of all we’ve had to distance ourselves from friends and family – the truth is, we don’t like it. We don’t like it when we’re told we can’t go out; we don’t like it when we can’t visit our mum’s on Mothers’ Day; we don’t like it when we can’t buy the brand of beans we normally buy. But all the while the garden is springing to life, the blue tits carry on making their home cosy and Edward continues to skip around the garden presumably searching for the nuts he hid. Our lives have indeed been disrupted and I don’t like it any more than the next person but as difficult as things may be and may yet get, it is important that we keep some perspective. I can’t tell you why this is happening or what God’s plan is but I can assure you that God has NOT taken His eye off the ball.
In Matthew Chapter 6 it says this:
‘Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
27-29“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen colour and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
30-33“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?’


When a crisis comes along its all too easy to become all consumed with the doom and gloom and miss the beauty. The beauty of friends checking up on one another; the beauty of a joke that made you laugh; the beauty of a flower lifting its head to the sunlight. Let’s try and use some of this extra time we find ourselves with to look for the blessings in life –they are still there - and trust that God is holding us close to him. God is providing Edward with all he needs; Edward isn’t worrying about tomorrow. Let’s be more Edward.

The Vaccine - 23/03/20

Many of us have a huge collection of memories going right back to our earliest days. Remember your childhood? Some of us have to go a long way back through history to get there. What’s your earliest memory? I can remember being in my pram, being pushed by my mum with my two brothers each side of her. I’m amazed my memory is that good, although my brothers tell me I was fourteen at the time! Do you remember where you were when you heard that President Kennedy had died, or Princess Diana? Can you remember your first plane flight or getting your first mobile phone? Can anybody remember Everton winning anything? I can remember electricity coming to our house and replacing gas light! My grandchildren think I went to school on a chariot. Talking to my youngest two granddaughters, I told them they would always remember the year 2020, not because Liverpool won the League (maybe), but because none of us have ever experienced what we are going through now. Ever. It’s like one of the Biblical plagues, but actually it’s bigger. This plague is global and all of us are affected. It makes no difference if you are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Atheist, right now all of us across the world have the same need, a
vaccine.
The Bible says God sees us in the same way. He’s not interested in, or influenced by, colour or language, He just tells us we all have the same need. A kind of vaccine. A spiritual vaccine, something that will make our relationship with God healthy. Jesus asked the question,

“Who needs a doctor; the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually fit.” (Mark 2.17) The Bible puts it like this, ‘God loved the people of this world so much that He gave His
only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him
will have eternal life and never really die.’ (John 3.16)

So while we all wait for a physical vaccine, God offers us a spiritual one. We wouldn’t refuse
the first one would we? What about the second one?

 

THANK YOU - 22/03/20

Today is a difficult day for many people. Mother’s Day can bring back good or bad memories. It can fuel such painful emotions. Or it may cause great excitement and ‘I’ve made you breakfast’ moments.
‘Mums’ may be mums, dads, carers, aunties, uncles, nans, grandads, neighbours, friends.....but we all have one thing in common, we’re not perfect.
Today I want to say THANKYOU to all the ‘mums’ who have been up countless nights with a screaming baby and still managed to get through the next day;
THANKYOU to all those ‘mums’ who have sent their children in to school in their uniform only to realise its own-clothes day;
THANKYOU to all those ‘mums’ who felt like crying when they made dinner only for it to be looked at with eyes that said ‘what’s that???’

THANKYOU to all those ‘mums’ who have felt like failures....I complete relate!
Being a ‘mum’ can be really tough. Happiness, good health, success and contentment is what any loving ‘mum’ wants for their children, but it’s not guaranteed. There can be great, happiness, and there can be immense sadness. Like the song says, ‘love hurts’. When one of my daughters hurts, I hurt, but when they are having a great time, well, that’s wonderful!
THANKYOU to everyone who has filled the role of ‘mum’ in some way for someone and experienced the laughter and the pain.
At this strange time of social isolation let’s use our time wisely. Let’s remember to be thankful for the wonderful, amazing, imperfect ‘mums’ both past and present. May God bless us with wonderful memories. May He comfort those who grieve. May He rejoice with those having fun. May He heal those in pain. May this be a time when families and friends, whilst physically apart, can be drawn closer together. Whatever you are feeling today, the bible says that God knows, He understands, He cares.

‘You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:1-10

 

 

And Breathe - 21/03/20

I was talking to a good friend of mine this week. We were talking about the obvious disruption to life and how everybody is trying to navigate their way through it. Each person with a slightly different way of dealing with the situation. Some people get very anxious, others appear very laid-back and almost unphased, some people want to talk about it while others want to put on some headphones and listen to music. We are all different! It’s wonderful that we are. Imagine what our world would look like if we were all the same. And as well as being all different, we all have equal value. Not one of us is more important than the other! But in situations like we find ourselves in now, our differences can cause stress. One of us may speak too much and annoy the other who wants to be silent. Maybe somebody’s laid-back attitude is seriously annoying the anxious person? It’s really difficult isn’t it? And even more so when we are feeling trapped and can’t escape. We are called to be patient with one another. How can we possibly do that when the other person is SO annoying? Well we can stop for a moment and take a look at ourselves. Not one of us is perfect, not one of us says the right thing or does the right thing all of the time. I know for myself, that I often put my foot in it and say the wrong thing. I apologise often and I am constantly learning. People are incredibly gracious towards me, and I need to be gracious towards them. Let’s choose to see the good in people and exercise patience and grace, and, where needed, forgiveness. 

 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Ephesians 4:2

 

Flippin' 'Eck - 20/3/20

I was presented with a jigsaw last week. I’m confined to home, probably many of you are too, so Kathy thought I should have something to occupy my brain. I can’t stand jigsaws. You get a picture broken up into hundreds of little pieces and you’re expected to put it all together. Then when it’s finished, all you can do is break it up again and put it back in the box. Hmmm.

However, being the obedient husband that I am, I carefully and tediously collected all the outside pieces, and after three hours I had completed the frame. I looked at the picture; it’s full of little birds, all the same, on pink flowers, all the same, with green leaves, all the same.

When Jo heard that her Mum had managed three pieces in three days, her response, “Flippin eck”, meant either she was impressed with her mum’s commitment and determination, or she was shocked by her doziness. To be fair, Kathy is very good with jigsaws if she sits down and concentrates, rather than fitting in a piece if she happens to pass that way.

Some things just seem to be more effort than they’re worth. Like jigsaws.

“Should I really remove all the old wallpaper before putting the new stuff on?”

“ Must I go back to Lidl to tell them they didn’t charge for the sprouts?”

“ I know I said I would teach our three year old to ride her bike, but couldn’t I just say I’ve sprained my back?”

But some things are worth the effort. It appears that our Melling Community has been switched off. That’s not true, it’s just changed for a while. We can’t meet/talk/sing/eat/paint or photograph together, but that will end and we will have a party (well OK, cake). We just need to be who our friends need us to be. They may just need a chat, or some shopping, or medical advice, or a joke for the day. We can do that, our friends are worth the effort.

There’s a brilliant account in the Bible about a man called Ananias who was told by God to meet Saul who was there to kill Ananias and his friends, but God said He had other plans for him. So Ananias went and world history was changed for ever. Despite his fear and the risk, Ananias thought it was worth the effort.

The only thing we need to fear is that we don’t meet the needs of our friends. In our Melling Community, that’s not going to happen.

So despite the disruption to our plans and lifestyles, let’s thank God that He put us together, and we have decided that’s how it’s going to stay. Because we are worth it.

 

What Would I Want? - 19/03/2020

Last week I had to cancel all of our weekly activities and meetings. No more choir practice on Monday evenings. No more breakfasts on a Wednesday morning. No more lunchtime church, bible studies or prayer meetings, photography or watercolour classes...’Until further notice!’
I did not enjoy cancelling them! It felt very uncomfortable. Like I was giving in. I love being with the people involved in these activities. And it’s not just a small church in the North West of England that’s affected. People would be forgiven for looking at the news and likening this Coronavirus pandemic to something out of a Marvel film. These are such strange and difficult times. And it’s not just the obvious health concerns that are worrying people but the loss of work, the loss of income. We’ve heard about the panic buying and the fighting over toilet rolls and tins of beans...BUT....we are also hearing countless stories about the best of humanity! Communities pulling together to look after the elderly and the vulnerable. Doing shopping for one another, checking on those who live alone, whole communities singing together and people sharing ideas and advice on how to help families with young children survive! These are amazing stories that prove to us there’s a lot of great people out there! Let’s look at our own situations and ask ourselves, ‘what can I do to help?’ Maybe you’re able to do some shopping for someone? Or pick up the phone and call someone to check how they are? A text message? Or maybe it’s about coming off your phone and playing a game with your children? Or maybe, it’s simply showing your gratitude when your shopping is delivered or someone has called? Whatever we are capable of doing in this difficult time to help and appreciate others, let’s do it. If Jesus was on the earth today He would be helping with shopping, calling people, encouraging and supporting them. Our church activities may have stopped but let’s show everyone that our church is more alive than ever. The Bible has sooooo much to say about how we should care for and treat others. How we should love others, whoever they are. If we’re not already doing that, then now is a great time to start.

“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that"

Luke 6:31

April Sunrises 

What was the question? 30/4/20

When we first fostered, I remember a long drive to a holiday. We were in the middle of an adoption process and, understandably, my son to be , had a lot of questions. So he sat in the front seat and for over 4 hours he did not shut up. Question after question after question. To this day, I have no idea what those questions were but they were not deep and meaningful. Most were just questions to fill up the space. They were his way of feeling secure. I arrived at our holiday caravan totally exhausted and praying that he would shut up! Even today, when one of my, now grown up, children wanders into the living room, I confess to sometimes pretending to be deeply buried in an important bookbecause sometimes, her questions are just too demanding for me to answer. Many of my friends with small children are struggling with their questions. One little girl is asking a lot about death, suffering and corona. It is really tough being on the receiving end of such questioning. The questions that we were asking of ourselves a couple of months ago may have changed somewhat and in many cases, they have become harder to answer. We no longer ask what someone is doing at the weekend but we do ask how people are doing ? We may even mean it more. We may also be questioning our God a lot more too. Thank goodness our Father in Heaven does not act like me. He does not hide or pretend to be busy when I have questions, no matter how challenging they are. I may not always get answers that I want or I may get answers that perhaps I was not expecting. However, whatever the answer, I am told to trust God, as hard as that may be at times. Proverbs chapter 3 verse 5 - 6 says this: “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything onyour own. Listen for God ’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’sthe one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.”And if the question is “Are we there yet?”, the answer is…….

Priceless Gnomes! 29/4/20

Have you ever received a gift that’s a little bit odd? Maybe it’s not really your style, or it’s a bit pointless or maybe it’s just really ugly? And there you are taking the wrapping off it with a bewildered look on your face and ‘what am I supposed to do with that?’ thought in your head?? We’ve all been there haven’t we?!  Some years ago when my four girls were much younger, for Mother’s Day one year, I was presented with four wrapped up gifts. The wrapping was clumsy and full of sellotape, evidence of the hard work they’d put in. Their excitement was off the scale. So to speed things up a bit, they offered to help me unwrap them. Of course, I accepted their help. And within seconds, there stood before me were my 4 beaming girls, each holding one ugly gnome! These ugly little, badly painted, wonky gnomes had entered our lives, to much excitement and hilarity! They were gifts from my girls, and therefore, they were priceless! We found a good place for them in the garden and every single time I looked at them, I’d be reminded of the precious gift they were. Since that time, my love for gnomes has continued and now we do have quite a collection! Each one, a little bit ugly and a little bit tacky, and absolutely priceless!! Gifts, given in love (and fun!) from people who mean a whole lot to me! And whether it’s a special birthday, a quiz at Easter or a competition at Christmas, at Melling Baptist, you can always receive a gnome! But there’s a reason for this. Gnomes may seem useless but they can bring about a smile, and possibly a memory of, ‘that funny occasion when I won a gnome!’  At the moment, there’s a real temptation to get fed up with being at home and not ‘doing‘ our usual stuff isn’t there? Let’s face it, we all want to feel useful don’t we? But actually, we’re being incredibly useful if we’re bringing a smile to someone’s face. Reminding them of a happy time? Or showing you care about them, just by being there. We may not be able to ‘do’ much at all, but we can still ‘be’ a whole lot. The bible puts it quite simply, ‘Don’t just pretend that you love others: really love them.....Love each other with brotherly affection and take delight in honouring each other.' Romans 12:9-10

So, can I suggest that the next time you’re feeling a bit rubbish or useless or fed up....tell yourself that you’re a priceless gnome and make it your day’s goal to simply be there for someone else.

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Straightening your crown - 28/4/20

Last night I packed my daughter off for her first shift on A&E at Whiston Hospital. She is a final year nursing student who, in response to the pandemic, has agreed to start work 6 months earlier than she was expecting - and I couldn’t be prouder of her! She was understandably a little anxious and nervous, let’s be honest to find your first day of work is in A&E on a night shift in the middle of a pandemic is enough to make most people wobble a little bit. But she always has had a gutsy streak, so off she went. Now, we love a good quote in our house – from the funny to the wise and deeply meaningful ones – so as she left to go to work I sent the following words to her: “Whenever you feel overwhelmed, remember whose daughter you are and straighten your crown”. Clearly this can be read in two ways and you may be reading this and wondering who I think I am to suppose that my children get to wear crowns. The fact is, I do believe that my children get to wear crowns but it’s not because of who I am. In 1 John Ch 3 it says “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” Wow! We are the children of God; God who is not just a king but the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the creator of Heaven and earth. The Psalmist says it like this: “When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – the moon and the stars you set in place – what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour.” How cool is that, to be the children of the King of Kings?! BUT, before we get too carried away, let’s just examine our crowns for a moment. These are not the crowns of pomp and privilege, or of superiority and dominance – these are the crowns that were worn by Jesus of humility, servanthood, grace, forgiveness, patience and most of all, love. We are called to take our place beside Jesus and follow the example he set. His crown was not made of earthly treasures and jewels, His crown was made of thorns, yes, it was a crown of sacrifice but it was also a crown of victory, of life and of love. This crown does not come with a promise of wealth and social advantage but it does come with a promise that our Father God will never leave us or abandon us. So I sent my daughter off to work with her head held high, wearing her crown straight and on those tough days, which we all have when life feels hard and the way ahead seems too difficult, let’s remember whose children we are, straighten our crowns, and take our strength from our Father God who cares for us.

The year of the pig 27/4/20

I studied photography for four years in Manchester, but photographers today wouldn’t recognise half of my syllabus. We did the usual stuff, like lighting, exposure, perspective and composition that students would do today, but half of our studies was a mix of chemistry, physics, and optics. Now they study pixels and Photoshop. The world has changed. One of our main study books took us three years to work through, very technical. It was written by a brilliant man who fortunately had a sense of humour. Each chapter was introduced by a quote from Alice in Wonderland, one of which was this, “Bye the bye” said the cat, “what happened to the baby?” “It turned into a pig” Alice answered quietly.’ You could never predict anything in Alice’s Wonderland, but we are beginning to realise that our own world is also strange and unpredictable. As we began our first day of this year, 2020 was like our new baby. We had plans, expectations, and hopes. By the time it was three months old, our baby had turned into a pig. I have a soft spot for pigs, but they don’t compare to babies, and our plans and hopes went out of the window. The Bible constantly tells us not to assume we can predict the future, not even tomorrow. Not even today! Two months ago I went to bed at midnight, I was optimistic about the year and I was smiling because I had just told myself, “You are fitter now than you have been for two years.” Five hours later I woke up with double pneumonia! The baby turned into a pig while I was asleep. Solomon has advice for us, he says ‘Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.’ We read in the book of Job about people who forget God, ’What they trust in is fragile, what they rely on is a spiders web. They lean on the web but it gives way.’ None of us can reliably predict how this year, our baby, will develop, but it would be sensible to remember who we can trust. Here’s Solomon again, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and He will show you the right way.’ I love pigs but babies are better, lets pray that at the end of this year, our baby is bouncing not snorting.

 

Counting Rainbows - 26/4/20

I like routine! I don’t know about you but I need routine to get me through the day. I think it’s partly because I work in a school where the school day revolves around strict schedules e.g. Register, English, break, Maths, lunch, etc. I’m finding that at this present time where routines are difficult to maintain, we are all having to create our own ‘rhythms’. Although this can be difficult, if we do manage it, our days can become more sustainable, bearable, and even enjoyable. One such routine that I look forward to each day is my daily walk at 6pm every evening – Kirit and I enjoy a pacey march around our local neighbourhood. It’s during our walk that we have taken to counting the rainbows that adorn people’s windows. I’m amazed at how creative people have become – we’ve seen rainbows that have been painted, chalked, collaged, mosaicked, and even knitted! These beautiful creations certainly brighten up our walk and bring a smile to our faces. We’ve also been getting creative at school, painting rainbows on pebbles to create a ‘rainbow pebble path’. This, we hope, will serve to remind us of the time when those keyworkers on the frontline worked so selflessly to care for our nation. The rainbows that we have observed in people’s windows convey a message of solidarity and simply say, “we’re all in this together”. They aim to make people smile while they pass by and also offer a message of hope. As Christians we believe that the rainbow is a sign of God’s eternal promise to us. In Genesis 9, God says “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every land.” Thanks to Jesus and His work on the cross, we can receive God’s gift of salvation and trust God’s amazing promise that He will never be angry with us again, no matter how many times we fail. God’s promise stands unshakeable. So the next time you see a rainbow, whether in the sky or on a child’s painting stuck to a window – remember to be grateful to our wonderful NHS, but also to remember our God, who faithfully keeps His promises.

Oh, by the way, I counted 57 rainbows yesterday on my walk – any advances on that?

 

Clapping - 25/4/20

Isn’t it great to be a part of the clapping for the NHS and all the other services that we depend upon. Why do we clap? We clap as an expression of our thanks for all they are doing for us. It’s our way of saying ‘Thank you’ as a united country. Clapping can be an expression of praise, and we clap as we celebrate Baby’s first steps, school achievements, graduations, etc. Jesus speaks in the Bible about giving thanks. As He entered a village, ten men with leprosy stood a distance away calling out, “Jesus, Master have pity on us.” Jesus looked at them, then told them to go and show themselves to the priest. As they went they were healed of their leprosy. One of them, when he saw he had been healed, went back to Jesus praising God, and thanked Him for what He had done. Jesus said, “Didn’t I heal ten men, where are the other nine?” Only one returned to give God thanks. I think that man was healed on the inside as well as the outside. Do we stop to give God thanks for another day and all our provision? We have the air that we breathe, flowers, trees, birds, and our food, family and friends. These are all precious gifts. Let’s give God thanks for them, and let’s thank Him for our blessings in the past, and let’s trust Him for what’s to come.

Perspective - 24/4/20

Two years ago, I somehow detached the retina in my left eye. It's still a mystery how it happened. The doctor told me that, in order to save the sight in the eye, I required an operation. The damage was such that the operation would repair the retina, but the sight would never be what it once was. Still, imperfect sight is better than no sight. It's a matter of perspective. The operation was a success, but the recovery process required my adherence to a strict regime called, “posturing”. In short, I was not allowed to go out. I was required to lie on my right side with my cheek against the pillow. Sounds quite comfortable; until you realise that this was necessary for twenty-four hours a day; no change of position, no rolling onto my back, no sitting up - only allowed to move for ten minutes in every hour – for two weeks. A failure to observe this requirement would mean that all the efforts of the surgeon would be jeopardised and the retina might not heal properly and could detach again. Still, two weeks of mind numbing inactivity is better than no sight. It's a matter of perspective. So, you will understand when I say that, by comparison, being simply required to stay at home during lockdown doesn't seem so bad to me. Perspective. Observing the strict regime of remaining at home means that we don't jeopardise the efforts of those in the NHS who put themselves in harm’s way for our benefit. We don’t endanger ourselves and others. Having to stay at home is better than the potential alternative. Perspective.

 

Looking through out the window - 23/4/20

Aren’t all the windows at the moment rather lovely with their messages of hope and their rainbows. My window from my study is an object of great delight. It looks out onto the vista that is the Lidl carpark. Out of this window I have seen queues for loo roll, family dramas, noisy scouse car battles for parking and even a tree falling down onto the car below! Unfortunately I am fast becoming a very nosy neighbour. As I walk the dog, I am loving looking in through people’s windows peering inside, in case, maybe, I know the person, or can smile at them or wave or just admire their sofa configuration! In fact, onone walk we did just that and waved and now, each walk past that particular window means that we stop, chat from the pavement and Lola the dog has a new friend who gives her treats. A wonderful writer called Henri Nouwen wrote this: “One person’s faithfulness is another person’s hope. We have to live out our faith and be Christ’s windows out into the world.” In times like this it is so important to remember this awesome responsibility. God is amazing in that he even trusts hopeless cases like me to be faithful and to be Christ’s window out onto the world. How we do this will depend upon the situation that we are placed in. It might be that we sacrifice some money to faithfully give to our church, our local foodbank or other charities needing support. It might be that we sacrifice our time to faithfully call and encourage someone who is isolated or struggling or do the shopping for someone. It might be that we are faithful in prayer when that wonderful message from Jo pops up with prayer requests on it. It might be that we do all of this and more.Right, must be off as I have some more window gazing to do.

 

Tree Hugging - 22/4/20

So, Lebanon. An incredibly beautiful country with the most stunning coastline, amazing history, fabulous food, dodgy dancing and whopping great big trees!....commonly known as the Cedars of Lebanon. These stunning trees have very wide tree trunks, branches that spread out in every direction, and the roots of the tree are known to go very deep and very wide. Putting it bluntly, these trees aren’t likely to get blown over! They are just beautiful! And as soon as I saw them I wanted to go over to them, walk around them, maybe give one or two of them a hug.....after all, some of these beautiful trees are over 2,500 years old! If they could speak, imagine the stories they could tell. There was just one problem. After the devastating war that took place in Lebanon, the ground next to the trees had been covered in landlines. I couldn’t help but feel so sad that the painful past had left it’s mark.  We all have a past don’t we? The proud moments. The funny moments. The moments you record in a photo album. And we all have moments of pain and sadness. Sadly it’s a part of life. And we can become a lot like a Cedar of Lebanon surrounded by landlines and a barbed wire fence, keeping people at a distance. Have you ever felt like that? I have, and it’s a lonely place to be. We all need friends. Good friends. The kind who will enjoy the good times with us, but still be there for us during the bad times. The kind of friends who will help us remove the ‘landlines and the barbed wire fence’ that surround us. And we need to be those friends to. The Bible tells us we ought to be like Jesus, who was, and still is, the best friend we could ever have. 1 Peter 5:7, says these words, ‘Cast all your anxiety on Him [Jesus] because he cares for you’. So during this strange time of social distancing, let’s recognise ‘barbed wire fences’, let’s be something of Jesus to one another, let’s give Him our daily struggles and pain, and let’s draw closer to Him, and one another...while being very much apart. 

 

Monkey Business - 21/4/20

Life is full of new experiences and on Friday I had my first ever lockdown birthday - it was actually really nice! The weather was beautiful and I was spoilt with a lovely breakfast and dinner. I received lots of messages and even some gifts that were left on the doorstep – it wasn’t quite the same, not being able to be with family and friends, but as lockdown birthdays go, it was good.One of the gifts I received was a set of Three Wise Monkeys. Their names, apparently, are Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru (try saying that in a hurry!) but there seems to be some debate about their origins and intended meaning. In our culture we know them to represent ‘see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil’. There are many interpretations we can take from their possible meanings but one is how it emphasises the importance of immersing ourselves in good and healthy environments where the things that we see, hear and speak are a blessing to us and to those around us. There is a story about Socrates where early one morning one of his students came to his house quite anxious to tell him about a rumour that he had heard. To the young man’s dismay, Socrates told him he must think about 3 things before sharing his news: Is it the truth? Is it good?Is it useful or necessary? Our world is filled with so many voices all wanting to share their opinion on just about everything and all believing that they are right – it is easy to become confused  between real news and fakenews. Perhaps the next time we see or hear something which we think we must share with others, we could think about those 3 things and if we can’t answer ‘yes’, then maybe the best thing to do is to put our hand across our mouths and say nothing.In Philippians chapter 4 it says this: Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things …and the God of peace will be with you.Before we simply become one of the many voices adding to the noise of the world, let’s pause for a moment while we consider if what we have to say is rooted in things that are true, pure and lovely – if they are, then let’s speak out and open our ears to hear the truth and our eyes to see what is beautiful. And now I need to rename my monkeys to something I can say!

 

Contentment - 20/4/20

People don’t appear to be very happy right now do they? You’re probably thinking ‘It’s notsurprising is it, look at the mess we’re in,’ and I would agree with that sentiment. Ourgovernment can confine tens of millions of us to our homes, but what they can’t do is force us to be contented. I found great contentment this week when I pointed out that the tyres on my daughters’ car needed pumping up. I offered to do it but because I couldn’t drive her car for fear of passing the virus, I followed her in my car to the garage and inflated her tyres. She drove off smiling and I stood there by my car. This was the first time I had driven it for weeks and I had a naughty thought. I was on a mission to improve the health of her tyres, so this was an essential journey. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and I had escaped from my cage. But I was required to go home, so I did. Via Ormskirk! That wasn’t exactly the direct route home, but with all my windows open and an empty road ahead, that twenty minutes brought sheer joy and great contentment. And it was so simple. How do people find contentment, do they stumble across it? Some think so, they believe in ‘Serendipity’ the happy accident. So they live waiting for it to happen. Some say, you go searching for it, maybe by finding an Eastern guru, or the perfect job, or taking part in extreme sports, or winning Britain’s Got Talent. Some think you can manufacture contentment if you drink or smoke the right stuff. The apostle Paul lived at a time when, like almost all Christians, he was in danger from the people, the rulers, and the culture around him. But they did not believe that to be content they mustmove away, find somewhere safe, get friends in high places, get a better job, build up a bank balance and put money aside for their old age. Paul expressed it like this, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” They understood that their contentment was to be found in the realisation that God was withthem, and was not going to leave them. That was to be their source of contentment, not their circumstances. Unlike in Pauls’ day, nobody out there is trying to kill us, but many dedicated people are trying to keep us safe. Let’s practice contentment and remember where it comes from.

 

Dressed for the occasion? 19/4/20

OK pay attention, this is important. Before you read through today’s Sunrise, I need to ask you something. What are you wearing, are you dressed appropriately for the occasion? You could hear exactly this same message if you were at Mellings’ Church on Sunday afternoon, or at The Table meeting in Maghull on Sunday evening. How would you be dressed then? Is that how you are dressed now? Really? Are you sure? If we asked for photos (which we are not!), would you be happy for people to see you as you

are now? During this weird time when so many people are caged at home, (and we’ve just been told it will continue for at least another three weeks and possibly more), how important is it that we bother about how we look? Nobody is going to see you. But if you got a phone call from the Queen’s secretary to say you have been selected for her to visit you, and she’s outside your house

now, would you panic? Well we can all relax because God is not bothered. Jesus asked the question, “Why do you worry about clothes?” The religious leaders were very proud of their robes and appearance, but Jesus explained the reality in God’s eyes,
“You are like white-washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead.” The prophet Samuel was sent by God to a family with eight sons, to anoint the next King of Israel. When Samuel saw the eldest son he thought he would be King, but God said “No”. Samuel looked at seven of the brothers and each time God rejected him. He told Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at

the heart.” So let’s calm down, if you’re reading Sunrise in your pyjamas, or beautifully dressed in case the Queen turns up, God won’t even notice, He’s looking at something else this morning. How’s your heart? Did you bother to prepare that?

 

Jumping Hurdles - 18/4/20

Good Morning! I don’t really know how long we’ve been in lockdown for now, and I’m also not 100% certain of what day of the week it is? Quite frankly, like the rest of the world, I don’t like being told I can’t go outside, and I’m fed up already. As a student nurse, I’m a ‘doer’, I like to keep myself busy with different jobs to help people out. For example, before this lockdown I told Nan and Pop that I
would help them do some gardening, less than a week after I told them this we had to go into lockdown. As a ‘doer’ who likes to have a routine and plans, this really put me on edge. If I’m honest for the first couple of weeks I was not motivated to do anything, I physically could no longer do many of the plans I had for the months ahead. I felt useless and deflated. Maya Angelou once said “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope” This quote is so true of this time. Like everyone else I have had to adapt to this new way of life. We have all had to find new ways of socialising and spreading love. For example, we have had video call meet ups, done WhatsApp quizzes, dropped shopping off at people’s doors  (sometimes with that little extra bar of chocolate!) and so much more! Times like this shows the best in people, and I for
one am proud to be part of such a united community. In 1 Corinthians 13:13 the Bible says “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” We are all capable of love despite any virus or social distancing. So as we remain safe in our own homes I challenge you to seek out ways to spread love, whether that is by phoning a friend, dropping off shopping (if it’s safe to do so), or going outside each Thursday to clap for the key workers. Everything makes a difference so keep going!

 

Wedding Bells - 17/4/20

My son recently celebrated his 10th wedding anniversary. Those ten years have flown by and I still have happy memories of the day. Looking back over the photographs, I got to thinking about how different things would have been had the wedding been planned for 2020, rather than 2010. Quite simply, it wouldn't have happened. No wedding, no reception, no happy day spent with friends and family... and certainly no honeymoon in Venice. Bizarrely, more than anything else, this upset me... perhaps it's because I'm a romantic at heart. It made me sad to think of all the couples whose plans have been put on hold because of the strange times in which we live. All the time spent making important decisions about the venue, the guest list, the cake, the dress, the flowers, the photographer and on and on... all now in suspended animation. When will things return to normal? When will they be able to fulfil their dream? When will they hear the wedding bells? Nobody knows. They will wait with baited breath for the government to lift the various restrictions regarding public gatherings and when it happens they will be ready. The Christian church is often described as the bride of Christ. We are told that one day Jesus will return to claim His bride. When will this happen? Nobody knows. We too wait for that day. We too must be ready. In the book of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus tells the story of the ten virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive; “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”, but not everybody was ready. Not everybody was prepared. “The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.” Those who were not ready were left outside. So while we wait for our government to announce the relaxation of restrictions; while we look forward to doing all the things we had planned to do, but couldn't; while we make plans for our future; while we wait for things to change, will we actually be ready for the thing that really matters? Will we understand that real change is brought about by God, because God changes everything. Will we hear the wedding bells, or will we be left outside?

 

I believe in Miracles - 16/04/20

One of my daughters works in the care sector. It is a tough job , with long shifts and one Icould not do! As she left to go on a shift, I would often say, “Take care and don’t kill anyone!” It was gallows humour that she shared with other staff and this dark sense of humour was often a coping mechanism in a stressful job. The reality was that she wouldsometimes have to deal with individuals who had died and she did so with as much care as if they were alive. She would talk to them and treat them with dignity. The news today was full of the crisis in care homes as death rates increased and the stress on staff rose too,( hang on in there, I promise this will lighten up). We all know someone or know of someone who is dealing with this horrible virus and we find ourselves praying formiracles but humanly wondering if miracles still happen. However, have we considered that life itself is a miracle? Think back over the last month. Have you wept at all?Have you got wound up by a member of your household making a mess and eating all of the ice-cream? Have you smiled at a funny clip of cats or dogs on social media? Have you had chance to share some good chats with loved ones? Have you completed the most ridiculously annoying jigsaw? Has your heart beat faster at the sight of something beautiful? Have you slept and woken up? Are you reading this? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are alive and that is a beautiful miracle.You are a beautiful miracle.The Easter message of life after death must not be lost on us. Jesus said that He came to give us life and life to the full (John 10:10). We are an Easter people who not only have life here and now but the promise of eternal life…and that is the greatest miracle ever.

 

What's in a name? - 15/04/20

Have you ever wondered what the meaning of your name is? I am fascinated by names. Choosing names for my girls was like a military operation. I spent months working my way through baby name books until I found a name that I liked, and also had a great meaning. I once had a friend called Innocent. He was a prison chaplain. On his first day he walked in there and said, ‘I am Innocent’, to which the reply came, ‘We all are mate!’ My name, Joanne, means ‘grace of God’. I’m assuming Jo, means ‘grrrr’!? In the Bible, names were massively important. Names had meaning and often gave an insight in to the person’s character. There was one man, in the book of Acts, whose name was Joseph....but his friends called him Barnabas! Seems a bit weird! Let’s not call him by his name, let’s call him something else! Barnabas means ‘son of encouragement’, the name was given to him as a compliment! Joseph was such an encouragement to people that they started to call him by what they saw. Ooooo, that got me thinking!! What if, we were all given names that reflected our characters? What would we be called? Happy? Dopey? Friendly? Greedy? Gossip? Loving? Jealous? Sarcastic? Provoking? Generous? Gracious? Miserable? Two-faced?.....I could go on, but you get the picture?! When people watch us, listen to us, observe our lives, both in the good and the bad times, what do they see? The bible puts it like this, in Matthew 17, ‘by your fruit you shall be known’. And so, I look at the life of Jesus, the all perfect, good life of Jesus. I want to be like Him. I want to get to know Him more and more each day and for His good ways to influence me. I hope and pray that when people observe me, they see far more ‘grace of God’ than they do, ‘grrrr’.

And if so, all thanks God and His amazing grace.

 

Happy Birthday, Hope! - 14/4/20

Yesterday evening, under cover of darkness (and whilst following social distancing guidelines at all times) we snuck round to my niece’s, Hope’s, house and stuck ‘Happy Birthday’ banners to the outside of the windows. Hopefully, they stayed in place over night so that when she opened the blinds this morning she will have seen her birthday greetings. Our wonderful, beautiful, funny – and sometimes a little weird – Hope. We may not be able to celebrate your birthday all together at the moment, but we can still celebrate. On Sunday we ‘met’ together via social media to celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. This wasn’t just a miracle of someone who was dead being brought back to life – that would have been good, but this was so much more! This was the miracle of death being defeated; of the price of our sins being paid on our behalf; of the gift of life eternal. It was the birth of a new hope. 1 Peter Ch 1 says this:Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.While we hope that coronavirus will be defeated very soon; while we hope that we will be released from our lockdown very soon; while we hope that no more people will suffer or die of this horrible disease – the hope that we have through Jesus offers us something much more. It allows us to have a confident expectation for the future – something which might otherwise be in short supply. There are no promises of  an easy time or protection from harm, but a very real promise and assurance of our inheritance of eternal life. So, as a family we will celebrate Hope’s birthday today even though we are apart, but we can also celebrate the birth of that new hope which is available for us all if we choose.Happy birthday Hope! Happy new hope everyone!

 

Back To Normal - 13/04/20

Imagine; Boris is back and the virus does a runner. Eventually. The announcement is made on national television (they even interrupt Corrie!), “No more lockdown, we’ve opened your cage.” OK that’s good, so we can go back to normal life. We can ignore our neighbours again; we can breathe in each other’s faces on the train. We can start complaining about the NHS and the incompetent nurses and the snooty doctors, not forgetting the noisy bin men and the lorry drivers clogging up our roads. We can yell at that ignorant driver who’s just cut in front of us in the two mile long traffic jam. Back to normal, brilliant! Or could it be that some people have learned lessons? Maybe we can work from home two days a week. Being friendly with the folks next door might actually make life better. Could Christians (and their neighbours) realise that they are not defined by where they go on Sunday mornings, but by who they are and who’s they are? Here’s a thought, could our young people suddenly become aware of how brilliant it is to have places where they can be educated? How shocked would teachers be to see a class of smiling faces? What are the chances of people remembering how God provided for them in the past, and learning to trust Him for the future?Could we have a new normal?The original Easter was terrifying but also brilliant. When it was all over and Monday arrived, it was in the past wasn’t it? They could all go back to work, and life would return to normal. No chance! That first Easter changed the world for ever. Those people who knew Jesus, had no doubt that He was God’s Son. Nothing could change their minds, not even torture or execution. Even Peter and Paul were murdered because they would not exchange the truth for a lie. That small band of followers, men and women, who had walked with Jesus, and heard His teaching and watched His miracles, who had seen Him die and live again, has now expanded into two thousand million people worldwide! One third of the world’s population wanted to celebrate the resurrection together in groups today. None of them did. But you can’t change the fact that the baby who was born in Bethlehem and executed in Jerusalem is alive and well. The last book in the Bible records a vision of John’s in which he hears Jesus say, “I am the Living One. I was dead but now look, I am alive for ever and ever.” Those who followed Him then and those who follow Him now, have a new normal. When this is all over, which normal will you choose?

 

How the Virus Stole Easter

By Kristi Bothur, With a nod to Dr. Seuss - 12/4/20

Twas late in ‘19 when the virus began

Bringing chaos and fear to all people, each land.

People were sick, hospitals full,

Doctors overwhelmed, no one in school.

As winter gave way to the promise of spring,

The virus raged on, touching peasant and king.

People hid in their homes from the enemy unseen.

They YouTubed and Zoomed, social-distanced, and cleaned.

April approached and churches were closed.

“There won’t be an Easter,” the world supposed.

“There won’t be church services, and egg hunts are out.

No reason for new dresses when we can’t go about.”

Holy Week started, as bleak as the rest.

The world was focused on masks and on tests.

“Easter can’t happen this year,” it proclaimed.

“Online and at home, it just won’t be the same.”

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the days came and went.

The virus pressed on; it just would not relent.

The world woke Sunday and nothing had changed.

The virus still menaced, the people, estranged.

“Pooh pooh to the saints,” the world was grumbling.

“They’re finding out now that no Easter is coming.

“They’re just waking up! We know just what they’ll do!

Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,

And then all the saints will all cry boo-hoo.

“That noise,” said the world, “will be something to hear.”

So it paused and the world put a hand to its ear.

And it did hear a sound coming through all the skies.

It started down low, then it started to rise.

But the sound wasn’t depressed.

Why, this sound was triumphant!

It couldn’t be so!

But it grew with abundance!

The world stared around, popping its eyes.

Then it shook! What it saw was a shocking surprise!

Every saint in every nation, the tall and the small,

Was celebrating Jesus in spite of it all!

It hadn’t stopped Easter from coming! It came!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the world with its life quite stuck in quarantine

Stood puzzling and puzzling.

“Just how can it be?”

“It came without bonnets, it came without bunnies,

It came without egg hunts, cantatas, or money.”

Then the world thought of something it hadn’t before.

“Maybe Easter,” it thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

And what happened then?

Well....the story’s not done.

What will YOU do?

Will you share with that one

Or two or more people needing hope in this night?

Will you share the source of your life in this fight?

The churches are empty - but so is the tomb,

And Jesus is victor over death, doom, and gloom.

So this year at Easter, let this be our prayer,

As the virus still rages all around, everywhere.

May the world see hope when it looks at God’s people.

May the world see the church is not a building or steeple.

May the world find Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection,

May the world find Joy in a time of dejection.

May 2020 be known as the year of survival,

But not only that -

Let it start a revival.

 

The Difference a Day Makes - 11/04/20

She was only a teenager getting her daily chores done, it was just a normal day. Up till then. When the angel spoke to her she was terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid Mary, God is  very pleased with you.” He told her she would give birth to a son and he “will be called the Son of God.” The teenager who today would be studying French or History, gulped, took a deep breath and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” She experienced a miracle birth, and after a diversion because the King wanted to kill Him, she took Him home to Nazareth. She watched Him grow up, just like every other boy in town, but like none of them. At the age of thirty He became a wandering preacher with followers and with enemies. At a local wedding they ran out of wine, so Mary told them that Jesus would sort it. Which He did miraculously. He had never performed a miracle publicly before. What Mary had seen Him do at home in those thirty years we will never know, but Mary knew her son. For three years He moved up and down the country, preaching and teaching in ways that the religious leaders could never match. His ability to heal and even raise the dead demonstrated convincingly what His mother already knew, He really was The Son of God. Mary was so proud of her son, and her part in raising and protecting Him. He decided to go to Jerusalem. His disciples said there would be trouble. Jesus knew there would be trouble; it was called ‘crucifixion’. The Bible records, ‘Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother.’ She watched until she heard Him say, “It is finished.” She stumbled away, horrified, confused, not able to believe what she had seen. Jesus was the Son of God. But He was dead. She didn’t sleep. Who would? When daylight returned, nothing had changed. He was still dead and she was still horrified and confused. Nobody had words of comfort for Mary or themselves. The events of yesterday were shocking and beyond belief. This day with its memories and questions would just be the first day in a lifetime of anguish and agony. Mary and the disciples had never heard the expression, ‘What a difference a day makes.’

 

The Lord (of the Rings) - 10/4/20

There is a passage in Tolkien's classic novel, The Lord of the Rings that has always resonated with me and it seems especially pertinent at this unusual time in all our lives. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, or the films; the story follows the quest of an unlikely hero as he seeks to save the world from a great evil. His journey is arduous and filled with sacrifice, peril and loss, but through it all he has a group of loyal friends who are prepared to follow him to the bitter end, no matter the cost. It is a story of love and of hope. After a particularly difficult encounter, when all seems lost, our hero confides in a companion, “I wish that this had not happened in my time”. His wise friend replies, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”.
On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus had similar thoughts. He asks God if it is possible that, “this cup be taken from me”. He knew what lay ahead, but He concludes his plea with the acceptance, “yet not my will, but yours”. He knows what He has to do with the time given to Him. He knows He must pass through the agony of crucifixion to reach the other side.
The disciples too; Jesus' group of friends, must have wondered why this had come upon them. The hope they had seen in Jesus was gone. Their leader and king, the one they had chosen to follow, had met his bitter end. The triumph of Palm Sunday had turned to tragedy. What would they do now? Of course, they had failed to understand that it was only Friday and Sunday was coming! When it came, they knew what it was they needed to do with their time. They spent every waking minute telling anybody who would listen, and many who wouldn't, about this life transforming event. Urging others to follow the risen, conquering king and live a life full of purpose and hope. Well, we are all living in times we wish we hadn't seen. It is not within our gift to change that, so we need to decide what to do. Obviously we need to do the right thing; stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. We should exercise where and when possible, clap for carers on a Thursday evening, light candles, help others and generally be good citizens... but is that it? When all this is over, and it will be over, will we look back and say, “Well, thank goodness that's done, now we can get back on with our lives”? Or will we have spent the time listening to, and perhaps finally hearing, the message that has been passed down through faithful generations? Will we do more than simply pick up where we left off? Will we accept the gift of sacrifice made for us all those years ago and move forward with a renewed purpose and a life filled with hope?
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. John 3:16.

Dinner Time! - 9/4/20

For all you northerners out there, dinner is what you lot call tea and in our house it used to be a really important bit of the day. Once dinner was served, we had a wonderful tradition which I really miss ,now that that the children have grown up. We would sit down and all go around the table telling everyone what had been the best bit of our day. It was simple but meant that we all got to share a bit of good news. We went from eldest to youngest and with 6 of us, it could take a while, especially as the youngest one took forever! Nobody could leave the table until we had all shared and, on occasions, arguments would ensue as the youngest one took so long! We were definitely not the ‘Waltons’! In these weird times, meals have become really important to us again. They break up the day, give us something to prepare for, and can be quite exciting when trying to find inventive ways to use up half a white cabbage and a tin of beans (waste not, want not etc!). On Maundy Thursday, we traditionally celebrate a very special meal. Jesus was preparing for his death and wanted to share the Passover with his closest friends. As he broke the bread and gave thanks for the wine, he gave instructions that whenever we did this, we did it in remembrance of Him. Today we may well be sharing communion/eucharist/The lords supper alone at home, or with many others online. But wherever and whenever we do, it is more special than any other meal that we will share as family. It is a family meal that draws us together as we remember; we give thanks for what Jesus did for us on the cross.

 

Back in the Saddle - 8/4/20

Some years ago, not long after I had arrived in Guatemala to work, I was asked by a local doctor to go and visit a remote village a few hours away on a mountainside. We were travelling in a small jeep until the journey became too difficult. The doctor parked his jeep and announced that we were to walk the rest of the journey. We had only been walking a few minutes, when a couple of men appeared out of nowhere. They lived in a tiny community on the side of the mountain. They asked us where we were going and immediately offered us horses to ride for the rest of the journey. ‘Oh goody!’ I thought to myself sarcastically.  ‘A horse!’ A horse WITHOUT a saddle! I was not excited! That day I was wearing a T-shirt and a long very flowy skirt. Two men offered to help me up. They bent down and both clasped their hands for me to place my foot on. I’m guessing that my large, flowy skirt made me look a bit heavier than I was..... With a big heave from my 2 amigos, all 7 stone of me flew into the air, over the top of the horse, and landed back down on the ground, with my large flowy skirt now over my head. The place erupted with laughter as more and more villagers appeared from nowhere to see the unplanned comedy. So we tried again. I had nothing to lose. I had lost my dignity the moment I landed on the ground. Take 2! And this time I landed safely on the horse. People cheered. My legs dangled pathetically either side. This was not going to be comfortable! The man who owned the horse spoke in Spanish to my translator who told me, “you just have to nudge the horse with your heals and say ‘yah!’ “ I braced myself! So did everyone else! ‘Yah!’ I shouted and swung my legs into the horse‘s sides. We took off, a bit faster than everybody expected, straight through the open door of a small, simple, one-roomed home. The horse stopped in front of a completely stunned family of four who were sitting at the table eating. I got the feeling they’d not had a horse in the house before. At that point in time I don’t know who was more shocked, the family we had just invaded, me, the horse, or the crowd of onlookers outside. For a moment, there was silence. This was broken by me speaking the only Spanish I knew at that time, ‘¡hola!’ (That’s hello!) There wasn’t a dry eye in the place as my horse was backed out of the house and we were sent on our way, riding up the mountainside. At the end of that day, when we eventually returned the horses to the ‘still laughing’ villagers, I ache from head to toe. There wasn’t a bit of me that didn’t hurt. But inside I felt great. We had laughed and laughed while I tried to learn a new skill and ‘somewhat’ succeed! People were gracious, patient, good natured and full of encouragement. I was grateful! Very grateful! Over the past few days and weeks we have all had to adapt to a different way of living and socialising. It’s not been easy. And many of us have had an enormously steep learning curve concerning new ways to communicate with each other. The ‘how to’s’ and the ‘do’s and the don’t’s’, have been really difficult to work our way through. And when it becomes too difficult, the stress levels rise and there’s the temptation to feel stupid or useless or left out. Those people in Guatemala taught me a great lesson that day. They taught me a lot about patience, good humour and encouragement....all I had to do was get back on the horse. 1 Corinthians 13, tells us all about what love is. I encourage you to read it. But one verse says, “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant”. Can I make a suggestion today, that we all learn from those Guatemalan villagers and help each other face our ‘horse-sized’ stumbling blocks with grace, patience, good humour and much encouragement. When we fall, let’s help each other back up. Happy Wednesday everybody.

 

Knock, knock, knocking on heavens door - 7/4/20

A couple of weeks ago, just as our national lockdown was beginning, there was a knock on my front door and when I answered it there was a beautiful bunch of bright yellow daffodils sitting on the doorstep and I just caught a glimpse of the person who had delivered them (and who presumably  did the knocking) just driving away. Perhaps not considered essential, I certainly couldn’t eat them, but nevertheless a beautiful gift that lifted my day. A few days later, I was able to return the favour and knocked on that person’s door. When they opened it they found a pack of toilet rolls – if nothing else, I am practical! But in order for my gift to be received, I had to knock on the door and the door had to be opened. A
bunch of daffodils left on the doorstep would wither and die while a pack of toilet rolls at the moment would probably get stolen! I needed to willingly bring and offer my gift and it needed to be received; a transaction had to take place. We’ve spoken a lot over the last couple of weeks about the strange and challenging times that we are living in. About the stress and anxiety that many people are feeling and you can’t turn on the TV without hearing about the rates of illness and death that we are enduring at the moment. Of course, with death comes bereavement, sadness and pain. Where can we go with our worries? Who can we share our sadness with? So many people are struggling in so many different ways and we may not know where to turn, but there is someone who is waiting to listen and share the burdens of life. Luke Ch 11 verse 9-10 says:

“Keep on seeking and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will
be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”


We call it prayer but all it is is a conversation with God, but the most wonderful thing about it is that God considers it a gift when you choose to talk to Him. If you have anxieties but you don’t tell Him, that’s like standing at the door without knocking – what’s the point? He promises that if you knock on that door, He will open it – if you look for God, you WILL find Him. Throughout this week as we approach Easter we remember the gift that God sent for us; the gift of His son Jesus dying on the cross but conquering death and rising again. Dying so that we don’t have to. Paying the price of our sins so that we don’t have to. As gifts go, that’s got to be up there! But if you want to receive the gift, you’re going to have to knock on the door.

 

The Clock's Ticking - 6/4/20

A few weeks ago when we were threatened with the possibility of being locked up in our own homes, I had a thought. The thought was, ‘What a waste of time.’ Imagine looking back after two or three months and thinking,’ I’ve done  nothing, achieved nothing, learned nothing.’ Some people of course have sprung into action. B&Q have had their busiest weeks for years as people stocked up on paint and paper. By summer, gardens will be in better condition than we can ever
remember. Millions have discovered their neighbours and are chatting over the fence and shopping. Many people have joined all kinds of community groups. Let’s hope it’s not just for a few months. This was a difficult time for me because although I love gardens and sitting in them, I hate gardening. Kathy and I talked about decorating but we had such different ideas that we decided not to kill each other but leave the decorating for another day. I was so concerned that the younger members of my family would not learn a new skill or develop the ones they had, that I suggested they needed to be proactive and do something.
So where did that leave me? I’m pretty perfect I think, so finding a new activity took time. Then it occurred to me that my cooking skills could possibly be improved. I can boil eggs and make toast, I’m not stupid, but maybe I could learn something useful if the best cook in the world (Kathy) taught me what she had learned in decades. So I announced it to my family, and some were amazed but most were horrified. Is it possible that this dreadful and terrifying worldwide plague could lead us to consider improving our lives? Christians do not get special treatment, they go through difficult and painful times like anybody else.  In Psalm 119, the writer says,

‘It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn Your decrees.’

Millions around the world are being reminded of God’s goodness to them before this virus arrived, but they never thought to say “Thank You.” Also we are now
aware of how much we depend upon God’s provision and protection. So let’s not waste our time at home, let’s learn new skills, make new friends, opt out of the rat race, and let’s all acknowledge our need of the God who loves us.
Now what do I do with these sausages?

 

Emmanuel... Not just for Christmas 5/4/20

The crowds cheered. The atmosphere was electric. It was the arrival of the king. The shouting and chanting and praising got louder and louder. ‘ Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!‘ The crowd were throwing their cloaks on the ground, and they waved their palm leaves with much excitement and enthusiasm. The King has arrived. On a donkey. Wait!! A donkey? Are you serious? Kings don’t ride on donkeys! Donkeys are kind of cute, a bit funny looking, enormous big ears....but definitely not regal! But here He was. Jesus. King Jesus. Riding on a donkey. This was a far cry from the pomp and circumstance of other kings processions. But Jesus wasn’t ‘just another king’. He was God’s son. The Miracle Worker. The Servant King. The King of all Kings. Jesus brought a message of love, forgiveness, grace and hope.  As the people cried ‘Hosanna!’ Jesus knew that their cries, just a few days later, would be ‘Crucify him!’ Jesus wept. He wept for every person who had missed ‘Emmanuel, God with Us’. He loved them and He wept.

And today, Jesus loves us and weeps for us. On this Palm Sunday, let’s not miss ‘Emmanuel, God with Us’. Let’s celebrate Him, thank Him and invite Him in to our messy lives.

‘I have come that you may have life, life in all its fullness’. John 10:10.

What Is Wrong With Me?! - 4/4/20

When I was growing up, we adopted a cat! Sooty was beautiful. He looked like Sylvester. He was independent and very proud. Occasionally he would let you pick him up and give him a hug. Very occasionally. And occasionally he would get quite excited playing a game with you, until suddenly out of the blue, he would try to swipe you. No warning. His way of saying, ‘I’m through with playing’.  Recently, I was chatting to somebody on the phone, and within the space have a few minutes we had gone from laughing, to crying, to laughing again, to venting and frustration… And then they unnecessarily apologised for their mass of different emotions. This is an incredibly difficult time for everybody. But for some people, maybe those who live alone, who are already unwell and feeling more vulnerable, maybe those who are suffering financial crisis...it’s even more difficult.  In 1 Peter 5:7 we read these words,

‘Cast all your anxiety on Him (God), for He cares for you’.

Anxiety is very real and exhausting, and all of us, at the moment, will experience some days, or maybe many days of laughter one minute, distress the next, loneliness the next, laughter again. One big jumbled mess of emotions. And that’s ok. But don’t battle those days on your own. Talk to someone who you can be real with and talk to God who knows everything about you already. Let’s all be there for one another, in those ‘Sooty moments’, and let’s all remember and be thankful for our loving God who has never left us, and never will.

Play Ball! - 3/04/20

I love baseball. For me, it's the greatest game in the world. The reasons for my passion are many and varied and if you've got a few hours to spare, I'll happily wax lyrical to you about it. Oh, wait a minute, we've all got time on our hands right now... I'll expect your call. Opening day; the first day of a new season, holds a special place in the hearts of baseball fans. It heralds the arrival of spring and suggests the promise of new beginnings. Our favourite teams return to begin a long journey filled with twists and turns and the hope that they will put together a magical season that will be remembered forever. The umpire sweeps the dirt from home plate and shouts, “Play ball!” and off we go. It doesn't matter how badly your team did last year. Their poor performances, missed chances and mistakes are all forgotten. This is a fresh start. A world of new possibilities awaits. It is a time of hope. A chance to begin again. A chance to get it right this time. This year's opening day was on 26th March – except it wasn't. Like every other sport, baseball has postponed its season, leaving millions of devotees disappointed. Who knows when we will get to enjoy the thrill of the chase, the smell of the popcorn, the buzz of the crowd. It may be a long wait. The good news is that we have a God who offers us opening day every day. No matter what mistakes we have made, however poorly we have behaved, whatever we did that we wish we hadn't or whatever we failed to do that we wished we had, He offers us a new beginning. We don't need to wonder when this opening day will come. It's here now. There is no wait. What's more, we don't need to wait for the season to finish to know who wins. We do.

“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

Jeremiah 29:11

Jelly babies and Saucers - 2/4/20

In my previous life I used to teach Business studies to a mixed bunch of Year 9 reprobates. One of my favourite lessons was to teach them about hierarchical structures in organisations. It was easy to apply to a school situation and generated good discussions about who was at the top of the school leadership and why. We would then progress to look at efficiency savings and a concept called delayering. This was cracking good fun as we set up a sort of diagram using loads of jelly babies, all in a triangle shape, with 1 at the top, then 2 on the next layer and so on. As we removed layers, they got to eat the jelly babies, pretending they were real people with screams, gurgles and yelps! A good leadership model for church is totally not like that. The kingdom of God should be more like a gi-enormous saucer into which is thrown all the people of God. Those who lead, with heavier weights of responsibilities, should sink to the bottom to hold up and support the rest. We are all in this storm together (and it is definitely not a storm in a tea cup!) At times, some of us will be more able to sink to the bottom of the saucer and hold up the rest. At other times, we need to allow ourselves to be carried because there is no hierarchy in God’s Kingdom.
Right, over and out & time for a brew!

My Bruce! - 1/4/20

I have no sense of direction! I take after my mum. I walk out of Primark in Liverpool 1 and ALWAYS go the wrong way! When I passed my driving test when I was 18, I remember it took months for me to find Ormskirk! And then, I went to work abroad. There was a genuine concern that I wouldn’t find my destinations. I’d step off a plane not speaking a word of the local language and somehow I’d find my way! Sometimes people would be able to give me instructions through dramatic hand signals, and on other occasions I think they took pity on me and took me to my destination themselves. All these years later and now we have sat navs. The ingenious talking maps that speak with such confidence and knowledge. Mine is a big Australian man called Bruce. He’s wonderful! I love Bruce. He never gets frustrated with me, never throws a strop, and when I make a mistake he very gently speaks up and gets me back on the right track. Bruce has rescued me time and time again. But here’s the thing, my poor sense of direction isn’t limited to me physically getting from A to B. My whole life, from the day I was born, has been one massive big journey. There have been many twists and turns, valleys and mountaintops. Too many to count. And if Bruce was all I had to help me, well, I wouldn’t be here now. I’ve made many wrong choices, taken myself down many wrong paths and entered valleys far too deep to climb out of alone. 

The Bible is jam packed with people just like me! Or should I say, I’m just like them?! Wandering through life, sometimes bulldozing through life, and all too often forgetting to consult The Guide. Proverbs 3:5-6 says these beautiful words,

 

 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths’.

 

In these very uncertain and troubled days I’m so thankful that while I don’t hold the future, I know and trust the one who does. 

Just in case you’re wondering, I’m not sharing Bruce with you! He’s mine and no one else’s! But Jesus? Well, I want to share Him with everyone! Life is one tough journey, let’s trust The Guide.

May Sunrises 

Something Better - 31/5/20

I read about a mum who walked into the lounge to find her seven year old son and five year old daughter watching a news report about a nasty and frightening event. She grabbed the remote and changed channels and told her children in a gruff voice, 'You shouldn't watch nasty stuff like that, find something better.' Later that day after the evening meal, the children were pottering upstairs while mum and dad settled down to catch up with the day’s news. Along came the report
about the nasty event. While they were watching, the door burst open and in charged the stroppy five years old. She grabbed the remote, stood in front of the screen and said in her best mum's voice, 'You shouldn't watch nasty stuff like that, find something better' She pressed a button on the remote and walked out leaving her shocked parents gazing at Gardeners World. Adults (we tell ourselves) are better able to process the news than our children or grandchildren. We got to the stage in our house, if we had grandchildren staying, that we would censor even the lunch time news because there was so much depressing, and sometimes violent content. The behaviour of the little five year old mimicking her mum makes us smile, but hopefully makes us stop and think too. We like to think that adults can cope with whatever the news channels throw at us, but what is broadcast for our consumption across all news channels is almost universally bad news. Depressing news. Scary news. If that is our daily diet of viewing, it will eventually lead us to believe that reality itself has nothing to offer but depression. Remember yesterday’s Sunrise? We are surrounded by daily miracles, but we so often take them for granted. Come on folks, we can do better that this, where’s that remote, let’s flip channels and hear God’s news for a change.
‘God showed His love for us by sending His only Son into the world, so
that we might have life through Him. This is what love is: it is not that
we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the

means by which our sins are forgiven.’

”Have you heard the news?” “Yes I have, and it’s all good.” Where’s that remote. Thank you little girl.

 

And i think to myself, what a wonderful world - 30/5/20

When you woke up this morning, did you think, ‘Woohoooo it’s Saturday’, or were you more of a, ‘Oh it’s Saturday’, or were you a, ‘Not another day! I can’t take many more like this!’ To be honest, I’m a very positive-minded person but I’ve had a real mishmash of thoughts and feelings not just over these passed few months but over the years. During the good times it’s been all singing and dancing, but during some rough times, I’ve genuinely felt like God had given up on me and gone to ‘perform miracles’ elsewhere! I suspect I’m not the only one who has sometimes felt like this? BUT, right outside my bedroom window, in fact any closer and they’d be on my bed, there’s a nest if starlings. With babies!! Every single morning I’m woken by the raucous noise of these little chicks yelling at the top of their voices, desperate for breakfast! It could, for some, be an annoying noise, but for me, well I love it! It’s cheeky, it’s demanding, it’s relentless. But more importantly it’s a sign of life. It’s a miracle! I’ve taken to looking at the dandelions on my grass. I know they’re weeds, I know that they are going to be cut down very soon, but they are stunning flowers! A miracle! I saw a woodpecker the other day, bashing his beak on a tree trunk, just beautiful! A miracle! My dog is a bit naughty, a bit cheeky, and has the most incredible loyalty towards me and can read me like a book! A miracle! My children! Who all have their worries and struggles but bring so much joy and laughter into my life! Miracles! My family and friends! Living, breathing miracles! The bible says, ‘God counts the stars and calls them all by name’. Miracle! I don’t have answers to life’s big questions. But I can open my eyes and ears to what’s around me, and see that the God of miracles hasn’t gone anywhere! He’s right here. Emmanuel, God with us. 

Worth - 29/5/20

Michael Jordan can probably lay claim to being the greatest basketball player of all time. He was also the first sporting superstar to realise his own marketing potential. He understood that his name carried weight in certain circles. When he put his name to a particular brand of sports shoe, the “Nike Air Jordan” became the best selling sports shoe of all time. The move into merchandising made Michael Jordan more money away from the basketball court than he ever made on it. Today his net worth is estimated at $2.1 billion. A pair of these famous shoes, worn by him during his first year in the professional game, recently sold for $560,000 in an online auction arranged by Sotheby's. $560,000 for what are essentially second-hand shoes. It seems madness to most people, but we all value things differently. I possess an envelope, on the back of which are the signatures of the entire 1933 Everton FA Cup winning team. It's special to me, but not necessarily to anybody else. I also have a fairly extensive collection of comic books and some original, commissioned, comic book artwork. It's of value to me, but it's market value is debatable.If I were to ask you what your prized possession was, what would you say? I imagine most of you don't have a cellar full of priceless vintage wine, or an extensive collection of fine art, so you would no doubt settle for what some people might consider mundane... photograph albums perhaps, or a keepsake with particular sentimental value. Things that other people wouldn't give tuppence for, but which to you are priceless. Others wouldn't understand, but why should we expect them to. We probably don't understand their choices either. At the end of the day, a thing is worth what somebody is prepared to pay for it. Which makes God's love for us all the more remarkable; because of what it cost. “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It's probably the most quoted verse in scripture and because of that it doesn't always have the impact it should. God, as the Father, paid the price of giving up His only Son. God, as Jesus, paid the price of giving up His life. For what? What did He buy? He bought you. He bought me. He bought all of us. More accurately, He bought eternal life for us, whilst He paid the greatest price imaginable. Take a moment to think about that. If something is worth what somebody is prepared to pay for it, then what does that tell you about God? Perhaps more startlingly, what does it tell you about yourself?

The god of the lost things - 28/5/20

“Has anyone seen my glasses?”, is a frequent cry in our home. I put them down and then have no idea where they are. Losing things is one factor that is guaranteed to stress me out and unfortunately would appear to run in my
family. There was one Christmas afternoon that my dad will never forget as, in the cold and the snow( it was Yorkshire), he spent a good 30 minutes foraging in our bins for an envelope with £50 quid in that had been our Christmas present. I must have accidentally chucked it out with all the wrapping paper. When my Nan died, I inherited her eternity ring. It was simple but very pretty. On the day that I was given it I wore it to go shopping and test to see if it needed adjusting; it did and fell off and is now probably adorning someone else’s finger. It is not always me who loses the goods. I was admitted to hospital just before our first born arrived, I was quite poorly. My husband had
one job and that was to take home my wedding ring that had been removed from my finger. This ring was a family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation. Precious and beautiful. He lost it. Losing things stresses me out but finding them is just wonderful. I read this piece this morning by (I think) Frederick Beuchner: “But this much I tell you ,what’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was , set next to life, would scarcely fill a
cup.” In Luke’s gospel there is this amazing parable told by Jesus:   “Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she
finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbours: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.” God searches for us when we are lost, astray from the right path or in a dark place. He searches until he finds us. We are that precious and beautiful in His eyes and He wants us to have life with him and life to the full, not an empty existence searching for things that do not satisfy. As you finish reading this, perhaps listen to or sing the song ‘Amazing grace’ ...I was lost but now am found,twas blind but now I see”. Right, where did I put my glasses?

Who are you? - 27/5/20

I don't know who reads Sunrise. I have no idea who you are. You could be older or younger than me. You could be male or female (I'm not telling you what I am, you'll have to guess). You could be one of my friends but you don't know that I wrote this. Possibly I've never met you and I don't even know you exist. Most professional columnists and novelists have a good idea who their followers are, what section of society they belong to, what interests them, and what they are passionate about. This means that they can write to satisfy their audience. I find myself wondering about you. Could it be that you live in Liverpool, and yet have no interest in football, but you quite enjoy watching shuffleboard? Maybe you left school at fifteen and went straight into the family business, or possibly you spent three years in University and have a first class degree in the history of EastEnders. You’re a mystery to me so I don't know what to write to please you. You could be sailing through life, untouched by illness, sadness, loneliness, or poverty. Or these could be your constant companions. So in my ignorance of you, what can I say to you that would be meaningful? Perhaps I should shut up and go away? But before I do, let me introduce you to a friend who does know you (better than you know yourself). He knows your strengths and weaknesses, your hopes and fears, He’s aware of your educational journey and your relationship experiences, and He wants to tell you something.
‘The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the Earth. He will not grow tired or weary; His understanding is beyond searching out. He gives power to the faint and increases the strength of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall. But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and

not faint.’

Was my friend helpful? Are you ready to start the week?

Who do you think you are? 26/5/20

On Sunday I had a wonderful conversation with some family members and one of my nieces who is attempting to put together our family tree. Apart from her amusement at discovering people’s middle names and the confusion of working out who was married to who and how the various relationships could be shown on a family tree, it was a lovely opportunity to take a trip down memory lane. As we began to speak of relatives who are no longer with us we also shared stories of times we spent with them, of places we have been, homes we lived in and the inevitable horror as my niece discovered that toilets weren’t always to be found indoors! As we chatted though, it occurred to me how much our ancestry matters to us. To be able to remember the people that have gone before us, the people who have influenced us and to one degree or another (for better or for worse) have made us who we are. We may have personality traits that we have inherited – “Oh you are as stubborn as your mother!” or “you have a gentle nature, just like your grandfather”. Or we may have simply made a decision to imitate someone we have loved and respected; perhaps they taught us how to be a better person. Either way, I know I have much to be grateful for as I recognise the positive influence that others have had on me, notleast of all because I was raised by a family who instilled in me not just to imitate the good character of good people, but to try a little harder each day to imitate the love of God. In Ephesians we read this: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”I can never hope to display the perfect love of God – at least not in this life – but I can keep trying. Each day I can get up and commit to try again and when I fall short, which I inevitably do, I can pick myself up and try again. We have a perfect role model, someone who is truly worth imitating and the more time I spend with God the more I learn how I can be more like him. Our ancestry matters because the people who have gone before us have helped to shape us into who we are – but that is only a part of the story; our ancestry matters because we are children of God and there is no one better to shape us into the people we are yet to be.

Who do you trust? - 25/5/20

Most people are looking forward to seeing all the shops open and the children back in school. We are already imagining that first day back with family and friends whose company we have missed for so long. We anticipate hugging and sitting down for our first social meal for months. Won't life be great! But we all know that it's going to be tough. Taxes are bound to increase, some companies will not re-open, and many people will lose their jobs, maybe you will. Does this give us permission to behave in ways that normally we wouldn't even think about? I remember one recession when business was very tough, companies were closing down every day, and getting payment from clients was almost impossible. A man I knew was busy working, his mind distracted by thoughts of his company closing, when his phone rang. It was his accountant who told him he owed the Inland Revenue £650. He didn't have £650. His accountant then told him he could make his debt disappear, it would be irregular but it would work. What a temptation; it wasn't right but it was a way out of trouble. He took a deep breath and told his accountant he would pay the tax bill. As he was saying that, he was telling himself, "You're an idiot." But then his accountant said, "Every one of my clients would tell me to hide the debt, but I knew you wouldn't." This man’s lifestyle and standards were visible and predictable. Our actions tell the truth about ourselves more effectively than words. The point is that principles should not fluctuate with circumstances. What is right is right. It's simple, but tough. In our present situation, many people are tempted to break the rules as a way out of trouble. The Christian always has that option but knows that is not the way to go. Inour Melling Community, we have a wide variety of circumstances and people, and we are all struggling to look after ourselves, family, and friends. God is aware of our feelings, fears, and temptations, and the Bible tells us that trusting in God is the way forward. ‘Youwill keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You. Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the Eternal Rock.’ And we are reminded that, ‘The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.’

Corona-coaster - 24/5/20

Garfield, the cartoon cat created by Jim Davis, is a temperamental, lasagna loving creature. His long-suffering owner, John,  is hopelessly devoted to his overweight, lazy pet. The cartoon strips are funny and you can’t help but fall in love with this unpredictable character. There was one scene where John was playing with Garfield. Garfield was loving every minute of it and behaving like a tiny kitten. Suddenly out of the blue, he swiped at John and walked off saying, “I’m through with playing“. like I said, temperamental. The other day I was reading about what people are now calling the “Corona Coaster “. This rollercoaster of emotions that seems to be overwhelming people at this particular time. One day we laugh, the next we cry. Or it could quite possibly be, one minute we laugh, the next we cry. And yes, so many of us do have much to be thankful for, and thankful we must be, but that doesn’t mean life can’t be tough, it doesn’t mean we can’t cry.  And as I sit here, writing this Sunrise, I am very aware that I don’t know who will be reading it. Some of you may be having a really pleasant lockdown experience. Life seems to be going well for you regardless of the current circumstances, and a really happy “all singing and dancing” Sunrise, may be exactly what you want? On the other hand maybe you’re reading this and you feel like your world is falling apart? You’re really struggling? You need to hear something of encouragement and support? The truth is, not one of these Sunrise thoughts that we have been writing, will cater for every person, in every situation, every day. But the God that we love and serve and talk about knows each one of us inside out, and back to front. He knows our every thought. Our every emotion. Throughout the Bible we read, ‘The Lord is good’, ‘The Lord is near to the broken-hearted’, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’, ‘My peace I leave with you’....Can I suggest that however you are feeling today, on this Corona coaster, you will find enjoyment, or encouragement, or support and comfort, not necessarily from these words I’m writing, but from the God who knows you and knows everything about you. Happy Sunday everybody!

Secretary of the year - 23/5/20

Way back, in my past life in Texas, I found myself between jobs. My friend was going home to visit her family in Fiji, and I was asked would I step in to her role for a couple of months. She was PA to the charity’s Chaplain. J, was a lovely guy, partly responsible for some major international decisions and having the broad responsibility for the welfare of all involved with the charity, near and far. I, on the other hand, was a health teacher. A creative-minded, people person. Not known for my administration skills! But it was only for a couple of months! What could go wrong? Everything started off well! I kept my head down. Smiled at people. Photocopied. Answered the phone. Chatted to people. And chatted to people. And chatted....I’ve got to confess, the job wasn’t really me. I was getting bored by the end of about the 2nd day. I found the spinney chair a bit of light relief! Then one day, the phone rang, it was the CEO, he was in West Africa. He wanted to talk to J, ! Of course, ‘I’ll just put you through!’ Click! Oops! Where’s he gone? The phone rang again! ‘I’ll just put you though!’ Click! Oops! I went through to J, ‘there’s something wrong with these phones, Jack keeps cutting off....’ He rang again, ‘Jo, don’t try to put me through, just tell J that I’m calling him on the direct emergency line, but it’s not an emergency!’ The days went by. I was bored! One morning I decided, ‘Right I’m going to be proactive,’ so I went to work and before J got in to the office I had tidied, boiled the kettle, faxed, emailed, and shredded his, ‘To Shred’ pile. I was on a roll! When J arrived I was really pleased with my attempts at admin! ‘J came through to me. Er, Jo, do you know where my To Do pile has gone?’ ‘No. I’ve not seen it. I only saw the pile to shred’. As the words left my mouth, the realisation hit me! ‘Oh J, I’ve shredded your To Do pile!! I’m so sorry!!’ I was devastated! A mess! ‘Was it all very important stuff?’ I knew it was. J hadn’t said anything. He just stood there. Probably out of shock! And then he smiled at me, ‘Nothing important Jo, come on, I’ll take you out for lunch’. Later that month he told me that they were taking me for a meal to celebrate Secretary’s Day. I thought it was a bit odd but went along with it. After the meal, a guy stood up and said that it was time to announce the new, ‘Secretary of the Year’. There was great anticipation from the other guests present and a noticeable ‘holding of breath’. I continued to eat my fruit salad. Before I knew what was going on, I heard my name announced down the microphone. The room erupted into cheers and claps as I was pushed to the front, completely bemused and with a piece of pineapple stuck in my throat, to receive a bouquet of flowers and a gift token, for a job well done! J was leading the clapping. He beamed at me. But I shredded his To Do pile!!! It was ALMOST the most undeserved title I’ve ever been given! Second only, to ‘Loved by the King of Kings’. We read in the Bible, Paul saying, ‘For I am convinced, that neither death nor life, nor angels, principalities nor powers, nor things that are now, nor things that are to come, (nor bad admin skills) can separate us from the love of God.’ I’m rubbish at admin but I was ‘Secretary of the Year 1997’. I am imperfect. Good at some things and not at others. Maybe you question your role in work, in your family, life...maybe you feel like you aren’t much at all, just plodding through life, no one special! You couldn’t be more wrong! We share the title, ‘Loved by the King of Kings’. I was very happy to hand my PA role back to my friend, and needless to say, it was the only year I won that title. But ‘Loved by the King of Kings’ is a title I’ve held since before I was born, and no matter who we are, what we think, say or do, we’ll never lose it! Anyone need me to shred anything?

Some good news - 22/5/20

American actor and film maker, John Krasinski has, since the start of the Coronavirus lockdown, written, produced and presented a weekly show on YouTube. It's called, “Some Good News” and it is exactly that. Krasinski seeks out good news stories from across the world and broadcasts them; interspersed with good deeds of his own making. The show is funny, sincere, heart-warming and unabashedly sentimental in parts. I'm not ashamed to say that I have shed a tear several times at the demonstrations of simple goodness seen on the show. Obviously, he has the advantage of being able to call upon his showbiz friends to pitch in and help and yes, he is married to Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), so obviously he can do stuff that us mere mortals can't, but the fact that he puts his time and available resources to work to bring us a show that is so uplifting is to his credit. He could have taken the easy route and joined those that court fame and easy applause by criticising everything around them. I'm sure you're familiar with them; the back seat drivers and Monday morning quarterbacks who always know the right way to go, or a better way to do things. The people who use Twitter and other social media outlets to express negative and critical opinions, knowing they are safe in the knowledge that nobody can prove them wrong because nobody is ever going to put their theories to the test. Krasinski decided to take the road less travelled. He chose to expend his time and energy on the positive. To actively seek out the good. To go out of his way to find those who had made a positive difference to the world around them and tell their story. He chose to spread the good news and, in the process, to make us all feel better. As Christians, we have the best news of all. We don't need to scour the Internet to find it; we have it in front of us... a whole book of it! The Bible is packed with the good news of God's love for us – all of us. The word Gospel actually means good news. We find story after story of the love that God poured out on His people. That love, that goodness, is still being poured out today. God’s nature never changes. He always makes a positive difference. We need to be like John Krasinski and to expend our time and energy on the positive. To tell the story. To share the good news of God’s love with the world around us. The book of Romans says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” You may be unable to get a pedicure during lockdown, but you can still have beautiful feet. I’ll leave you with the words with which John Krasinski ends every show, “Remember, no matter how bad it gets, there’s always good in the world”.

Time for a short test - 21/5/20

Ok, time for a confession. I like exams! Well, not quite but I would have failed miserably at school if we had coursework as I have no stamina and cannot be bothered with writing and rewriting stuff to improve it and make it better. Give me the short, sharp shock of an exam any day…if I have to be tested at all. Let’s face it, given a choice between 8 weeks of making tea, doing online catch ups and eating ice cream OR 8 weeks of sweat and revision, I know which I would choose. The last 8 weeks have felt like a weird examination course with no end. Unlike school, we have had no syllabus, no structure and no graduation.My upper 6th students should have sat their first exam today. Whilst a few are a touch relieved, most feel cheated. They do not have the chance to prove themselves, to show how much they have learnt, to be rewarded. So, I have written them a letter and decided to share it with you, to give you a glimpse of my world. So, here is my letter that I sent to my students at school “Evening munchkins, today would have been component 1 and I am very much aware that some of you might feel a bit cheated. This is just to say that I have been thinking of you today and that you are all simply amazing. In the last 8 weeks our lives have become like a sociology lesson. The digital divide has really widened, health inequalities have been exposed and I have attended my first online funeral...so weird. BUT, in the last few weeks our culture has changed for the better. As you listen to the Downing street briefings, bring your sociological minds to the facts , the stats and the research. We may not all be in the same boat but we are all in the same storm and I am praying that you will continue to be protected as we gradually loosen lockdown.” I then shared with them one of my favourite Bible verses from Thessalonians, where it says this:"..but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good"We may not be able to see the end of this ‘test’ but each day we can thank our God for the good things that He provides ,and we can hold onto it for dear life in the storm.

 

I don't know - 20/5/20

I recently bought my husband a gift, it was a smart watch – the kind that tells you your heart rate; how many steps you’ve done so far today; how far you’ve walked and the route you took; it can turn the lights on and play music and it even records the quality of your sleep and tells you if you were snoring. A couple of days ago he got up and announced that his watch told him that he had had a very good sleep and hadn’t snored at all. At that point I had to protest – the watch was clearly asleep while I was awake listening to him snoring at 3 o’clock in the morning! His watch is an incredible piece of technology which can process huge amounts of data – but it doesn’t know everything. His watch can’t unlock the mystery of why our daughter finds it so hard to pick up the clothes off her bedroom floor. His watch can’t tell him why I can’t bear the taste of coconut while he likes it or why I instinctively jump up on a chair if I see a spider. His watch can’t tell him what tomorrow will bring or when we will be able to sit in a room with family and friends again. Sometimes the answer is simply “I don’t know”. When will we be able to shake someone’s hand again without worrying that we might make them ill? I don’t know. When will our wonderful choir be able to sing together again without the disastrous but hilarious time lag that video conferencing gives us? I don’t know. How long will we remember that we actually enjoyed that new hobby or skill we learnt during lockdown? I don’t know. We are facing a time of great uncertainty and “I don’t know” is all too often the answer to our questions. In Ecclesiastes it tells us: “I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night. I realised that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim”. Politicians, scientists, reporters, friends and neighbours all have their own views on what should happen next and what our ‘new normal’ will look like but the truth is they don’t know. It doesn’t stop us asking those questions and neither should it, but instead of making us restless or anxious it’s good to know that sometimes it’s ok to settle with “I don’t know”, not because I don’t care anymore but because I do know who has the answers and I trust that the answers are in safe hands. The answers to all my ‘don’t knows’ are in the hands of a God who never sleeps and who works tirelessly and faithfully

“for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8: 28).
I hope that I always ask questions and look for the answers but it is reassuring to know that when all I can come up with is “I don’t know”, I at least know who does know. So, how does a smart watch work? I don’t know.

Eyes in the back of my head - 19/5/20

When I was young my mum used to claim that she had eyes in the back of her head. It was said as a threat more than anything else because it was her way of telling us that she didn’t miss a trick and always knew what we were up to – or so she thought! On the one hand, having eyes in the back of our heads might be quite useful – always knowing what was going on behind us as well as in front;being able to see where we have been as well as where we are going. But on the other hand, wouldn’t that cause us huge amounts of confusion? Which way would forward be? In March it felt like our world had been turned upside down as the nation was put into lockdown. In a very short space of time our movements, our socialising, our shopping and our work lives were all changed beyond recognition and we wondered how we would cope – but we have coped. It hasn’t been easy and there have been many significant challenges but we were forced to find new ways forward. And now, the hope that we would all simply be told one day that we can open our doors and run to embrace strangers as they pass by has long since faded as we realise that opening our doors is a very tentative action with social distancing remaining with us for some time still to come. It is easy to look back and yearn for the ‘good old days’ and wish for everything to simply return to how they were. In the book of Genesis we read about a man called Lot and his wife and family who had to flee from a truly wicked city before God destroyed it. They did flee, but Lot’s wife looked back with disastrous consequences. Why? She yearned for the life that she had known, for everything that she was leaving behind, for everything that was familiar to her and she lacked the faith to follow God into the unknown. It can be really difficult to adapt to changes and keeping things the same can offer us some sense of security. But sometimes going back isn’t an option, only forward. It is important to learn lessons from the past, but we can’t go backwards - trying can cause us to trip and fall, we have eyes facing forwards for a reason – that’s the direction of travel. As we begin to think about life after lockdown, let’s dare to imagine not just the return to life as we knew it, but a better, brighter more fulfilled life. A life where we walk because we can, where wereserve precious time for family and friends because they are important; where we treasure our natural environment and where we love one another rather than feeling frustration and impatience with people because we just don’t have time.God doesn’t want us to look backwards and yearn for what used to be, he wants us to place our hand in his and by faith take a step forward towards all of the wonderful things yet to be.

Peace. Perfect peace - 18/5/20

Some years ago I was in a four seater aircraft flying over Snowdon. We were at 5000 feet and the mountain range below was covered in snow and ice. It was January. These little planes are very noisy and you have to shout to be heard.After a while the noise becomes painful and you wish it was quieter. Suddenly it was quieter, much quieter. With a frozen carburettor, engines don't become quiet, they become silent. The peace was wonderful. The significance of the peace was terrifying. Within five seconds I desperately wanted the noise back. As we glided lower and lower, I decided that if we survived this trip, I would never complain about the engine racket, in fact I would learn to love it. It's amazing how quickly you can learn something if it's important. Clearly you have already realised that I survived. The noise was wonderful. What do we mean by peace? Politicalpeace when politicians are working together? Peace in the office between colleagues? Peace in a marriage? Peace of mind because Corona didn't get us?Peace means different things to different people. 2000 years ago, Jesus told His disciples that He was leaving them.They wondered which one of them would be the leader. How will we cope with the Romans, Greeks, and Jews? Where will we go, what will we do? And their peace evaporated instantly. Jesus said to them, 'I give you peace, the kind of peace only I can give. It isn't like the peace this world can give. So don't be worried or afraid'. Later St Paul wrote about, 'God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding'. The followers of Jesus were given a gift from God which the world can't match. So whether your world is noisy or quiet, the peace of God can calm your soul and remove your fears.

 

Well, you can't just sit there - 17/5/20

I heard a true story of a 73-year-old retired truck driver by the name of Larry Walters who was sitting in his garden chair in his backyard one day wishing he could fly. For as long as he could remember he had wanted to fly but he had never had the time, money or opportunity to be a pilot. So, he spent a lot of summer afternoons sitting in his backyard in his chair… wishing. One day Larry hooked 45 helium-filled weather balloons to his chair, put a CB radio in his lap, tied a paper bag full of Jam butties to his leg, and slung a Air Rifle over his shoulder to pop the balloons when he wanted to come down. He lifted off expecting to climb a couple of hundred feet over his neighbourhood. But instead he shot up 11,000 feet right through the approach corridor to the Los Angeles International Airport. Asked by the press why he did it, Larry answered: Well, you can't just sit there! It's a great story which got me thinking about our time in lockdown. It seems like we’re all spending loads of time just “sitting here” doesn’t it? The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians from “lockdown” – well, he was actually in prison! However, he was convinced that God was still at work – “I want you to know… that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel…” (Phil 1:12). I wonder how God is “advancing the gospel” through our lockdown? He went on to say that he wasn’t content to “just sit there” wallowing in prison… “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Phil 3:12). Maybe this time is a time to reflect on what God has been doing in you – what he has “taken hold of you” for and begin to explore how you can “press on towards it!”

Well, you can’t just sit there can you?!

 

No looking back - 16/5/20

The world has changed. We have come a long way without actually going anywhere. We have stayed at home. We have modified our behaviour. We have learned to do things differently. The crisis in which we find ourselves has brought out the best in the vast majority of us. For those who have not suffered loss or personal tragedy, the world is in many ways a better place. We have demonstrated love for each other by simple acts of caring; by keeping in touch, by asking, “How are you?” and actually being interested in the answer, by shopping for those unable to do it for themselves, by putting bars of chocolate through our neighbour’s letterboxes and in many other strange and inventive ways. We have encouraged each other with positive words and actions and despite our circumstances have brought joy to one another. It has been a time of peace; less traffic, less people, less stress, less noise, more birdsong, more calm. Our patience has been tested and not found wanting. We have worked from home, or simply stayed at home and got under the feet of our household members, who have patiently accepted the change in domestic routine. We have frantically “Zoomed” and “Skyped” and been kind and helpful to our friends and family who are unused to the technology needed to maintain contact in this topsy-turvy world. We have seen goodness demonstrated in hundreds of different ways in thousands of YouTube clips posted from all across the world. We have faithfully honoured our NHS workers by clapping for them every Thursday night. Our children have been gently persuaded of the wisdom of social distancing and we have exercised self-control in our response to our government’s call to observe the restrictive measures placed upon us. Those who have exhibited these admirable qualities may be unaware that they are mirroring the very nature of God; putting into practice His Spirit. In the Bible, the book of Galatians tells us of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. When we return to some sense of normality; when we don’t have to think about how we need to act in a given situation; when we can be ourselves again; I hope that we recognise that the world we have created through necessity, the world that has seen us demonstrate what we can actually be, the world that God would have us inhabit, is a world that we all want to be a part of. I hope that we choose not to go back.

 

Looking Good - 15/5/20

On a hot day in Paris in 1838, Louis Daguerre who was one of the early pioneers of photography, set up his large and very heavy camera high up in a building overlooking Rue du Temple. It was a very busy area filled with horse drawn carriages and pedestrians rushing up and down. Because it took about ten minutes to record an image, anything moving would not be visible, so the photograph would show an empty street. Normally. But today was going to bedifferent because on the pavement below, a man stopped to have his shoes cleaned. Because both he and the shoeshine boy were still enough for long enough, they were recorded in the photograph. Then they walked off, going about their normal daily business, totally unaware that they had just become the first people in the history of the world to have their photographs taken. They were anonymous then and they are now. How is it possible to be so significant, unknown, and not even know what you had done? Well you could be in the same boat! These are frightening days and many people are scared, some are lonely, some sick, some sad. And there you are in the middle. You may have made phone calls, delivered flowers, explained Zoom so someone so they can meet with their friends. Maybe you have knocked on a door, stepped back, had a chat, and transformed someone's day. Some may have been strangers, you just saw a need and met it. Any of these could have been highly significant for the individual, but you were unaware of it. You didn't do what you did to achieve fame and fortune, you did it because it was right. That's all. The Bible says, 'Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.' Maybe in the eyes of the person you blessed, you were the angel. You'll look good with wings.

Love letters straight from the heart - 14/5/20

The arrival of the post is now a major event in our house. What exciting letters, cards and, even better, packages will be delivered today? It is almost worth posting yourself a care package just for the excitement! I still love old fashioned letters and cards and keep lots of them in a big box. In that box, stuffed full of precious memories are: thank you letters from students, mothering Sunday cards made by my children years ago, congratulations letters from my Nan on some past achievement long forgotten plus the odd letter from the Queens lady in waiting (that is for another reflection). Some of my most precious letters are sloppy love letters from my husband, back in the day when he was still romantic. They are so cheesy that to be honest, they make me cringe reading them. All of these letters, cards and notes are precious because they remind me of the sender. They bring back happy thoughts of past times. In the book of Jeremiah God says this to the people of Israel:  

‘Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”’
Being a practical type of person, I would really quite like God to write me a love letter now. One of reassurance, peace and hope. Don’t get me wrong, I love this verse from Jeremiah, it is so beautifully encouraging and reminds me that I am loved. However, when I am feeling a bit low or in need of a hug, it is not that practical. I need something tangible. My daily walk is very much a vital and tangible part of life for me right now. It is physical, beautiful, peaceful. The wind, the sun, the birdsong, the sound of water and even the rain is like a daily love letter from God waiting on my doorstep for me to open it. I may not be able to store it with my other letters and cards but it is a gift from the God who loves me with an everlasting love.

Alexa! Please stop! - 13/5/20

I live in a very noisy household! Me and my four chicks all love music and if they’re not playing one of the numerous instruments in the house then they are keeping Alexa very busy! Even Louis, my black Labrador, will join in with great enthusiasm the moment he hears a harmonica! Noise, noise, noise!!! I have to admit, I love it! Most of the time! We go from Billy Joel, to Les Miserables, to Frank Sinatra, a bit of Paloma Faith, oh and then there’s The Mamas and the Papas, maybe the odd Don Williams song, what about The Everly Brothers....don’t you just love their harmonies?! And let’s not forget the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir! Their version of How Great Thou Art is coming to an event near you....just as soon as we can start choir practice again...not on Zoom! We love music! Of pretty much every kind. Alexa keeps VERY busy! But some days, just occasionally, I’d love there to be no noise! Occasionally Alexa gets a few hours off. And there’s silence in the house....but still there can be noise! Not from Alexa, or my chicks, or Louis, or my very busy phone, but in my head! Do you know what I mean? A million thoughts going round your head that makes it almost impossible to hear anything clearly! A traffic jam of thoughts, worries, stresses, more thoughts, ‘what ifs’, busyness, loneliness.....You don’t have to live with four chicks and a big dog for there to be noise in your head. Sometimes silence can be the most deafening of all. Your external circumstances may look wonderful and calm and beautiful.....but maybe you’re screaming inside for some peace? God said these words in the Bible, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’. He wasn’t saying, ‘stop all the music, everybody shut up, nobody speak’.  Nor was He saying, ‘I’m going to explain everything to you and tell you just what I’m going to do next’. No. He was saying in the midst of the deafening silence, the excruciating loneliness, the constant music, the relentless ‘To Do’ list....I am God. Trust me. Allow me to walk with you. Know my peace. My home will never be quiet. And I love that. But to know peace in the midst of a bit of Status Quo....it’s a gift from God! 

 

It's only a day - 12/5/20

It’s funny how a twenty four hour period can be significant. We mark the day we were born or married, when we started work or retired. There are birthdays and anniversaries, and those days that we can’t put a date to, like the day we learned to ride a bike or the day we passed our driving test. Do you remember that magical life transforming day when you first saw your future wife/husband? Might need to be careful with that one! Can you put a date to it? I can’t. Sunday is a special day celebrated by two billion people worldwide because it reminds us of the day God rested after Creation, and the day Jesus was resurrected. Then there are those ‘special’ days, organised by unknown individuals or groups for mysterious or obvious reasons. This year we have already had Jelly Bean Day, Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Day, and National Skipping Day. Coming up In May, we can look forward toMother Goose Day, (when’s Mother’s Day?) and Nerd and Geek Pride Day. Later in the year Yorkshire Day makes an appearance. We’ll all celebrate that won’t we! But in these scary days people are beginning to realise that every day is special. We wake up grateful for another day to live our lives, and hopefully make the twenty four hoursworthwhile by our attitudes and activities. Did we make a contribution to someone’s life yesterday? Will we today? The Bible tells us that Jesus taught His followers to pray, and part of that prayer includes the words, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ It’s areminder to take life a day at a time, and also that our daily needs are provided by God. In the most famous of all the Psalms, the 23 rd Psalm, David starts by stating, ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ indicating his relationship with God, and he ends his Psalm with these words, ‘Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all thedays of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.’ This indicates that all of our days, yesterday, today, forever, are in God’s hands. This fills me with gratitude and optimism. What does it do for you?

 

Dream on - 11/5/20

So here we are, still in lockdown. How many days have we had like this? Don’t know. How many more days to come locked up? Don’t know. What do we think about? Most people think about the freedom we used to have. We could walk to the park without getting arrested. Good grief, we could actually sit on the same bench as a stranger! In those mad days we could jump on a train full of people and walk around Liverpool One. And it wasn’t even an essential journey! Did I dream that? Do you think about the places you have been to, and re-live your holidays and those exotic locations, like Scarborough and Yarmouth? Some of you may even have flown somewhere. Remember jet travel? Many people have run out of memories or are bored by them so they’ve given up looking back and have decided to risk looking forward. Dream on! I want to go to New York. Some of my family, or maybe all of them, would like to join me. We could do lots of things together, but for one or two days I just need, really need, to look at some buildings but I don’t want to bore my companions so I will do that by myself. Brilliant. Dream on! One of the really amazing aspects of Christianity is that whatever our current circumstances, no matter how bad or scared we feel, we can always look forward. Always. Listen to what St Paul writes, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.’  The Bible tells us that God will make a new Heaven and a new Earth, and Jesus told those who follow Him,  “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” Forget going to the park or Liverpool One or even New York, God has better plans for those who have faith in His Son. If I just have a shed in Heaven, I will be ecstatic.

And I’m not dreaming.

 

Lightbulb moment - 10/5/20

Forgiveness is a funny thing; it warms the heart and cools the sting. Thomas A. Edison was working on a crazy contraption called a "light bulb" and it took a whole team of people 24 hours to put just one together. The story goes that when Edison was finished with one light bulb, he gave it to a young helper, who nervously carried it up the stairs. Step by step he cautiously watched his hands, obviously frightened of dropping such a priceless piece of work. You've probably guessed what happened by now; the poor young fellow dropped the bulb at the top of the stairs. It took the entire team twenty-fourmore hours to make another bulb. Finally, tired and ready for a break, Edison was ready to have his bulb carried up the stairs. He gave it to the same young boy who dropped the first one. Now that's proper forgiveness! When Paul wrote to the quarrelsome people in the Colossian church, he said “Bear with one another and forgive one another… forgive as the Lord forgave you.” When the Lord forgave us at the cross, he wiped the slate clean and gave us a brand-new start – a brand new life! Let’s be thankful today that God has forgiven us – but let’s take on board what Paul said – “forgive, as the Lord forgave you.” Now that’s proper forgiveness!

 

How cold my toes, tiddly pom - 9/5/20

Don’t you just love Winnie the Pooh?! I grew up listening to the stories. Always feeling sorry for Eeyore, always identifying with Tigger. They went on many adventures together with the rest of their friends, often involving honey bees, Heffalumps, Woozles and the wisdom of Pooh Bear! Yes, this, ‘Silly old bear’, seemed to speak such wonderful common sense! How about, ‘Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your hearts’? Every grandparent will be nodding now! Or what about, ‘We didn’t realise we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun’? And then there’s, ‘Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them’? Wow! Straightforward, simple, easy language! Winnie the Pooh had such a simple and humble take on life and he’s been teaching us ever since! If only we didn’t complicate things quite so much. Maybe you’re a bit like me and you want to figure everything out, find answers to life’s big questions, fathom God out??? Do you want to understand exactly what He’s up to? Me too!! But, in the Bible God is talking to Isaiah and He explains to him, 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways....As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”.

I can look at the world and stress and fret and see all the injustices and question and question and question where God is in it all. And when I don’t get the answers I can become angry or bitter or blame God. Or, I can accept that I don’t understand everything (most things!) that are going on in the world, and I never will. But, like Pooh Bear, I can do my part to make this world a better place, trust the One who does know what’s going on, take a deep breath and thank Him that He holds the future.

Tiddly Pom!

Another brick in the wall - 8/5/20

I have now been employed by the same government department for forty three years. In that time I have done many different jobs; it's the way of the Civil Service. Today you are the expert in a particular field, tomorrow you'll be expected to turn your hand to something else. I have been a specialist in my present field for the past seventeen years. Without being immodest, I'm good at what I do. It was not my plan to retrain in order to do a completely different job. It was my plan to potter along for the next year until I retire, but then Coronavirus happened. Suddenly there is a need for people from across government to pitch in and help. A need to do something different. A need to deal with the millions of people who find themselves without their normal source of income. A need to do what is necessary to deal with the problem of the day. A need to do what is in front of us... and in so doing, rebuild our society. In the book of Nehemiah we read about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. All but a remnant of the Jewish nation had been exiled to Babylon and in their absence, “the wall [of Jerusalem] had been broken down and its gates had been burned with fire”. Nehemiah saw what was necessary to deal with the problem. He enlisted everybody available to help with the rebuilding. Priests and high priests, goldsmiths and perfume makers, merchants and district rulers – together with their sons and daughters - all took on what was needed. Wall building and gate repairs were not their forte, but they took on the challenge. We are told that they rebuilt the part of the wall that was in front of their house. They literally did what was in front of them... and in so doing, they rebuilt the walls. We too have the opportunity to step out and deal with the problem of the day. We can take on the challenge. We can be an NHS volunteer responder, we can do shopping for people, we can send somebody a bunch of flowers to let them know they're not forgotten, we can give somebody a call and relieve their loneliness, we can present a quiz for our friends on a WhatsApp group, we can run bingo sessions on Zoom, we can pray for people... we can simply do what's in front of us... and in so doing, we can build God's kingdom.

 

Ticket to ride - 7/5/20

I have a love hate relationship with coach journeys. Those journeys squashed up with a stranger who will not stop talking all the way from Glasgow to Campbeltown…4 hours of unwelcome company! The time that, en route to our hotel in Germany, I had to administer first aid in the aisle, whilst we were travelling at 70 + mph on the autobahn and remain calm as blood leaked from a poor 15 year olds arm.No idea how it happened either but we discovered no bandages in our first aid kit. I had to improvise with women’s feminine products! That was definitely up there on worst trips. Then again, coach journeys are also wonderful. As a teacher, the months of planning a 4-day foreign residential trip were so stressful. However, at midnight, as the coach pulled away from the local swimming baths in Coventry, I would ease back and breathe. The kids were all on the bus, passports had been checked, nap time beckoned. When I travel up to Scotland the 4 hour bus journey from Glasgow to Campbeltown is simply stunning. I can read, gaze at the scenery and again, kick back and chill. As a Christian, we sometimes refer to our life as a journey of faith. However, we cannot be passengers, gazing out at the scenery. If that is all we remain, we become a tour bus Christian. We become insulated from the real-world activity and excitement of Gods work. OK, it might be a darn sight easier at times as there is not much to do if you are a passenger; but we are called to be light and salt in Gods world and we cannot do it from the comfort of the passenger seat. Matthew chapter 5, puts it like this:

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?”
We may have lots of reasons or excuses as to why we want to stay on the bus but age, ability, gender, job, lifestyle, etc are no barrier to getting involved. An American pastor called Lee Strobel said this: “I don’t want to just observe cathedrals through my bus window; I want to roll up my sleeves and build one. Lord use me to build a living cathedral dedicated to your glory”.

Right, stop the bus, I want to get off and join in Gods adventure.

 

Knowing the Father - 6/5/20

Today is my Dad’s birthday, he is 81 years old. Like many people who have celebrated birthdays during lockdown, he will have to mark the occasion in a slightly different way. There will be no going out for a celebratory lunch, or family and friends popping in offering their best wishes. As social distancing dictates, there will be no hugs and kisses (apart from those given by my mum). Still, he is in good company, as even the Queen cancelled her customary birthday gun salute last week as she celebrated her 94th birthday. But whilst the parties may have been postponed, people across the UK are getting creative and forging new and unforgettable birthday memories. I’m not sure my Dad will throw a virtual party, or make a party playlist, but I think he might open a tin of his favourite rice pudding and help himself to an extra packet of sweets from the sweet tin (which my Mum keeps hiding, and my Dad keeps finding).  Anyone who knows my Dad will know that he has a passion for the sweet stuff – and we’re not talking about my mum, Mary! Probably the most catastrophic event to happen during lockdown is the fact that he will miss out on the birthday box at church! I have also inherited my Dad’s sweet tooth, along with his short stature, brown eyes, and of course, his good looks… I know what food he likes, what TV programmes he enjoys, and what books he reads. I know the things that make him smile and the things that bring him the most joy. You see, I know my Dad pretty well.

Timothy Keller, a well-known Christian author, writes “knowing the Father is essentially what Christianity is all about, it’s about relationship”. You can’t have a personal relationship without knowing anything about the person. Jesus says in John 15, verse 6 –

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus coming to this world in human flesh, living a sinless life, dying on a cross, resurrected to life, making a way for us to come to the Father, is all about God wanting us to know Him in a personal way. Our example of how to know the Father comes through Jesus. He didn’t just know about us, he moved towards us. He knows our innermost thoughts, our struggles, our desires, and he loves us even with all our flaws.  Knowing the Father is more important than anything else.

 

Promises, promises - 5/5/20

25 years ago I stood at the front of our church dressed in white in the middle of a heatwave and promised to love, honour and something else that for the life of me I can’t remember. I know it definitely wasn’t obey - I remember that much. I think my words were “I’m not promising to obey because he might be wrong”. In fairness there have been occasions when he was wrong and I know for a fact that he would say the same of me. Love – tick. Honour – tick. But how do I know if I kept my other promise when I can’t remember what it was? I’ve made lots of other promises along the way: I promise I won’t be late; I promise to remember to put the bins out; I promise it’ll be my turn get up early with the kids tomorrow – and if I’m honest, I’ve broken lots of my promises along the way. “Sorry, I got held up”; “Sorry, I forgot”; “Sorry, I was too busy”.We live in uncertain times when everything we thought we could depend on has changed and we’ve had to adapt very quickly. Many people are struggling with anxiety, stress and loneliness while others are desperate for the time to come when they can hug grandchildren and loved ones again. As we move forward, there are more changes to come as we work out as a nation how to come out of lockdown safely. Nothing feels very easy at the moment, a visit to the supermarket needs to beplanned to make sure that nothing is forgotten while the route around the shop is mapped out for us and we are served from behind a perspex screen. Even going for a walk is fraught with new etiquettes when you meet others on the way. But as we work out what the future looks like and what this new ‘normal’ will be, we need to remember one of God’s promises to us:"So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic for the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”We can face each day with a bold confidence knowing that God goes with us and before us. He will never leave us to get on with it, he’s beside us in everything we face, every uncertainty and every rocky road. But what if he forgets? He won’t. The Psalmist tells us: He will keep his agreement forever; he will keep his promises always. That is something that you can rely on – he won’t ever forget and he’ll ALWAYS deliver on his promises. So, sorry Jon, I simply can’t remember what I promised but I guess after 25 years then I’ve either done it or you haven’t missed it!

 

No hiding place - 4/5/20

On Saturday evening we sat down to watch two celebrity quizzes. There were twelve celebrities in total, and we knew none of them. Not one! It made us wonder where we had been for the last forty+ years, or where they had been. Many people follow celebrities and mimic their lives. They base their choice of clothing on the fashionsense of the celebrity, or they copy their activities, attitudes, or beliefs. David Icke has900,000 followers on his blog, despite Facebook and You Tube banning him. It could take Sunrise the rest of the year to build up that kind of following! To put it into perspective, Beyonce has a following of 141 million!!! So many people want to be like their heroes, but the truth is you can’t be anybody but yourself. The first case in legal history where a suspect was convicted of a crime based on the uniqueness of fingerprints was in USA in 1903. Even identical twins have unique fingerprints. When I was (wrongly) arrested for theft, I spent fourteen hours in a police cell and my face was photographed from three different angles, they took a sample of DNA, and nineteen impressions of my fingerprints although I only have ten fingers. If I had broken out of my cell, it wouldn’t matter where in the world I ran to, and how I changed my appearance, my DNA and fingerprints would identify me out of sevenbillion people. There is only one me. There is only one you. This reminds me that God said, “I am God, and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like me” The Bible tells us that God knows us individually, and He knows where to find us amongst seven billion. King David asked the question, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” He concluded that he could never hide from God. This was not meant to be frightening or intimidating; David was delighted that God always knew where he was. We need to remember that we are unique because that’s how God made us, and we can take comfort in the knowledge that He can find us amongst seven billion other unique individuals. However you feel this morning, you are not invisible to God. If you can trust Him like David did, He will walk with you.

 

Oggy, oggy, oggy! - 3/5/20

I have a confession to make! Brace yourselves! I think some people may be offended by this, but here goes.... Up until the middle of this week, I’d never heard of Max Boyce! I’m sorry. Sorry to all you committed Max Boyce fans out there. Sorry to all my Welsh friends...I’ll do my best to make it up to you! Call me dozy, call me mindless and ridiculous. But I’d never heard of him! To be fair, maybe I look older than I am, I was -2 when he started out. But yes, I have been known to be a bit spacey on occasions, like the time I returned from Guatemala and didn’t have a clue who the Spice Girls were during their most popular time, or then there was the time I shredded my bosses ‘To Do’ pile....that’s a story for another day!  But this week, a lovely friend of mine, sent me a poem, written by Max Boyce. It’s a beautiful poem called, ‘When Just the Tide Went Out’. And Max, or Mr Boyce, reads it with such meaning and heart. I replied to my friend, ‘That’s just beautiful’ and then came those shocking words....‘who’s Max Boyce?’ Me and my big mouth! My friend, lovely Will, went in to a mini meltdown. I tried telling him, ‘Will, I’m a lot younger than you....’ But it fell on deaf ears! I then got educated on the wonderful Max Boyce! Oggy Oggy Oggy!!..... Oi, Oi, Oi!!! I’m still confused! After that wonderful and hilarious revelation, it got me thinking....isn’t it good that I’m not God! I mess up, cause trouble, say the wrong things, do the wrong things, don’t have all the answers and in the whole scheme of things, I only know very few people....and I don’t know everything about anybody! Not even myself! On the other hand, God never messes up, He never says or does the wrong thing, He has an answer for everything and He knows everything about everybody! What an awesome God we have. He didn’t create us and then forget about us. On the contrary, He created us, He knows us and He desperately wants us to know Him. He knows Max Boyce. He knows what makes him tick. He was there when Max thought up ‘Oggy Oggy Oggy’ and then thought up ‘Oi, Oi, Oi’. How wonderful that our creator God is interested, in fact, completely besotted, in you and me!! There’s so many bible verses I could put to this, saying God is our friend, God is all knowing, all loving, God is our creator and rescuer....I could go on all day! And so, today, let’s thank God that He is God and nobody else is! Let’s thank Him that He knows us intimately, and He loves us unconditionally. And Max, er Mr Boyce, I’m sorry I didn’t know you, if you like, we can be friends, and I promise, that from now on, when you say Oggy, I’ll say Oi. 

 

Let there be hope - 2/5/20

Working as a doctor is always a privilege. Every day, I get to see the very best of humanity. I see immense courage, unshakeable love and impossible resilience in my patients and in my colleagues. I remind myself daily that the position of trust I find myself in requires my all, and that I should take joy in being able to serve in this way. But, if I’m honest, the last month has been really, really tough. Our patients with coronavirus can become very sick very quickly. It’s impossible to predict who will recover and who won’t. Families can no longer come to visit their loved ones and our patients can no longer see our faces because our countenances are obscured by masks and visors. Many of our patients do not survive their admission, and as I hold their hand and they take their final breath, my heart breaks, again, because another has been lost and another family has been torn apart. Our efforts feel futile and it seems that death has won. The darkness is all consuming: is there any hope? Despite everything – all of the pain, all of the anguish and all of the despair - I do still have a sure and certain hope. This hope I have isn’t a nebulous, can’t-put-your-finger-on-it, far off idea. It isn’t just a dream of better days ahead or a longing for sunshine after the rain. The hope I have is bold and fierce and it guards my heart. The hope I have is a person, and his name is Jesus Christ. The suffering we experience and observe is so real and so devastating, but because of Jesus, hope is alive. Even when it feels that the night will never end and that morning will never come, He is Emmanuel, God with us: in the suffering, in the sorrow, in the trials and the darkest valleys – He never gives up and never fails, He is always good and always true.Perhaps you’re reading this feeling angry: if God is real and is as good as I’m saying He is, why is this global pandemic occurring anyway? Surely if He is all-powerful and all-loving, He would never allow something like this to happen? I certainly do not profess to having a straight-forward answer. But what I can offer you is the truth that my weary soul is clinging to: God’s love for us was proven by Jesus’ death on the cross, and His power was proven by his glorious resurrection three days later. Jesus declared on the cross that it is finished: the power of death and sin was left in the tomb and the victory had been won: His death had secured for us eternal life and His suffering had bought our salvation.Looking around us, it might not feel like this is the case. Battles are indeed still being fought, but the war has, without a shadow of a doubt, been won. One day, Jesus will return to make everything perfect, as He created it to be. On that day, everything will be made new. There will be no more death, no more sickness, no more sorrow and no more pain, and Jesus himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes. But until that day, I live in hope. The hope of Christ sustains me, because Jesus is a King Triumphant, alive and reigning sovereign over it all. The hope of Christ anchors my soul, and I hold firm to it, because He who promised is faithful.

 

More than just a number - 1/5/20

When I was born, I was given a number. It was my National Health number. I still have the card with it printed on. Later, when I attained working age, I was given a National Insurance Number. It still appears on my payslip, together with the staff number I was given forty three years ago. I can recite all of them on command. My Dad can still remember his National Service number from 1953. Some numbers just stick with us. Many of you will have similar numbers attached to significant events and milestones in your life. Numbers are all around us... I'm one of more than sixty seven million UK citizens, I'm fifty nine years old, I'm five feet eleven inches tall, I weigh eleven stone, seven pounds and the youngsters among you can spend the next ten minutes converting the figures to metric. Numbers quantify us, numbers identify us, numbers measure us. Many of us are currently fascinated with numbers. We study them on a daily basis; numbers of people infected, numbers of people in hospital, numbers of people tested, numbers of people dying. We see the numbers, we see the graphs, we see the statistics. We don't want to be included in those statistics. We don't want to be one of those numbers. It's easy to forget that each of those numbers is a person. You may remember the sixties TV show, The Prisoner. It has a classic set of opening credits, containing the oft quoted and parodied line, “I'm not a number, I'm a free man!” Some of us may have felt like yelling that at one time or another. Well, it's true. You are not a number. Not in God's eyes. In God's eyes, you are so much more. The Psalmist puts it this way, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well”. He is telling us that God not only knows us, but He made us and did a good job of it too! God values us and understands us. We are His precious and wonderful creation. He knows all about us. He even knows the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30). He values us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us. All of us; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”.

June Sunrises

Treasure- 30/6/20

One of the tasks we set ourselves to do during lock-down was to clear out the loft.  We have been promising ourselves for a long time that we would do this but there just never seemed to be a good time – well now we’re out of excuses.  For many years things have conveniently disappeared through the hole in the ceiling and then forgotten about.  Some of these are precious items that, while not valuable, they are wrapped up in treasured memories – photographs, loved toys and books, memento from the various special stages and celebrations of life including my wedding dress (which I absolutely refused to try on just so that everyone else could have a target for their mockery!) 

However, there was also a huge amount of, well, rubbish.  Computers and games consoles that have been replaced and we simply didn’t know what to do with the old ones…..put them in the loft.  Hundreds of teddy bears, many of which have no sentimental value but as the children grew out of them we…..put them in the loft.  Clothes that are no longer in fashion (and no longer fit)…..put them in the loft.  Soft furnishings which have become obsolete after we’ve redecorated…..put them in the loft.  I was hoping that we might find some long forgotten, hidden treasure up there but, no, it was mostly just ‘stuff’.   ‘Stuff’ that had been accumulated over many years and held onto for reasons we have long forgotten.  ‘Stuff’ that is now covered in dust and dirt and has become the hiding place for spiders and moths.

In Matthew 6 it says “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We surround ourselves with so many things that we place a value on but the truth is that even the photographs and memories will eventually fade and the generations to come after us won’t understand the value that we placed on these things.  But the things that we do and say, the way that we behave, the role model that we all have the potential to be – that’s what real treasure is made of.  God has placed treasure within each of us – the ability to love the seemingly unlovable; experience joy during hardship; know peace during turmoil and offer kindness to a stranger.  The Bible tells us that “…we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us”.  We are just jars of fragile clay, imperfect and maybe a little bit chipped but inside us God has placed treasure to share and pour out over one another.  God doesn’t want us to hoard this treasure that he has given us, he wants us to give it away. And the more we give away, the more we find we have to give. 

Let’s not store our treasure to gather dust, let’s share it generously as God intended and experience the lavish nature of God as he refills us over and over.

But if anyone does want an off-cut of carpet or a box of cassette tapes, just let me know!

What's He Talking About?- 29/6/20

We read books for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we are studying for an exam, or we need to understand a new piece of technology. If we are planning to visit somewhere new, a guide book is a good idea. Do you like history? It could be about your favourite football team or an ancient civilisation. Maybe you just want something simple to close the day with. Whatever the reason or subject, there is one condition we all need, it must be understandable. It’s possible to understand all the individual words but when the author assembles them, our brains hurt and we wonder why we started.

 I opened a new book recently on a subject that is interesting to me and which I think is important. Each chapter is written by a specialist, and the purpose of this compilation of chapters and authors is to give people a complete understanding of the subject. It didn’t start well because the introduction was 53 pages long and it made no sense to me. I gave up on that and moved on to the first chapter in the belief that because each one dealt with a single subject it would be understandable. Wrong! I learned that when dealing with ‘History’, I needed to know that there were 11 different meanings to the word. I finished the chapter after reading and re-reading over three nights. By then I couldn’t remember how the chapter started or what the point of it all was. The second chapter was concerned with ‘Truth’, that was much better because there were only 8 ways that we can think about that, but the author disagreed with all of them. I think.

 All of this made me think of John the Baptist, (you were ahead of me weren’t you?) When John and Jesus walked the streets of Palestine 2000 years ago, the Jewish religion was stunningly complicated and most of the population were totally confused. Along came John who thought it made more sense to speak simply and directly and leave out all the big words. He knew that people would wonder who Jesus was so he told them, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world...I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” Simple. Job done.

 Jesus was as straight with the people as John was. He taught about God, Heaven, murder, adultery, promises, revenge, love, sin, charity, prayer, fasting, money, death, ambition, worry, and other things. But always in language that ordinary people could understand. The Christian faith is for all people whatever their status in life, so it needs to be expressed simply. The Bible says, ‘This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’

 Which bit of that don’t we understand?

How Things Change- 28/6/20

When we moved into our current house, it’s our third, there were five old apple trees at the bottom of the garden. Some of the apples were edible but most of them had worms in them. We tried for a few years then gave up trying to get to them before the worms and wasps did. So we took the trees out and it looked very empty, so in my wisdom I thought we should have just one tree. But not an ordinary boring tree, I wanted the biggest tree around. So I bought a Pyramidical Hornbeam. I bet you’re impressed! It didn’t grow out, it grew up. And up. And up again. I achieved my ambition, it was enormous and I was very proud. The birds loved it and I assume they loved me too. Then came the storm! It left devastation all around, but my tree stood firm and proud but I was a nervous wreck. Looking at it during the strongest gusts I’ve ever seen, I thought ‘If that comes down, it will flatten that house and the people in it.’ So because I’m a considerate and thoughtful neighbour (you’d love to live near me), when a ‘tree surgeon’, (that’s what he called himself) knocked at the door, I asked him to remove eight feet from the top of my prized possession. Which he did and I took pictures of him, suspended from a branch with a monstrous saw in his hands. Job done, he took his money, smiled and walked away. And the tree died. And a little bit of me went with it.

 A few years later my youngest granddaughter was in the garden with me when I saw and heard a thrush singing joyously from the top of my tree. Hope asked me where the singing bird was and I told her it was on the top of the tree. She asked me which tree, I pointed to my faded masterpiece and she said, “That’s not a tree.” Puzzled I asked her what it was to which she replied without hesitation, “Sticks.” That was a painful moment because she was right and I hated the truth.

 Life is full of change; things, jobs, people, health, relationships come and go and we can’t stop it. But our Bible tells us that not everything or everyone changes. We read that God said, “I the Lord do not change.” In the New Testament we read, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever." And something else doesn’t change, King David wrote, "From everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who trust Him." Our lives are changing constantly, but the really important things are fixed for all time. Happy?

Anyone Seen Brian?- 27/6/20

My dad bought me a bike. It was my second bike and I wanted it because my first one wasn't cool. That was a sit-up-and-beg bike, OK for going to school and to Sayers on Saturday morning for bread and buns. But my bike riding had become serious, so I needed a serious bike to go travelling. And we travelled far and wide. You will have noticed I said ‘we’; that's where Brian comes in. We went to different schools but in our teens we rode together. Everywhere. We liked climbing hills so we had low gears and legs like Charles Atlas. If you don't know him, try Google. We rode up many steep hills in Wales, and we could ride 150 miles in a day. At the age of 15 (15!!!) we took the overnight train to Bristol and spent two weeks touring Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall right down to Lands End. We took great risks without batting an eyelid; I look back and am astounded we survived. But we did, but our friendship didn't. We started work doing different things in different places. Our bike rides had to stop, mobiles hadn't been invented, and we were two blokes who didn't write letters. By the time we were 21 it was all over. My best mate for ten years disappeared. Now I find myself thinking about him, does he have children or grandchildren? Where is he? Could I find him on Google? Should I bother or should I confine it all to history? What would you do?

Many who read Sunrise have lost a friend this week. No point trying to find him, he has gone where we can't go. Yet. Many of us could talk about our friendship with Steve and share our stories and memories, but we can't bring him back because God has said that his work is complete. So now he's got his reward, it's a bit like a pension and nothing like a pension. It’s nothing like a pension because all his needs are met by God, not by the state, and they are limitless and eternal. Steve is not in God’s family because of his work but because of his acceptance of Jesus’ work at Calvary. In the New Testament, Paul writes, ‘For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.’ Steve can rest now, his work is finished but God’s love continues.

 Now then, has anyone seen Brian?

Would You Like Some More?- 26/6/20

They say, A little of what you fancy does you good”, but they also say, “You can’t get enough of a good thing”. I’m not exactly sure who they are, but you will have heard them say it. You’ve probably also heard them say, “All things in moderation”.

So, what are we to believe? Certainly, it’s nice to have a little of what you fancy. I’m partial to a good cup of coffee and will have a few cups during the day… but never more than three. Why? Because I like my coffee strong; very strong. If you can’t bounce a pound coin off the top of it, it’s not strong enough. Now studies have shown that strong coffee can have beneficial health effects - it can apparently ward off dementia, but too much coffee can damage your liver and give you high blood pressure and palpitations. So in this case you can get too much of a good thing.

Now, what if the good thing you’re talking about is spending time with the person you love? How could you possibly get enough of that? Well, I imagine that if you were to ask some of the people who have been locked down with their loved ones for the past thirteen weeks whether they want another thirteen weeks, you might be surprised by some of the answers. Obviously, nobody reading, or writing, this missive will fall into that category!

So, perhaps all things in moderation is the way to go. It’s certainly true of most dietary considerations. We may be trying to eat healthily, but our body needs sensible amounts of all the major food groups… even carbohydrates, fat and sugar. Simply not eating, or completely removing certain foods from our diet is not actually healthy. A sensible, moderate approach is always better.

So what are we going to do? Which option will we choose? A little, a lot, or something in between?

Former college football star, Tim Tebow had a saying which I found interesting, or more accurately, I liked how he applied it. In his autobiography he says he lived by the adage, “If some is good, more must be better”. He used this in his approach to all things. When his team mates ran a mile in training, he would run two. If somebody lifted 200 lbs in the weight room, he would lift 250. If his college professor suggested he spend two hours studying a subject, he would spend three… and so on. Always wanting to do more. Always wanting to prove he could be the best. In the end, it nearly killed him. He trained too long and too hard. He did too much. His body couldn’t cope with the demands he put upon it. He was physically exhausted and his body shut down.

During his enforced bed rest in hospital, he had time on his hands. He turned to his Bible. Tim is a devout Christian and would make time to connect with God whenever he could, but his punishing schedule had meant that he had spent less time than he would have liked on what was really important. Now, finding that he had spare time forced upon him, he was able to spend quality time getting to know God better. He realised that his previous life style had been of his own choosing. He had chosen to do too much. He had chosen to drive himself too hard. He had chosen to fit God in around the edges.

Here in the stillness he realised that he needed to rethink his schedule. He knew that he didn’t want to go back to how things had been. So he didn’t. He changed his way of doing things. He adjusted his training demands and his college work and still graduated and led his team to the National College Football Championship, but all of that came after he had put God at the forefront of whatever he did.

We too have had an enforced time of change. We too can take time to reassess what is important to us. We too have the opportunity to reflect and come to the same conclusion as Tim Tebow… that when it comes to God, if some is good, more must be better.

Put Away The Sanitiser- 25/6/20

I returned to work a couple of weeks ago; not that I have stopped work but physically, went into my actual workplace. It was scary and exciting. Our college is so proud of its support for local workers and the NHS and is now making its own sanitiser. As you step through the doors it is the first thing you do…sanitise your hands. However, let’s face it, sanitising hands is hardly an exciting moment in the day and the novelty of it wore off along with the fragrance. UNTIL…I took the hubster into town for a tentative look around. He invented a new game. Rate the shops by their sanitiser! We tried them all. There were gloopy ones, sticky ones (yuk), spray ones and industrial ones (check it out in the toilets in Liverpool one!) ‘Next’ won! The sanitiser in Next is so nice that every day it gets stolen! It is like a perfume, just beautiful. In religious language, Christians sometimes talk of things like being cleansed by the blood of the lamb or the cleansing power of Jesus. The first statement, although very true, can also be a bit off putting if you have never been to church before. After all, lambs’ blood is hardly going to compete with the scented beauty of the ‘Next’ sanitiser is it?

Jesus did not come to sanitise us. Jesus did not come to sanitise our world and make us and it sterile. He did come to cleanse and to heal. The stuff that needs cleansing is not always visible. It’s a bit like a virus in that it is dangerous, harmful but pretty invisible. Sin or wrong doing is harmful. It damages us and our relationships and no amount of posh or industrial sanitiser will deal with it.

When we follow Jesus, he invites us to hand over that sin to Him. He dealt with it on the cross, once and for all.

In John 10 verse 10 (I know I have quoted this before, but it is our college vision and I love it), it says this:

 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Sin robs us of joy, relationships and life but Jesus promises to give us life and life in all its fullness.

One For All and All For One- 24/6/20

Quite a long time ago now, I studied A level art. My favourite style of art was pointillism. Whole images made up of tiny dots. If you stood very close to the picture you would see the combination of coloured dots very clearly, but as you stepped back you would realise that each and every dot helped to make the big picture. I was never particularly known for being patient, however I would sit for hours and hours creating images made up of thousands upon thousands of tiny dots. And what seemed funny about it was that every single tiny dot was relevant. Every single tiny dot vital to the big picture. When I messed some of the dots up, I messed the whole picture up. I had to sort the mess if I wanted the picture to be beautiful.

The Bible tells us that, ‘we are God’s work of art, his masterpiece’. He takes delight in creating us and gifting us, and He loves it when we give ourselves to the bigger picture. When people come together with their different personalities and traits and all offer what skills and abilities they’re able to, it’s a bit like a pointillism image, every single dot, every single person, vital to the bigger picture. And when there’s a mess, a hurt, a grief, a desperate time, for just one person, it’s only right that it affects the rest. It’s only right that we join forces and help where needed. 

Pointillism wouldn’t work if each dot stayed on its own. Community wouldn’t work if each one of us didn’t need the others. Pointillism needs lots of dots all working together for the big picture. Community needs all of us, working together, recognising each other as ‘God’s work of art’. And when we do that, when we truly learn to appreciate one another, we can become part of God’s big and beautiful masterpiece.

The Repair Shop- 23/6/20

Have you watched The Repair Shop on TV?  I love it.  People bring in treasured possessions and family heirlooms that are broken and battered, that are rotting away and have become unusable and sometimes dangerous – the team of restorers then set about repairing and restoring the item to its former glory.  I’m amazed at what they can do.  These are things that to me look like they are irredeemable and the only place for them is the bin but the restorers never seem phased, they just go about, bit by tiny fragile bit, bringing new life to this beloved possession.  Often the owners have wonderful, personal stories of the people who gave them this item, or the family occasions when it was used etc.  The thing is though, the restorers don’t make it look like it was when it was brand new.  They are careful to keep the worn edges, the scratches and the child’s name etched into the bottom.  They restore its function and its beauty but are careful to maintain its character and its history.  The things that are most precious to us tend to be the things that have journeyed with us, things that remind us of happy times and special people; things that bear something of our own story.

We’re not so different though are we?  Life leaves its mark on us.  Sometimes that is a physical scar or wound but often it can be those scars that are unseen which have left their mark on us invisibly but no less real or deep or painful and which, if untreated, can weaken us and even eat away at us restricting our ability to function.  But the good news is that we have a great restorer who has promised us that one day “He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone … “Look! I’m making everything new.””

I like the idea of being all shiny and new and free from the scars of life but it does beg the question, what do we do while we wait?  On those days when life feels just too hard and we’re just not strong enough; not good enough; not capable enough; not happy enough? Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth spoke about his own frustrations of his weaknesses and how he’d asked God to make him stronger – God’s reply to him was simple: “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness”.  It was then that Paul understood; when he was at his weakest, when he stopped trying to do things in his own strength, that’s when God was able to step in and Paul no longer lived in his own strength, but God’s.  Paul’s response to his weaknesses changed – “I just let Christ take over!  And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become”. 

God offers us exactly the same.  We are his beloved possessions and none of us are irredeemable - while we wait to be restored to shiny newness; while we have to put up with the worn edges and the scratches that life has imposed on us – we don’t have to do it in our own strength, he’s waiting for us to lean on him.

Meeting and Eating- 22/6/20

Celebrations are an important part of our lives. We celebrate our birthdays, anniversaries, and other important days. We throw parties, take pictures, give flowers and gifts, and most importantly we eat cake. We not only have personal celebrations, we have national ones. There’s St George’s Day, St Patrick’s, St David’s and St Andrew’s. Then there’s New Year’s Day. Have I missed any? Guy Fawkes. Lord Mayor’s Day. Red Nose Day. But I’m sure you will agree that the most important one is Fathers Day. How could you disagree? Some of these celebration days are marked by time away from work, by leisure and laughter, fun and gifts. We picnic, parade, barbecue, and launch fireworks.  We spend time with family and friends. Such celebrations lift us from the routine of our lives. (I quite like my routine). They cause us to remember our collective past and the people who used to celebrate with us, and be thankful for our present circumstances, and as we celebrate in the present, we hope for more years and more celebrations.

As Christians, we have our own celebrations; Christmas, Easter, Ascension Day, etc. But if these special Christian days are just events that come round each year, allow us time off work and encourage meeting and eating, we’ve missed the point. They are meant to be transformative. When we rightly smile at youngsters acting out the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, do we understand that this baby created the world and everything on and around it? Many people in the world struggle with this, but two thousand million of us don’t struggle, we celebrate!

 Speaking about the baby, the Bible says, "Everything was created by Him, everything in heaven and on Earth, everything seen and unseen, including all forces and powers, and all rulers and authorities. All things were created by God’s Son, and everything was made for Him." It’s the same with Easter and Ascension Day, these are not rituals, they are realities. When Jesus left Earth on Ascension Day, an angel told the disciples, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way as you have seen Him go.”

 If people are ready for that, it will be a celebration day to end all celebration days. See you there.

Thank You Dads- 21/6/20

It’s Fathers Day! A day that has been celebrated around the world for over 100 years. A day started by a little girl in the States who wanted to say a huge big Thank you to her wonderful, loving dad! So, Happy Fathers Day to all you wonderful dads; step dads; foster dads; uncles; cousins; granddads; and all others who have taken on the tough and challenging role of a dad! May you have a very happy and blessed day!! Thank you for being there to help make tough decisions; to show excitement and delight and pride in ‘your children’; for the laughter; the tears; the support and the fun. Thank you!

And for those of us left only with memories of a wonderful ‘dad’, may your day be filled with smiles and gratitude. 

Throughout the bible we can read stories of different kinds of dads. Some of them wonderful, some of them not. All of them imperfect. But the bible talks about one dad who is perfect. This dad made the world, put the stars in space, counts the grains of sand on the beaches, made you and me, knows how many hairs are on our heads, knew us before we were born and knows every moment of our life here on Earth. He loves each one of us with the most extravagant, relentless love. He knows our names. God is our perfect father. 100% perfect, accessible, love. That’s our father! Happy Father’s Day God....and thank you.

No I Can't...Yes I Can- 20/6/20

My husband and I met,married and worshipped at a church in Liverpool until, very sadly it closed. One day Dave was approached to be Treasurer as the current one was retiring. He was an engineer, never having been involved in figures or balancing accounts! His immediate answer was - "No I can't" . Needless to say Dave,very capably did the job for quite a number of years.I was recently asked to contribute to 'Sunrise'. My response, without even having to think was "No I can't"Moses was asked by God to help free the Israelites from slavery. He immediately replied "No I can't" But reading the story of Moses in the bible, we know that he was able to do what God asked of him.Dave was encouraged to be Treasurer by the Church Officers.I was encouraged by someone who has become very special to me.Moses was encouraged by God. We all need encouragement in our lives. God says "Encourage one another" So why not give it a go! You don't know how you could affect someone's life for the better. You might know of somebody who would benefit from an encouraging word. Maybe you are the one to give it.1 Thess 5 : 11  "So encourage one another and build each other up just as you are already doing "

Poppies- 19/6/20

In the film, “You've Got Mail”, Meg Ryan's character claims that daisies are the friendliest flower; whilst roses are considered to be the flower of romance. My Mum's favourite flowers were anemones and I have a friend who loves sunflowers (although she also has a strange affinity for garden gnomes, so her judgement isn’t to be trusted). All of these flowers are nice in their own way, but for me, the Poppy is the flower that lifts my spirits.It's not simply that they are bright and cheery, but that they pop up everywhere. I have recently seen them blooming in roadside verges, blossoming on a building site and brightening up a car park. We are all aware of the use of the Flanders Poppy to commemorate those who lost their lives in various armed conflicts throughout the world. It was chosen because of its proliferation in the trenches and battlefields during the first World War. You just can't keep it down. I remember travelling by train from Paris to Marseilles and as we passed through the French countryside I was delighted to see the little red faces of poppies peeking at me from every wheat field. They bring a welcome splash of colour wherever they make their appearance and they never fail to make me feel happy.There are certain people who are like poppies. We all know somebody who brightens our mood simply by being there. Like poppies, these people often appear when we least expect them and usually just when we need them. Their bright and cheery nature lifts our spirits and we are always glad to see them. They simply make our day better.So, what do we do when they aren’t there? Well, there is somebody else we can turn to. Jesus is always there for us to talk to. At any time, in any place He is there. He delights in spending time with us. We can talk to Him about anything because He knows our hearts and our desires. He knows what troubles us and He knows what pleases us. Before we even tell Him, He knows our needs. We often refer to this as prayer, but I think of it as talking to a friend. A friend who knows me well and always knows the right thing to say.Why then, are poppy people so special? Well, it’s because in their own little way they are like Jesus. They display some of His qualities. They mirror His ways. They demonstrate the fruits of His spirit that you will have seen mentioned on these pages before; “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).So, I know that I always have Jesus to talk to and I know that, if I spend enough time with Him, He will help me to become a poppy person too.

We Don't Need Another Hero- 18/6/20

What an awesome country we live in at the moment, full of superheroes making a real difference. Isn’t it inspiring reading about Captain Tom and his garden laps? Or those care workers who moved into the care home to protect the residents…I mean that is so sacrificial. Then of course there is a certain Man Utd striker sorting out food vouchers and forcing a government U turn. That is very powerful. My friend Heidi is incredible too (google Heidi Cowter and disability rights), campaigning tirelessly for the rights of the unborn child and a spokesperson for the ‘Don’t screen us out’ campaign.

I could go on but, actually, it can also be a bit disheartening. Many of us are struggling to hold our own little lot together at times. Having to meet all the demands of lock down is exhausting. I was going to clean the whole house, learn welsh and make lots of candles for my friends. My house is still pretty unclean, my Welsh extends to 2 words plus the first line of the national Anthem, and I have made 2 and ¾ candles. Heidi’s mum Liz admits to hiding in the garden just to get a breather because it is so exhausting living with Heidi (who happens to have downs Syndrome). And then there is the grief that knocks us flat when we hear of the death of a loved friend. Never mind being a super hero, I need a super hero. It is at this point that I should be telling you all that God is that hero etc but…it does not always work like that.

Matthew chapter 5 verses 14-16 says this: “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?"

A Celtic traditional saying puts it like this: “We have to be a candle burning between hope and despair”.

We don’t have to light up the whole world, but we do have to be a light in our little bit of it. We have to be a light to those that we live with, come into contact with. The source of that light in us is Jesus. All we do is reflect his light in our lives and show His hope to the bit of our world that needs it today.

Your Favourite Colour- 17/6/20

What’s your favourite colour? Do you have one, or do you reply when asked, “I don’t have a favourite colour, it would help to know what we are talking about, for instance a car, a suit, the back bedroom, etc.” People can fall out in grand style over colours, particularly if you’re talking about home decoration, which is odd because after five years they re-decorate and change everything and fall out again. It’s very personal; I would hate to have a lime green car or a pink suit but you may love them. I wouldn’t even want a pink car or a lime green suit; am I just being difficult? I remember a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy was pointing out the variety of greens in the landscape and saying how beautiful they were; Charlie Brown was not impressed and walked away saying, “What happens if you don’t like green?”  That’s a fair question. Personally I’m happy with green grass, I’m not sure I would want it to be blue and for the sky to be green. However the northern lights sky is often green and people love it. Colour in food is very important, how would you feel if the restaurant served up rump steak that was green, accompanied by blue garden peas and grey carrots? People apply meanings to colours, but they change over time. Pink was a masculine colour used for baby boys until early in the 20th century when the gender roles of pink and blue were reversed. Different countries and cultures understand colours differently. In many parts of the world, a black sheep is viewed negatively, but in Italy a black sheep is seen as a symbol of confidence and independence, and has been used in VW advertising, but only in Italy.

 The Bible is full of colour references that would take years to study. God says to His people, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” This represents the transformation from a life dominated by sin, to a life free of sins power. The first colour mentioned in the Bible is at the end of the Creation story when God refers to “every green plant” and the last colour we read of is in the description of God’s last creation, the New Jerusalem coming down from Heaven where we read "The great street of the city was of gold." But the greatest reference to colours is after the flood when God said, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds.” This was a sign of God’s promise not to flood the earth again, and it contains all colours because God loves all colours. Not everybody does. Let’s learn the lesson.

Business As Usual- 16/6/20

I watched TV in amazement yesterday as I saw scenes of people who had been queuing since the crack of dawn, cars blocking the roads and some unbelievable behaviour of people throwing all social distancing guidelines out of the window as they clambered over one another, desperate to get to the front – what were they doing?  They were shopping.  As the non-essential shops began to open, many people seemed desperate to get back to their favourite pass-time.  Desperate to purchase that apparently essential non-essential item. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like to shop; I like to browse round the things I can’t afford and I love it when I find a bargain but it’s not the thing that I’ve missed most over the last few weeks. 

Over the last 12 weeks we have had an enforced ‘stop’ placed on us and we had no choice but to slow down.  At first it felt like we had so much time on our hands, what were we going to do with it?  But gradually we did adapt and we found a new routine - perhaps you’ve learned a new skill; perhaps you’ve picked up an old hobby; perhaps you’ve had time to read, learn to cook, catch up with old friends using new technology?  Whatever you’ve been doing over the last 12 weeks, for many of us it has included things that we wouldn’t have had time to do under normal circumstances.  Without being forced to stop and think, we would have just kept our heads down and kept going on the treadmill of life.  What we have been given, however, is an opportunity to change.  Not everything can or should change, but we do have the chance to think about which things can and should change. 

Have we really learned anything if all we do is rush back to everything we did before?

In 1 Corinthians chapter 10 it says “You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you.  You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial.  Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.”

Perhaps as life returns to some semblance of normality the skill will be to choose which bits to return to and which bits to change for good.  It’s easy to break habits when we are forced to stop but will we choose to break some of our less beneficial habits when we no longer have to? 

This is our opportunity to change for the good of others and for the benefit of ourselves.

I will eventually return to non-essential shopping but first I want to spend time with my friends and family; spend time with my fellow singers at choir; spend time with my friends at church.  I want to keep ‘games night’ with my family and time to sit in the garden and read.  This has been a tough year so far, let’s not waste the few good things we have achieved in our hurry to return to everything that feels familiar.

Your Heavenly Face- 15/6/20

During a family conversation about meeting people in Heaven, a young girl’s mother asked how we will recognise each other when the Bible tells us that we will have new bodies. Dad shrugged his shoulders and confessed he didn’t have a clue. It’s amazing how bright a six year old child can be when adults are stumped. She said that it was easy to understand, “We only take our faces to Heaven but we get new bodies.” That sounds fine but which of my faces will I take? What about my young cuddly face (yes I used to have one)? That was before I ran headlong, face first, into a brick wall at the age of nine. Very messy. Or maybe the trendy face I had in my twenties and thirties; shoulder length hair and a massive beard. Possibly the respectable mature face with short hair and a wife-trimmed beard; or today’s version of no hair and short beard. Whichever face you would like to take with you, it can look different depending on your character. Are you grumpy, irritated by everyone and everything? Maybe you’re just bored with people and prefer your own space. You could of course be a gentle and patient individual. So often your face displays your nature. George Orwell, author of Animal Farm said, “By the age of fifty every man has the face he deserves.” Time to look in the mirror men! Ladies you’re not excused!

 The characteristics that God expects from His followers include, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. If you practice these attributes your face will broadcast your nature. That’s the face to take with you; then we will be happy to see each other.

 The Bible speaks of God’s face bringing comfort when life is stressful, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”

Lets imitate God so when people meet you, they get more than a smile.

Read the Instructions- 14/6/20

Imagine the scene, just married and trying to impress my husband with my cooking skills; finding what he likes and doesn’t like. He likes rice pudding so that’s what I’m making tonight. I know how to do that, I’ve seen my mum make it many times. Off I went to the shops, bought a bag of rice and went home. Stage one; wash the rice and put it in the oven. Then I went about my housework, and returned to check my masterpiece. And there it was coming to meet me, filling the oven and coming out of the door and across the floor. Stage two; clean up. What a mess, what had I done wrong? I didn’t read the instructions. I wasn’t cooking for a family of six;there were only two of us. I didn’t need to use the whole bag, just enough for two newly-weds. 

 How many times do we try to take shortcuts by not reading the instructions? Most of us read them after we have tried it our own way and seen the mess we made. The Bible gives us instructions to gain eternal life, but most people take no notice of it. They insist on doing things their own way despite the fact that the Bible in John 3.16 says, ‘This is how God loved the world; He gave His only Son so that everyone who trusts in Him might not be lost but have eternal life.’ It’s so simple but people choose to make it complicated and difficult. The rice pudding incident was decades ago; I’ve read many instructions since then, but the best one of all is John 3.16.

Didn't see it coming- 13/6/20

We used to have a black Labrador. Actually that’s not quite true, he was a failed Labrador; his mother had a fling with a sheep dog. We were not bothered that he didn’t have a perfect pedigree, we loved him dearly and he loved us in return. He was called Dougal. The vet smiled and said, “We’ve had a lot of them recently.” You need to be a certain age to know where his name came from. Like most Labs (alright half-Labs), he enjoyed sniffing almost everything and he enjoyed eating almost everything. But we kept him trim and we were all proud of our doggy family member. We never had a holiday without Dougal. It was my job to walk him each night, I had work that kept me very busy for long hours, so often our walks were late at night when it was very peaceful. And very dark. This was before sodium lighting and eternal daylight. This was my time to relax and think profound thoughts. One night I solved the world’s energy problems by inventing a perpetual motion machine using magnetism which could produce electricity at no cost. Sadly I never got round to making it, because I would need to use my breakfast bowl, it was just the right shape, but it was decorated with a picture of the Magic Roundabout characters, and I couldn’t bring myself to destroy it. Sorry world! One dark night close to home, I realised that Dougal was a long way behind me, so as I turned into my little road I called him and carried on walking. I heard him coming, the noise of his paws on the ground and his panting were getting louder so I turned around to look for him. I woke up flat on my back in the middle of the road with Dougal licking my face, delighted that he had bumped into me and I was now down at his level. The fact that I called him “You stupid dog” didn’t seem to bother him at all.

 Sometimes life is like that, something flattens us and we didn’t see it coming. As we consider the shock, we ask all the usual questions, ‘Why me, why this, why now?’ Often we don’t get answers that satisfy us, but for the Christian the Bible brings comfort and reminds us that God understands when we don’t, and He cares for His people. King David tells us, ‘Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.’ Towards the end of the Bible we are reminded that however we feel today, Christians can always look forward because God has it sorted, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

 Roll on the new order.

The Sunny Side of the Street- 12/6/20

I have an abiding childhood memory. It's of walking down the street with my Dad. Whenever we would do so, he would look up at the sky and regularly say, “Let's cross over”. When I would ask him why, he would say, “I want to walk on the sunny side of the street”. So off we would go to leave the shadows behind. The journey towards the sun was usually fraught with difficulty, if not downright danger. Pedestrian crossings were few and far between when I was a lad, so we would embark on a perilous quest to dodge the oncoming traffic on Smith down Road, risking life and limb to find a more pleasant ambiance in which to walk. This way of crossing a road would have made Tufty the squirrel choke on his hazelnuts; but even as a child I wondered at the wisdom of using an animal you would often see squashed to a pulp in the middle of the road as a role model for road safety and, whilst I would not recommend teaching it to your own children, it did stand me in good stead in later life when holidaying in Rome and Paris. Having attained our goal of a warmer, brighter stroll, we would often have to repeat the mad dash through speeding traffic to cross back in order to reach the bus stop that was our original destination. Looking back, two things strike me; firstly, I'm amazed we survived, and secondly; he was right. It is better to walk in the sunshine.Sometimes we can feel that we are in a dark place; events in our lives can give rise to the feeling that we are walking in the shadows, but we should always remember that the presence of shadows proves the existence of light. It can be difficult to see a path back to that light, to navigate our way through the darkness, but the light is always there. We are told in John's Gospel that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. That light is Jesus. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.To find that light we need to follow Him. We need to look up and make the conscious decision to cross from the shadow to the light. Our path may be fraught with difficulty, we may have some obstacles to overcome to get there; the “oncoming traffic” of life's trials and tribulations, but the walk will be better for our efforts... it's the sunny side of the street

Family time is happy time - 11/6/20

Confession time; as a family, with a minister for a Dad, we fall rather short of other people’s expectations. We are, at times, even less harmonious than the Simpsons; and that is saying something! When we are all together along with,what I like to call , the attachments (partners of my grown up kids), we are noisy. There is heated debate around politics, religion, education and even relatively safe topics like health and the weather. One of my children has taken to bringing ear plugs to family do’s. Yesterday, I had a bad day. I received yet another piece of sad news and fell apart a little. Who would have thought thatthese three words would come to my rescue: ‘zoom family quiz ‘? 3 months ago we had never had a family quiz and I had not heard of zoom. Yet, thanks to the wonders of technology, and a daughter who sacrificed a fair bit of time to sort it out, we were together; still noisy, still opinionated and still very much a family. In order for it to work, we had to mute ourselves frequently and concede to each other. Our church is frequently called a family. We may be distanced from each other but when we get together, it still feels like family. There are the noisy ones, the opinionated ones, the awkward ones, the quiet ones etc etc. BUT, we are still family. In order for church to work, we have to make multiple little sacrifices in order to keep unity. We have to daily forgive one another, show grace to one another and lay aside our own desires. We have to learn to mute our own voice and sacrificially listen to our brothers and sisters. In the New Testament, in the book of Philippians, we are told that our example should be Christ Jesus Himself. If we follow him, then it means that living as a church family should be like this:“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favour: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”(Philippians 2 1-4).We don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to try. As for my family? We are still very much a work in progress.

 

Life is a rollercoaster - 10/6/20

Ever since I was young I have been unable to ride on a rollercoaster without turning green. I can’t help it, it’s just me. The waltzers are the same – round and round and round and then round some more; everyone else laughing and squealing with delight while I was trying to work out which way to turn my head so that what was about to happen wasn’t going to end up right back in my face! Thesolution isn’t difficult – don’t go on fairground rides. Easy. Except that a few years ago while on holiday in Disneyland, a few ‘grown ups’ decided to go on one of the bigger rides – “come on!”, “It’ll be great!”, “you’ll be fine!” There was a small part of me that did wonder if maybe it was something that I’d grown out of – that decided it, I’d give it a go. Well……I shouldn’t have bothered. My husband had never seen that shade of green before and he’s quite certain he doesn’t want to see it again! For some people the exhilaration and excitement of the ride brings joy and laughter. The lurch of your stomach as you are suddenly plunged down off a cliff edge for some reason unknown to me seems to bring pleasure rather than queasiness. The abrupt twists and turns and unexpected drops are exciting rather than terrifying or sickness inducing. But that’s just the point – we all might beexperiencing the same circumstances, but we are all still experiencing them uniquely. There’s no right or wrong. For some people, home schooling may be a joy. For some people, the shops being closed might have been a relief. Some people are even finding pleasure in the queues – someone told merecently how her husband is enjoying have to queue everywhere because he can have a chat to people and they have nowhere to go! But for others the juggling of home life, work, school assignments, essential shopping, the loneliness, uncertainty and stress may be almost too much to bear. There’s no right or wrong.But we do need to know that whether we are experiencing joy or sadness, we’re not experiencing it alone. God has placed us into each other’s care and told us to look out for one another. In 1 Thessalonians it says “… always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Overthe last few weeks and months there have been so many acts of simple kindness that may have felt insignificant to the giver but which have meant the world to the receiver. Being joyful isn’t always about happiness but joy can be found in a word of encouragement; joy can be found in a simple text that asks how your day has been; joy can be found in the knowledge that a friend is holding you in their prayers; joy can be found in the gnome on your doorstep. I feel privileged to be part of this joyful community – not always happy, but always joyful. But I’m still not convinced that joy can be found on a rollercoaster!

Peace. perfect Peace - 9/6/20

It’s the 9th June today. That means we’re having McDonalds for tea! It goes without say. Every year, for the last 12 years, on this day, we’ve had McDonalds for tea. 13 years ago today, my daughter, Peace, was born. Stillborn. I knew from early on in my pregnancy that ‘something was wrong’. A mummy’s instinct. My little chick was headed to a much better place. On her ‘first birthday’ I asked my other little girls what would you like to do for Peace’s birthday? Without a second thought they said, ‘we want to buy her flowers mummy, and go to McDonald’s’. 12 years later and we still have the same routine. And that won’t change. It’s our celebration of our beautiful little girl. Over the last 13 years I have gone from being completely heartbroken, to knowing peace. A peace that I could only get from a loving God who knew what it was like to feel pain. I can honestly say, I have peace about my Peace. And so, we celebrate her. We thank God for the place she has in our lives. I know that one day I’ll get to hug my girl. And today I say, ‘Thankyou Peace, for causing me to learn so much more about empathy, gratitude, love and making every moment count’.

Happy birthday beauty, mummy loves you ️

 

‘Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who is compassionate and the God who gives comfort’.

2 Corinthians 1:3

There are other things in life - 8/6/20

I wasn’t sure where I had put it a year ago when my body decided to mess with my life and my plans. So last week I went looking for my Fitbit. If you don’t know what a Fitbit is, you’re clearly not keeping up with the healthy young people like me. You wear it on your wrist like a watch, but unlike a watch which simply tells you what time it is, this monster tells you what to do with your time. It tells you how far you should walk in aday, and when. Ten minutes before each hour expires, my little monster buzzes and tells me to walk 500 paces. It doesn’t mind where I go or what I see (it doesn’t even care about the weather, I told you it’s a monster), it just wants you off your backside and moving. It constantly reminds me of my pulse rate (mine’s 57, but only for now). It suggests that I go running, which is stupid with a knee like mine, and it complains when I don’t. It insists that I drink more water but doesn’t allow me any time to go to the loo. Now it’s started telling me when I should go to bed, and kicks off an alarm when it thinks I should be out walking first thing in the morning. It has just buzzed (this is really true), so I had to stop writing this Sunrise to walk my 500 paces, and as my reward it’s telling me how many calories I’ve burnt. But I’m grinning because I didn’t tell it that while I was walking I was munching my way through a bag of chocolate raisins! I’m still in charge. I think. I’ve been watching two men who went to the gym seven days a week, lifting heavy weights and sweating a lot. They were there when I arrived and they were still there when I left. They don’t do it anymore, they don’t do anything anymore. Not even breathing. Yesterday’s Sunrise reminded us that ‘There is a time for everything.’ One of the greatest of God’s gifts to us is time. Maybe we shouldn’t waste it, but how we use it is up to us. But it’s not all drudgery and discipline (are you listening Fitbit?), the Bible passage that tells us ‘There is a time for everything’ includes. ‘a time to plant, to heal, build, laugh, dance, embrace, mend,love, and a time for peace.’ There are other times too. God wants us to use His gift, not to waste it. If that means walking to visit somebody then let’s do that. If it means stopping to talk to the God who loves us, then let’s do that. Remember it’s God’s gift but you get to choose what to do with it. Don’t throw your Fitbit out, but remember there are other things in life.

I'm a human being - 7/6/20

Have you ever had one of those days where you have 100 things to do and there just doesn’t seem enough hours in the day? The washing pile is growing by the minute? The ironing pile is bigger than you ever remember? There is no food in the cupboards? You have emails to write? Phone calls to make? Bills to pay? Stairs to hoover and rooms to tidy and possibly a full-time job and a family to care for? Oh, and then there’s the garden?!! Life can become overwhelming sometimes can’t it? There always seems to be a deadline to meet and a to do list as long as your arm. No time for breakfast, lunch on the run, and too tired for dinner! We’ve all been there haven’t we? And to be fair if those kinds of days are rare that’s great! But if days like that become the norm, something’s got to give! We simply can’t continue to keep up the pace. And nor should we. There’s an old saying that says, ‘Always remember we are human beings not human doings’! And how true that is! It is so easy to get in to a rut And then find it really difficult to get out of. It can happen at any age and can cause anxiety, stress, depression… If this rings true for you, then let it be a wake-up call. Pause for breakfast. Sit down for lunch, even a quick one. And make sure that you recognise the people in your life who simply want you to ‘be’. So maybe make that phone call to the friends you haven’t spoken to for months. Play a game with your children or grandchildren. Take time to listen, to share, to care. To be. Yes the washing needs to be done, and emails do need to be sent, but the Bible says, ‘there is a time for everything....’ I need to remind myself of this often! To stop. Breathe. Eat. And whoop my chicks at a board game!

There comes a time when silence is betrayal - 6/6/20

I wasn’t around in the 1950’s but it is my belief that since the Civil Rights Movement the western world has come a long way. I try never to take for granted that I live in a time and place where there is peace. However, every now and again something so disturbing and tragic happens that I start to question how far do we still have to go? I think George Floyd is a name that has been on the majority of our minds and hearts in the past week, a story which we’ve heard much in the news of. Unfortunately, this is just one example of the injustices that are apparent in society today. I sincerely hope that in my lifetime the world becomes a place where people are judged by their character and actions and not their race, gender, disabilities or any other inconsequential qualities. In response to this week’s sad news I reread the book of Esther in the Bible. For those of you who are unfamiliar, I’d recommend the read (it’s only 10 chapters long). For me, I read it as a story of gender inequality, discrimination against a race of people, a strong independent woman who manages to save many lives though her faith in God. Long story short, Esther is faced with a decision in which she has a choice. Her first option is to stay silent and allow Haman’s plot to go ahead and the Jews, her people, would be mercilessly slaughtered. The second option was to speak out and confess to the king, her husband, that she is a Jew in order to get Haman’s plot revoked; but at the same time risking her own life. As a woman Esther could have been killed for even approaching the king without him calling her, never mind what could potentially happen if he found out she was a Jew! One thing that stood out to me in this book was what Mordecai (Esther’s father figure) said to Esther whilst she was making her decision. He said “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as time?”. It made me think, does God put us in certain situations because we can make a difference? Although calling out discrimination and injustice might be a scary concept, we have a duty to do it, otherwise it will just continue. Martin Luther King Jr once said, “there comes a time when silence is betrayal”. Esther made her decision, she faced her fears and told the king of Haman’s schemes, the king tookher side and she remained queen. Next time you’re faced with a situation when you have the choice to speak out or remain silent think of this story as you make your choice. I’m not asking you to put your lives at risk like Esther, but if the situation does arise when someone makes a discriminatory comment will you speak out? Will you make a stand for those who have been treated unjustly because of the insignificance of something like the colour of their skin, their sexuality, gender etc?​

Stop and think - 5/6/20

For months now we have had to think. Before we do anything, before we touch anything, before we go anywhere, before we meet anyone. Think. Is this okay? Does this meet the guidelines? Could this thing or person be contaminated? Will I come into contact with things that will do me harm? Will I be safe? This is not normal behaviour, but these are not normal times. Normally we just get on with it… whatever it might be. We don’t need to think about what we are doing because we are used to doing it and we usually know what to expect. We have habits and routines and life just goes on without us having to consider every move we make before we make it. Nevertheless, we have made the changes. We have adapted. Why? Because it makes sense. Somebody that we believe knows what they are talking about has gone to the trouble of providing us with a set of guidelines that are designed to keep us safe, so we have heeded the advice. We have been given a roadmap to steer us through uncertain times. Sometimes it has felt uncomfortable, unnatural, not what we would normally do, but we have done it because we know that it will make our lives better – even if we have to wait until after the pandemic passes to see the fruits of our efforts. Whilst it has been a different way of living our lives, it is a habit we should all cultivate. Long after Covid 19 has gone away we should still be thinking about how we act in our daily lives. Why? Because it makes sense. The God of the universe has given us a set of guidelines that are designed to keep us safe. He has created us. He has created everything. He wants to see His creation flourish. To that end He provides us with a roadmap for our lives. A pattern to follow to help us to live the best life we can live. Some of the guidelines may feel a little uncomfortable at first, a little unnatural, not the way we would normally do things, but they will make our lives better. Following the path described in God’s word will help us to, “store up treasures in heaven”, but that doesn’t mean that we have to wait to see the fruits of our efforts. Jesus tells us, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” That means now. So the guidelines are worth knowing. The roadmap is worth studying. It’s something that we can look at every day. It’s easy to find. Just pick up a Bible.

Rushing back to normal? - 4/6/20

As I write this, the news, for once, is not full of Covid bad news. There are wonderful stories of celebrations as people leave hospital, as birthdays are celebrated and wedding anniversaries toasted with plans for parties, holidays and reunions to start happening. Lockdown is easing and it appears that life is not so much slowly crawling back to normal but rushing back to some sort of new , normal reality. However, up the road, the McDonalds drive through has re-opened and traffic is queuing and causing chaos around the retail park. Our local beach, which for weeks has been pristine, is full of litter . People have left bags of rubbish, disposable barbeques and even a large sun shade umbrella. In America, the recent events have shown racism and division mixed with violence and it is sickening to read , watch or listen to. So much of our existence seems to be disposable, even lives. The joy of possibly being able to spend more time with loved ones,go on holiday, return to work or just get out more is being threatened by new fears and anxieties as crowds increase and rules seem unclear. STOP! “Be still and know that I am God” Abandon the cleaning or whatever other frenetic activity you might be planning. There is a God and he is permanent, not disposable. He is still here. PONDER! “Be still and know that I am God” We do not have to return to our old ways of doing things. We should not return to some of our old ways of doing things. There is a God and we are not Him. His ways require us to change ours because He knows best. TRUST! “Be still and know that I am God” There is a God and, if we allow Him to, He holds us in His hands, no matter what. Whatever the new ‘normal’ holds for each one of us, we need to keep making time to be still and know that He is God.

We are all equal - 3/6/20

Over the past days, weeks and months, our news channels have been full of reports coming out of America. This mighty nation has become a mighty, troubled nation as day after day we hear of racial abuse, rising levels of hatred, and loss of life. And let’s not think that this is restricted only to America, it’s throughout the whole world. you do not have to look very far at all to witness, or possibly experience, racism and prejudice for ourselves. The attitude of, “I’ll hate anybody not like me!” is becoming all too common. Quite frankly, it’s outrageous, it’s disgusting, it’s wrong! This is not a political statement. This is a message from our Creator God, who made all people in His image, our Saviour God who gave his life for every person in this world. We all have our faults, failings, and wrong doings, and we all have our gifts and skills and abilities. Not one person is a mistake and all people of every nation, colour, language, status…have equal and immense value to God.  Please join with me by celebrating life and all its diversities. Let’s stand against racism and prejudice and let’s help to bring healing to a very hurting world. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “ No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love”. 

 

Did you know? - 2/6/20

Did you know that scientists estimate that there are somewhere between 200-400 billion stars in the Milky Way? Or that one million Earths could fit inside the sun and that our sun is still only considered an average size for a star! What about this one – the footprints on the moon will be there for 100 million years? Or, that it would take a spaceship travelling at the speed of light 200,000 years to travel across the Milky Way! On Saturday evening millions of people around the world witnessed on TV the incredible scenes of the SpaceX spacecraft being launched carrying two astronauts travelling to the international space
station on the first ever commercial flight to space. In something that looked like it was out of a Bond movie, the spacecraft blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre, flew around the earth and docked on the International Space Station a few hours later. We watched in awe and wonder at this incredible step forward for space exploration and as you read this that space station orbits just 220 miles above the earth’s surface – about the distance between Liverpool and London. We are amazed at mankind’s achievements, at the knowledge we have acquired and the things we have done and created but all of this pails into insignificance when we spare a thought for all that God has done. Who set the planets into orbit? Who sees to the far reaches of the universe? Psalm 19 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” All 400 billion stars in our galaxy alone were carefully placed there by God. The best guess that scientists can come up with is that there are at least another 100 billion galaxies in the universe – all placed there by God. My brain cannot comprehend that many 0’s but every single star and planet was set precisely in its place by our God. But, if the enormity of that isn’t enough to make you gasp in wonder, Matthew chapter 10 tell us “And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered.” The very same God who knows every star by name also knows me so well that he can tell me how many hairs are on my head! Granted, counting the hairs on our heads might be easier for some of us that others, but I bet even the most folically challenged don’t know precisely how many hairs remain on their head! So the next time you wonder about your place in the universe or about your value in it, remember that the very God who has taken so much care in placing every star in its perfect place, watches over
you so closely that he knows every hair on your head, every thought, every worry. With a God who takes that much care, I think I can trust him with my tomorrow.

Invisible Poppies - 1/6/20

There’s a small area of woodland near where we live. It contains about one hundred mature trees, Oak, Beech, Poplar, Sycamore, etc. There’s also a small lake with fish in it and ducks on it. Not many people are aware of its existence because it’s behind some large private buildings that have been there for two hundred years. Only local people use it and to them it’s very special, so no litter is ever left and no barbecues are ever lit. People walk their dogs there but always on a lead, so ducks and birds are never chased and you won’t get flattened by a crazy black Labrador or tripped up by a snappy fox terrier. It’s been very quiet for two months during Lockdown but people are tentatively visiting again. There’s a rambling narrow path that just wanders around the woods, and there is one bench. Nobody knows who put it there, it’s been there for ever, at the far end of the path, half way round. It’s just twenty feet from the far edge of the trees and it looks back to where you started your walk. Dog walkers sit on it for ten minutes then move on; it’s never crowded. When you sit on it, you’re looking at all the trees you have just walked past, it’s very peaceful and lovely. And nobody ever turns around and looks behind where there are only five trees left and a little dip in the land that’s home to a variety of tall grasses. Every Spring a small family of poppies emerge from the soil, cautiously, as if it’s dangerous. It never is, so they gently and silently grow tall, bloom, and then die. And nobody ever ever ever sees them. But they are still beautiful and they still make God smile. We read in our papers that certain famous people have given money to help the work of charities. It’s really good for the charities, and the publicity is good for the donors. Jesus talked about doing good things for people without making a fuss. “When you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private,and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” In our community there are many ways that we can help each other. Our gift to someone may not be money or food, it may be time and a conversation that would encourage them. It could be something to read or a piece of music to lift their spirits. Whatever it is, Jesus say’s keep it to yourself, don’t boast. Our secret gifts to others are like the invisible poppies that nobody sees except God, they are beautiful and they make Him smile.

July Sunrises

A Work in Progress- 31/7/20

I have been doing a lot of painting recently. Not the creating a masterpiece on canvas kind of painting, but the slapping emulsion on a ceiling kind of painting. Then the slapping emulsion on a wall kind of painting – and not just any old emulsion; this is New Plaster Emulsion, “specially formulated to cover newly plastered surfaces”. Anybody who has ever painted a newly plastered surface will know that new plaster is thirsty. It takes a few coats, even with my new wonder paint. It’s almost finished. I just need to do the odd bits that haven’t really taken properly, which only show up in bright sunlight… so I might have to wait a while for some bright sunlight to finish the job. Then, of course, I’ve still got to do the gloss paint. Then it will be finished. All the blemishes left behind by the plasterers and the tiler will be covered over and everything will look new. The mess will be gone. It’s still there underneath, but it looks as good as new.

I will stand back and be pleased that the job is done… and then I’ll realise that my newly sparkling, bright white kitchen walls and ceiling put the paintwork in the rest of the house to shame; “That back bedroom could do with brightening up a bit” – and the whole thing starts again. Owning a house is like that. There is always something to be done. It is a work in progress… constantly.

We are a little bit like that. There are things in our lives that we wish we could cover over. I don’t mean issues with the way we look, that’s merely cosmetic. I mean issues with the way we are. The things we do and say. Our behaviours, our attitudes, our way of living life. We are a work in progress. We are constantly having to adapt to the things life throws at us. We are constantly at work trying to respond to the people around us, to meet their needs and interact in a way that promotes harmony and goodwill. If you are anything like me, then you fail to meet the required standard on a regular basis. You will let people down. You will not always get it right. You are a work in progress.

How nice it would be if somebody could simply cover up my shortcomings with a paint brush - hide all the blemishes of character behind a layer of brilliant white emulsion.

Jesus does more than that. When we come to Him and tell Him of the things we have done wrong and the things we didn’t do, but wish we had, He forgives us. He doesn’t simply brush over the marks and smudges, He takes them away and presents us spotless before the throne of God. Our blemishes are not simply covered over, they are removed. We are a new creation. It is as though the things we got wrong have never happened. The Psalmist tells us that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”. So when we get things wrong, when our work in progress doesn’t go how we planned, we shouldn’t try and cover it over, we should come to Jesus and ask him to put it right. He will make it new. That’s a lot better than any interior decorator I know.

It's Good to Laugh- 30/7/20

A certain famous soft drinks company did a publicity stunt on a busy train in Antwerp, Belgium. They employed an actor to get on the packed train with a pair of headphones on, that were plugged in to his tablet. He found a corner to stand in, and the stunt began.....

As he stared at his phone, he started to laugh. Seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. At first, apart from a few puzzled glances from commuters, no one paid much attention. But as the guy laughed more and more, the laughter became infectious and started to spread! 

Before long, the stoney-faced commuters couldn’t hold their stoney-faces, and smiles started to appear. Then the smiles turned in to giggles and chuckles and before long the entire carriage was filled with raucous laughter.

It’s a very funny video and just like the commuters I found myself at first looking puzzled, then smiling, and then laughing out loud. It felt good.

It didn’t matter that no one knew what he was laughing at, laughter is infectious, and laughter is good for us. 

The Bible tells us that, 

‘laughter is good medicine’. 

And how true is that. During these very real times of loneliness, anxiety, ill health and worry, I’ve witnessed a whole community of the most incredible people come together in various ways, and despite it all, find reasons to laugh. Even the most ridiculous reasons! 

 

When somebody is struggling and moods are low, the encouragement and support and laughter have been there. 

Let’s continue to do good, to care, to support, and where possible, to laugh! It’s a gift from God and to many people it’s quite literally a lifesaver.

See for yourselves, maybe this will make you laughter too

https://youtu.be/1veWbLpGa78

Trust the Artist- 29/7/20

I’m looking at a painting that I’ve just hung on my wall. It’s a very striking image of a bird’s wings from the back, all you can see are wings. And they are very colourful, not like anything I’ve ever seen in my garden. It was painted by a teenage girl who is fed up, bored, and feeling a little lonely. She started with a blank white canvas which, if it could speak, would probably ask for a beautiful, colourful, and bright image to be applied to its empty and barren surface. Instead our teenage artist covered up all the white with black paint, maybe that’s how she felt. It didn’t look promising, I’m sure the canvas began worrying about its future. It was left for days to dry. It was black for too long. Then one day, I’m not sure if it was morning, afternoon, or evening, (this young painter lady has been known to paint all through the night while the family slept), anyway she picked up the doomed canvas and began to bring it, and herself, to life. I can imagine the canvas being excited as finally the black began to be covered with a range of wild colours and shapes. Now that it’s finished and on my wall, people look at it and comment on the colours and the artist’s skill in producing an image that we can all recognise and appreciate. And in its head the canvas is saying “Ah shucks, thank you, I do my best.”

 Sometimes we can feel like that black and despondent canvas as we look at our own condition and lifestyle. We wish things were different, brighter, more colourful, and worth looking at. In the Bible, Job was a healthy, wealthy, happy family man, but Satan said to God, ‘Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’ So God gave Satan freedom to do whatever he wished to Job. Satan removed Job’s wealth, houses, family, and health. He became the ugliest creature you can imagine. If the teenage artist painted a picture of Job, it wouldn’t go on my wall. The canvas would be too dark and depressing to look at.

 But then God took the brush and began, like our young painter, to cover up the darkness with light and colour, and produce a work of art. At the end of the story we read these words, ‘The Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.’ What a picture!

Job trusted God to transform the ugliness and darkness of the canvas of his life, and God can do the same for us if we trust Him like Job did.

 Remember, God hasn’t finished with you yet. Give Him time. Trust the artist.

The Art of Adulthood- 28/7/20

On Sunday my youngest child, my baby, turned 18!  Not only does this make me realise that I must be older than I want to admit to myself but I also have to acknowledge that I no longer have any child-aged children who I can make decisions for.  Both of my children are now adults in their own right; they can make their own decisions, they can drive a car if they wish, they can leave home, they can get married and have children of their own (making me a grandmother!!!!!!) or they can run away, join a cult and never speak to me again.  Becoming an adult brings countless opportunities and decisions and we just hope we’ve done a good enough job in their first 18 years of life to prepare them and equip them to make good decisions and embrace the life-enhancing opportunities that come their way. 

The reality of course is that not much changed over-night from Saturday to Sunday.  He didn’t wake up with a mortgage, a beard or with any more common sense than that which he went to bed with. 

Becoming an adult isn’t a sudden thing, it’s a process that starts at birth and continues to death.  We don’t perfect it, we just learn stuff along the way sometimes getting it right and sometimes getting it wrong.  I can’t promise my children that now that they are so called ‘adults’ they’ll have everything sorted, it just means that they have to take the responsibility for the decisions that they make.  But even in taking responsibility, I hope they will always know that whatever happens and whatever mistakes they make they can always run back home for advice, support and love – even if it comes with a roll of the eyes and a “I told you so!”  The point is, I’ve been ‘adulting’ for quite a long time now and I still haven’t perfected it.  I keep getting things wrong and sometimes I even make the same mistake over and over - but thankfully however wrong I get things, I can always turn back to God who will never turn me away and will always welcome me with loving open arms – even if it does come with a roll of the eyes and a “I told you so!”

Mark chapter 10 says: “He [Jesus] said to them [the disciples], “Let the children come to me.  Don’t stop them!  For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.  I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.”

We’re called to become more child-like, not lacking in maturity wanting jelly babies for breakfast and dressing as Spider-man to go to work (although if that’s your thing, who am I to judge?!) but to come to Jesus with child-like humility, knowing that we haven’t got it all sorted, and follow by faith in His steps as the only person who ever mastered being an ‘adult’.

Can I Trust Mr Google?- 27/7/20

Our smart phones are incredible pieces of kit. My diary is on my phone. It has alI my activities for the last three years on it, and my future plans and meetings. In addition it has all sorts of personal information about medical history, hundreds of names and phone numbers, records of conversations and texts, some important, many trivial, and reminders to pay bills, etc. But like for most people, the content that brings me most pleasure (and sometimes sadness) is my colossal collection of photographs. In the good old days we would have taken our films to the chemist and gone back a week later to collect our prints and negatives. Many of us still have hundreds of packs of small prints, seen once, then confined to a drawer or a cupboard. But now we can fit literally thousands in the palm of one hand, and we carry them everywhere. The downside to this is that our phones get clogged up, slow down, and eventually complain to us that we need to do something or it will stop working. Now that’s serious, life will come to a standstill if our phones die. This happened to me this weekend, and I sat staring at the screen because nothing was happening. Then over the hill came the cavalry, it was a letter from that nice Mr Google who said he could bring my phone back to life by removing many pictures that were already safely stored off my phone. He didn’t say where they were but I could always have access to them whenever I wanted. That’s what he said. I didn’t think he would tell me lies so I gave him permission to remove all the pictures that are stored in another place. So that’s what he did; my phone went silent for a while, things whizzed on the screen, then Mr Google said that the job was done and he had removed 1,599 of my pictures. When I picked myself up off the floor and read the message again, I had a little personal minute of silent panic. But Mr Google said they were safe. That’s what he said. And then my phone woke up, said ‘Good Morning’, and went about its business. I don’t know where those pictures are and I haven’t had time to search for them, but Mr Google seems like a kind man and I trust him. I think I trust him.

 Many times in life things are beyond us and we get to the stage when it’s necessary to trust someone. Even that exceedingly wise man King Solomon discovered that some things were beyond his understanding, and his advice to people was, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend  on your own understanding; seek His will in all that you do, and He will show you which path to take.” Sometimes our path through life is totally confusing, but God knows the way to go. Let’s follow where He leads because we can trust Him.

 Now Mr Google, what have you done with my pictures?

Oh No!! It's the Window Cleaner!!- 26/7/20

About three months ago, my lovely friend Frank, introduced me to his window cleaner. He’s called Graham, and he’s very lovely. I told him I really needed a window cleaner as my last one went to prison!! He said he’d walk down to mine in the next few days and do them once a month for me. I was very excited!! The same sort of excitement that I get walking in to B and Q! I must be growing up!!

Anyway, I was pottering about the following morning when one of my chicks shouted to me, ‘Mum, the window cleaner is here!!’ I froze!! He couldn’t be!! It was too soon!! I wasn’t prepared!! My curtains were open!! 

In a very loud whisper I said, ‘Shut my curtains!!’ In an equally loud whisper came the reply, ‘I can’t, he’s doing your window now!’ 

My bedroom, at present, is home to a huge amount of ‘work stuff’. There’s boxes and lots of books (I love books!) and files and blow-up saxophones and Hawaiian grass skirts!....a lot of Hawaiian grass skirts, oh and coconut shells and music stands.....you get the picture? There is nowhere else to put them at the moment, so that’s where they live! But Graham didn’t know that!! And now, there he is, quick as lightening up that ladder!! And there was nothing I could do about it!

Now in the whole scheme of things I’m sure Graham couldn’t give a monkeys what was stored in my bedroom. I suspect he’s seen much more interesting sights!!! But I decided there and then, that until my bedroom looks like an image out of an interior design magazine, my curtains will be closed on ‘Window Cleaner Week!’ (I need to write a Sunrise about pride!)

But the stupid thing is, is that shutting the curtains doesn’t remove the mess. If I want to deal with the mess, well, I've got to deal with the mess!!

Sometimes, in life, I’ve found that I’ve got other messes to deal with. Wrong thoughts, careless words, mistakes, problems, worries, deadlines and demands. And sometimes it feels easier to ‘shut the curtains’ on the mess and not deal with it. It could be because I’m tired, or feel overwhelmed, or don’t want to admit that I got it wrong, or the task feels just too big.....but ‘shutting the curtains’ won’t make it go away! We can all become very good at hiding the messes in our lives, but we can never hide them from God. He sees it all. He knows it all. 

David talking to God said, ‘You know my thoughts before I think them. You know where I go and where I lie down. You know everything I do’. 

But the best bit of all is that He still loves us! Despite the mess! And because He loves us, He wants to help us deal with it. Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest’, again He said, ‘I have come that they (that’s us!) may have life to the full’. 

I could ‘shut my curtains’ and pretend everything is good and fine all of the time, but I’ll not be kidding God. I really should take Him up on His offer of help and to give me rest. He must really love me! 

But my window cleaner??...sorry, for now those curtains will remain shut!

Turn Your Eyes...- 25/7/20

At just seventy, with moderate heart failure, I settled down if not happily at least contentedly (though with some guilt) to the Lock-down experience: a sort of “Spain without the tapas” I told the Rev who kindly phoned to check up on me! I had retired twice by this time and was now being retired by the Government: so what I wondered was to be the ‘purpose’ of my seventy-plus years? I was faithful to chat rooms, corresponded with those who needed or gave support, produced a few bookmarks and birthday cards, finished knitting my ‘Teddy for Tragedies’, deposited a couple of egg-boxes on doorsteps, and gave to charities. I also cleaned once or twice (slightly more since!) and began making flapjacks and marmalade followed by one batch of chutney (needs adjustment!) But still wondered where my purpose was?

Outside my door a significant area of society was going through undisputed Hell on Earth. No real need to detail: tragic deaths, sustained organ failure, traumatised medical/key workers, frozen unexpressed grief, domestic abuse, unemployment, financial collapse, mental despair, relationship breakdown, overcrowding and political warfare. The media made sure we knew. There were huge dark areas in the country I had always called home. However, alongside these, there appeared sacrificial acts, devoted service, hilarious humour and unrelenting positivity, shining deeds of hope and love ….. human beings at their best, for example our Melling Community embracing each other and riding the storm under Jo and the Team. Such dramatic contrast, just like the black and white image someone (you know who you are!) posted on a chat.

So although at first I couldn’t find God in the pandemic, in the conflicted mixture of dark and light, I finally turned my head towards the light and saw the face of Jesus. Just as we do with the tantalising image above. If you have no access to the image, then you might get an even better result using your imagination! If you think of Jesus, and know his story, you will perceive in his face a contrast between compassion in his eyes, sorrow in his smile, strength in his spirit, wounds to his head, pain in the present and hope for the future. Because of him I accept the broken world in which we live, a world which intensely highlights the grace and goodness and glory of God. The Saviour’s face calls us to turn our heads, lift our gaze and transform our perception. He is still a safe place and a source of protection, but we need to seek him out. Globally there may be “no place to hide” but with Him we find our security again because ‘our lives are hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3). And we travel in hope that more people will ‘turn their heads’, understand and respond. We wish them to enter the experience described in the verse below:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace’.

What Do You See?- 24/7/20

Most of us judge the world by what we see. There are many common sayings that demonstrate this; “What you see is what you get”, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, “Sold as seen”, “Seeing is believing” and so on…

We marvel at the beauty of nature; a vivid sunset, a majestic forest, or a raging ocean. We watch our children or grandchildren at play and take pleasure at the joy on their faces. We choose which colour our clothing, curtains, furniture, wallpaper, hair should be and it’s all based on our sense of vision. What we see shapes the way we behave towards people and situations; it causes us to react in certain ways. It can bring joy and despair in equal measure, depending upon what we are looking at. It is an important element of our very nature.

What happens then when we can’t see; either because our sight fails us, or because what we want to see can’t be seen? I was temporarily deprived of my sight in one eye following an operation. It was a strange few months. I found that, whilst I could still see out of my good eye, my perception had altered. Not only in terms of my actual visual acuity… my depth perception was disturbed and things weren’t quite where I thought they were, but because I perceived the world without seeing it properly. I realised that despite not being able to see it, the world was still there. I just needed to accept that fact and trust that what I had always known, still held true. The glass I was trying to pick up wasn’t further away, it was still in the same place, it just didn’t look that way.

Sometimes, the situations we find ourselves in distort our view of life. Things happen that make us question things we have always known and believed. There are days when God seems further away. When that happens, we should ask ourselves, “who moved?”. It wasn’t God. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is a faithful God. He is there for us… always. No matter what is happening to us, He is there.

The book of Hebrews speaks of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses, the Israelites, Joshua, Rahab and others who faced situations that would challenge their view of their world, but their faith didn’t waiver and, as a result, they overcame the problem, trusting that God was with them.

It is that faith that sees us through. Hebrews says this, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Simply because our view is distorted doesn’t mean that anything has changed. We can’t see God; we’ve never been able to see God, but we are conscious of His presence. Billy Graham once said, “I’ve never seen the wind, but I’ve seen the effects of the wind”.

So, our view of the world should not be based upon what we can see, but upon the promises of our God and our faith in His presence.

Not My Fault- 23/7/20

I was sitting in the garden reading and drinking tea. Birds were tweeting and there was a gentle wind rustling in the trees. Perfection reigned; for a while. Then it started; crash bang wallop; the lovely neighbours next door had decided to knock a shed down. You don’t need me to tell you that sheds don’t go quietly. My book required concentration so I kept going. My neighbours on the other side heard the shed demolition and thought that as the silence had been blown away, it wouldn’t be a problem if they chopped their tree down. Stereo destruction! Frustrated, I retreated indoors. My peace was wiped out and it wasn’t my fault.

 I’d had a good day; the client was pleased, even promised to pay me. The M60 was busy with everyone homeward bound so it was normal occasionally to sit in stationary traffic four lanes wide. The radio was off, the windows closed and everything including me was calm. The driver in the huge lorry was reading his phone messages up to the time he wiped out six cars, one of them mine. We brought four lanes to a halt for two hours, we had six ambulances, five police cars and a fire engine. The violence of the crash was colossal and the noise was indescribable. Peace disappeared in a flash and it wasn’t my fault.

 We all know people who have been asking for trouble for years, so when it turns up, the most common response is, “They should have known that would happen, it’s their own fault.” Now what about us, we don’t go looking for trouble do we? But it turns up anyway! And it’s not our fault. Life can be very unfair.

 A man called Asaph who wrote some of the Psalms in the Bible struggled when he saw arrogant and nasty people succeeding in life when he found life tough. He complained to God about the unfairness he could see around him, “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else...These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! Look at these wicked people enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.” By the end of the Psalm he realised that what he had was so much better than wealth, health, or power. “My health may fail, and my spirit grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever...I still belong to You; You hold my right hand”

 Many of our pains in life are not our fault and they are not reduced by envying people who are sailing along. But if can trust in God’s love He will walk with us and give us His peace. And nothing can wipe that out.

Good-looking Thoughts- 22/7/20

A couple of years ago I decided to join Instagram. This is a social media platform where you share a photo or image and add a caption or comment. I’ve got to confess I’m no fan of social media, but I’ve had an absolute ball with Instagram!! I don’t have many followers and I don’t follow many either!  Beyoncé has 150 million followers! Cristiano Ronaldo has 231 million! I have 99. Just 99. And I’m happy. If somebody likes my post they show it by clicking on the heart! Once, nearly 40 people liked my post! It took me all day to calm down from the excitement! The truth is, I don’t do this for the ‘likes’ I do this because it’s just a bit of fun. But for some, it’s not quite so much fun! In today’s world there’s more pressure than ever to look a certain way, dress a certain way, stand a certain way, pout in a certain way and then provide selfies of all the above! It’s easy to say, ‘don’t worry’, ‘who cares what people think?’ But when society says you’re too tall, too small, your nose is too long, your eyes aren’t big enough, your hips are too wide, your hairs too curly, you don’t suit that colour and you need to pout, there’s a temptation, at any age, to feel inadequate. To not feel great. A bit of a mistake, or misfit. 

In the bible, Paul wrote to one of the churches telling the people that they were, ‘God’s works of art’. Can you believe that? We’re a work of art. God doesn’t make mistakes, so who are we to tell others that ‘they don’t look right’? Who are we to tell ourselves that? Whatever our age! 

God told Samuel when the people of Israel were looking for a king, ‘...man looks on the outward appearance, the Lord looks on the heart’.

Ronald Dahl in his book The Twits put it like this, ‘If a person has ugly thoughts it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly that you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of you like sunbeams and you will always be lovely’. 

God looks on the heart, our beauty comes from within. So I guess I can stop pouting now!

The Antics of Edward- 21/7/20

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new bird feeder.  We have a bird table in our garden already but it tends to be hogged by all of the bigger birds – the white collared doves, the magpies and the starlings who dominate it and bully the smaller birds.  So I decided to buy a much smaller hanging feeder which can only be accessed by the smaller birds.  We hung it on the tree and waited. And waited.  Eventually after about a week the Gold Finches and the Blue Tits eventually found it and started to feed from it – success!!  The big birds also found it but there was nothing they could do about it, they simply can’t get to the food inside.

But then a couple of days ago as I sat at my lock-down desk looking out over the garden I noticed Edward our friendly neighbourhood squirrel visiting our garden (remember him?)  To my amusement, he climbed the tree where the new feeder was hanging and proceeded to try and reach it.  He was reaching out trying to grab hold of the feeder to pull it closer to himself and retrieve the contents.  He was quite persistent and at one point I did think he was going to fall out of the tree but eventually, in a very impressive, mission impossible style of movement he did manage to reach the seeds and help himself.  While I admired his persistence and agility we did go out and move the feeder to a place even he can’t reach.  For those of you concerned about him going hungry, no need, I went out and left some nuts for him on the shed roof which he duly collected!

Sometimes in life there are things that just don’t seem to be accessible by us.  There might be physical restrictions, such as there are at the moment, which mean that some people can’t access shops, theatres or churches while on other occasions we may place our own mental restrictions on ourselves – I’m not clever enough/strong enough/good enough/young enough/old enough…the list is endless.  But the Psalmist reminds us that wherever we find ourselves or whatever situation we find ourselves in, God will always be accessible, ready to hold us up when we are weak and show us the way when we are lost.  “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

We can’t lose God and he’ll never put himself out of our reach but on those occasions when life does throw a curve ball and we just don’t think we’ve got what it takes – God promises to be everything that we need.  The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength”.  We don’t need to try and get through the day in our own strength because we’ll always find God beside us, just waiting for us to take his hand.  Maybe even the acrobatics of Edward could be possible!  You first!

Rain or Shine? - 20/7/20

We are now one month beyond midsummer’s day, and sunrise is later and sunset is earlier than it was a month ago. I don’t want to irritate you, but I think I should point out that for the next 165 days, each one is shorter than the previous one. It’s early evening and I’m sitting in front of a bay window that allows me to see up and down the avenue. Already it looks a little darker than it did at this time last week. It doesn’t help that it’s cloudy tonight and it’s raining. We are at the mercy of the weather because we have no control over it, so we can’t put in our order and sit in our windows and watch the clouds lift and the sun emerge from behind the curtains in the sky. Anyway, if we could put in our order would we all order the same thing? No! No! No! We would probably start a fight. We had wonderful weather in the Spring, it didn’t rain for two months. Brilliant. But I had to follow orders and spend nearly an hour every night watering the garden plants. There was talk of a drought and farmers were preparing to do a national rain dance. But during the last month it has rained nearly every day which is very depressing, but I haven’t been ordered off my computer to water the garden, and farmers have replaced their dancing shoes with wellies so they can get back to work. Most kinds of weather have both positive and negative aspects.

 It’s just like life; you’re off work for a month but only because you have backache. Your football team won’t put their prices up next season but only because they were relegated. You’re working online now so you don’t have to face that traffic jam, but you miss your mates and the jokes. The truth is that so often we are not satisfied whatever our situation is like.

 King Solomon understood our tendency to always want something better or different, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never content with their income”....Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied.” When Jesus taught the world to pray, He included the words, “Give us today our daily bread.” No mention of a new car, or a decent pension, or even a holiday in the sun. Hmmm. During the last three months in this country we have been wonderfully protected and provided for. More than half of the world’s population think we are living fantasy lives. So let’s be content with our daily blessings, and remember where they come from.

 Now where’s my brolly?

All You Need Is Love- 19/7/20

A few days ago a Kentucky bin man noticed that a rubbish bin hadn't been put outside an elderly lady's house for two weeks. He was concerned enough to share the address with his supervisor. She found the name of the lady and phoned her. "Are you ok Ms Smith only you haven't put your bin out for two weeks". Ms Smith replied "I am ok but my cleaner was too afraid of the virus so has stopped coming to me. I can't get to the store and I don't have any trash to put out as I have run out of food. Unfortunately I don't have any family to help me" . After a long pause the supervisor said "You do now. We are your family". She let the garbage man know the sad situation. On his day off he knocked on the lady's door and asked her to make a grocery list. "This list is too short Ms Smith". She added a few more items . He then asked could he take a look in her fridge . She relented- it was empty!  The man walked out of the house of the woman who was physically immobile. An hour later he returned with bags of groceries for a lady he hardly knew.A bin man decided he would reach out to someone and Church broke out.I miss our services of worship but what about Church? Church is happening all around us. It's a phone call, a bag of groceries. It happens any time someone tells another person "We are your family now". Real Church is not defined by a service of worship but by servants of God. Keep being Church! That's all we have to do.Mark 12 : 3 Love your neighbour as yourself

My Roots Are Showing- 18/7/20

I decided to stop colouring my hair quite a long time before Lock-down. Now I can guarantee that it’s all roots! My hairdresser confirms it. Gradually, I am happier to be who I am with ‘hair by God’. When I Googled the title “My Roots Are Showing” I found a song by Crystal Shawanda which is interesting to listen to….once? It more or less echoes the same sentiment, a reality check perhaps? Natalie Macmaster has a Celtic album by the same name.

However, I seem to be finding the real me in other ways too, just what makes me tick, where I’m rooted. Can anybody identify with how Lock-down brings out the worst and the best? I am a thinker rather than a do-er. In fact, sometimes when I’ve thought something strongly enough I then fail to execute the idea, even if it’s good. It’s almost as if I’ve done it in my head already! I’m lazy by nature, easily distracted and if anything serious needs to be done I had best do it by lunchtime. After that it’s downhill all the way. I can be touchy, avoid challenges and I may take too long to forgive. (That includes forgiving myself). Fortunately, I’ve also got a sunny side and I look for positives. But our sunny outlook can be in a battle against the elements, especially in Lock-down. I’ve become less patient and I need more grace and mercy to get things right. In Melling Community we sing about ‘letting it shine’ and we are definitely helping each other through the chats and virtual meetings!!

Back to the theme of roots. In matters of faith I am totally ecumenical and I love that, although others might not. I am blessed with friends in various denominations. It keeps me too busy really and Lock-down has provided a rest. But my family roots are Celtic and these are also beginning to show. We are all doing this aren’t we? Finding God in the everyday, showing up in the least expected ways, not restricted to a building, blessing us in the little things, lending us His Grace? [NATURAL BREAK HERE].

However, what does the Bible teach us about roots? Many things but for example St. Paul writing to the Church at Ephesus said:

‘I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts by faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love.’ (Eph 3:17)

Where I wrote ‘[NATURAL BREAK]’ that was when my husband asked me to come and cut his hair. (His trust is actually terrifying). I made him wait two minutes till I could find a stop in my writing ‘flow’. Sadly, in my natural self I would have normally flipped at the interruption: there would have been a good rant! But I’m trying to be rooted in Christ, I’m trying to let grace enter, I’m trying to let the sunshine in (and win!) ….. on this occasion I was ‘sunny side up’. Please God that my roots in Christ will show more often.

Why Not?- 17/7/20

In 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy gave a speech in which he said, “Some men see things as they are and ask, why? I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”.

At the time of his speech, the world was in turmoil. The Vietnam war was raging and young Americans and Vietnamese alike were dying needlessly in the hot, steamy jungles of Asia. Students protested and marched for peace on campuses across America and, in some cases, were savagely beaten by overzealous policemen and National Guard officers. Similar protests in France brought about more violence and repression and ended with a national strike and a general election. In Prague, demonstrations against the repressive communist regime ended with Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia to crush the protest. There was unrest in black communities in major cities in America and the civil rights movement was at its height, with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. leading peaceful demonstrations and marches across the country. Dr King had given a speech too. One in which he stated that he had a dream, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.

Both Kennedy and King were united in the hope that one day they would live to see a better world. For both men, that hope was extinguished by an assassin’s bullet. For many people that had shared their hope, that hope died with the men who had so boldly dared to articulate it.

Look around, we too live in tumultuous times. In fact, you can choose any time in history and it can be said that the people of that day lived through difficulties and dangers. The nature of the turmoil may have changed down the ages, but it has always been there. It seems Churchill was right when he said that, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”.

Jesus lived in a time of persecution and repression. He lived in a country under the occupation of the Roman empire. He was aware of rebellion amongst the Jewish people and even had a zealot amongst His disciples. Jesus was a man of hope. He was, to many, the hope of the Jewish nation. They believed that He was the one who would end the tyranny of occupation and lead them to a new freedom. They were right, but not in the way they expected. People followed Him for three years, until the authorities, frightened of the freedom He spoke of, decided that enough was enough and put Him to death.

But, the hope that Jesus offered didn’t die with Him. His death seemed to have brought an end to the possibility of freedom for the Jews, but His resurrection confirmed the hope that is alive for us all. He demonstrated how it was possible to be a better human being; to love people, to care for them, to put their needs before our own, to treat everybody with dignity and respect and, in so doing, to build a better world. His hope is alive today. We just need to grasp that truth and act upon it. Why not?

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

Not In the Bag- 15/7/20

Some years ago I had a very good friend who had a very large handbag. This handbag went everywhere with her! And wherever we went and whatever we needed while we were there...it was in the handbag! Need a tissue!...got one! Need a pen!...got one! Need a cough sweet!...got one! Nothing too strange about any of that. But on occasions it got a little bit weird. Like the time we were in a restaurant and the staff were having trouble keeping a door open. ‘Hold on, bear with...do you want to borrow my doorstop?’ Or the other time when someone forgot their reading glasses...but it was ok, my friend had ‘a selection’ of glasses of varying strengths to offer, out of her handbag! And when she was faced with us all just staring at her, ever so slightly puzzled, her response was always, ‘y’know, just in case.’ Needless to say, my friend and her handbag solved many a problem and met many a need!

I’m the opposite, I’m a very light traveller. Wherever I go, I can’t stand ‘unnecessary baggage’. It’s probably part of the reason I hate camping. All that effort, all that packing, to sleep in a field! But I have found myself on numerous occasions wishing I was just a little bit more like my friend with the bag!

If only all of life’s problems could be fixed by the contents of a handbag. We could have a slogan saying something like, ‘Life will always be great, if you just find a mate...with a handbag!’ Sadly, it’s not that straightforward. When I was very ill as a teenager, no contents of a handbag could get me better. When I lost my daughter, there wasn’t a handbag in the world that could help. On the loneliest of nights and the most stressful of days, the handbag was redundant.

The thing is, none of my friends or family,  fit in to a handbag. When I’ve needed friendship, support, an encouraging word or that essential listening ear, it’s not come out of a handbag! Being there for somebody, either in person, or nowadays more likely on the end of a phone, is vital. Just to hear a kind voice, to speak out your thoughts and worries without fearing judgement, to find something funny together and get a much-needed moment of light relief, to know you’re not alone. Good friends and family are invaluable. They walk through the darkest of times with us and celebrate the best of times with us.

But my best friend, without a doubt, is Jesus. He doesn’t fit in a handbag either! But I know that during the absolute best times in my life, He has been there, the wonderful days with my chicks, the hilarious Monday evenings with choir friends, and the countless great days where nothing dramatic happened, but still it was good. And He has been there in the absolute darkest of days too, when grief and fear and despair have never felt closer. Paul in the bible knew what it felt like to have everything and he knew what it felt like to have nothing. He wrote, ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, principalities or powers, nor things that are now, nor things that are to come, can separate us from the love of God’.

I need to get myself a handbag for important things like tissues, pens, cough sweets and doorstops. But more importantly I need to be that loyal friend who’s there to laugh with and cry with.

Thank you to all my loyal friends, You’re worth more than any handbag, and thank you Jesus, the most loyal of all.

 

Contagious Kindness- 14/7/20

Has someone ever done something that has really irritated you?  Tell the truth!  It might be something quite small but you’ve dwelt on it and pondered on it until it’s become something much bigger.  The bigger that irritation becomes, the more things you find to be irritated by.  You start off being irritated because they haven’t washed the dishes and end up falling out over the fact that they NEVER wash the dishes, they NEVER answer the phone when you call and they were late picking you up that time back in 1998!  The problem is that, instead of simply dealing with the issue when it became an issue, we’ve fed it by giving it our time and attention – and like anything else, when you feed it, it grows!

But someone shared a poem with me this week which turns lock-down and Covid-19 on its head.  ‘Kindness’ by Brian Bilston (https://brianbilston.com/tag/kindness/) considers the ‘virus’ of kindness which has grown during this time of uncertainty.  The neighbours checking in on one another; the shopping being delivered to those who can’t go out; the phone calls made to someone feeling lonely.  We are, quite rightly, concerned about containing and reducing the spread of Covid-19 but imagine what the world could look like if the R value of the ‘virus of kindness’ grew?  Imagine if for every single act of kindness that we received we gave 2 away! 

The Bible calls us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3).  And the really good news is that in just the same way that we can feed our irritations and see them grow, we can feed our inner kindness and see it grow.  By actively choosing to dress ourselves each day in the clothes of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, we choose to look for those opportunities when we can display those traits to others. 

In Luke Ch 6 it says, “Give and you will receive.  Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap.  The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”  Imagine a world in which every kind act is received back many times over – and the more we get back, the more we want to give out and so it grows.  The more time and attention we give to the kindnesses, the more we share them, or to put it another way the more we feed them, the more they will grow. 

Let’s go out into the week actively looking for opportunities to show kindness and not only will we find that we have the ability to make others feel good, but it can make us feel good too.  And in the midst of all of this, the irritations will begin to shrink away because we’re just not feeding them any more.

Fed Up Yet?- 13/7/20

OK it’s time to be honest and own up. Hands up all those of you who are getting fed up with government rules and regulations. Wow, that many! But it’s all for our protection. Yes I know you want to go shopping without looking like a bandit, and you need to get back to the gym to recover your streamlined aerodynamic shape. I understand how frustrated you are standing in a long line outside The Range before you get permission to enter from someone who looks like they should be in school. And all you wanted was a 2B pencil! We have been told daily by our leaders that it’s all for our good (which we know is true but we don’t like admitting it), but it’s gone on too long and we British people deserve better than this. We are aware that many remote countries are still sadly struggling, but this is England and we like to think we are in charge. The sooner we can get back to traffic jams and polluting the atmosphere, the better. Do you think it’s possible that we are being unreasonable by demanding heaven on earth? Almost all of the admirable characters in the Bible, male and female, faced exceedingly difficult times and lived lives that would shock us. There’s a lesson here for us that we may not wish to hear; normal life on earth is a mix of easy and tough days. But you know that because you’ve had your share of nasty days, and for many of us the nasty days are still with us.

 There’s a temptation to believe that Christians are protected from harsh experiences, despite the fact that most of Jesus’ disciples were executed. Jesus said some shocking things to His followers, He said, “If the world hates you, remember it hated me first.” That’s not a very good recruitment slogan is it? Jesus was clearly spelling out the fact that Christians are not to expect an easy ride on their way through life. So does that mean that we are in for a miserable and difficult existence down here? No it doesn’t, but it does mean that we are not to measure God’s love for us by how easy life is.

 St Paul lived a life of extreme challenges and suffered enormously but could still say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” All of us have had or are having tough times; no one escapes! But God promises His presence to those who trust in His Son and follow Him. Paul’s life was not easy but it was worth living. He knew that satisfaction did not come via his circumstances, but from knowing that God walked with him. That was his choice. What’s yours?

My Forever Friend- 12/7/20

My granddaughter when she was 13 , had a bad year in school. She didn't say anything to anyone, but it was obvious to her mum and dad after a while that something was wrong. In the end thankfully ,things were sorted.She is now eighteen and very recently was asked to do two 'one minute motivation' videos for her youth group at Church. This is what she said on one of them-"Isaiah 41:10 'So do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you with my righteous right hand'.God is always here for us no matter what the situation is.Do not worry because God is right by your side helping, guiding and protecting you. If you are worried or feel you can't do something, don't get distressed because God will give you the strength to conquer everything. God is always there for us and will never let us down. If something is on your mind give it to God. He will hold you up and care for you. Isn't that amazing.This really encourages me when times are hard... (big smile) "Needless to say I was a very proud and emotional grandparent watching the video, especially as I know this sort of thing does not come naturally to her.I think this is a great encouragement to us all. God will never leave us or forsake us. He is with us every step we take.  He is our forever friend. Let us cling onto His promises !

Look Down to Look Up- 11/7/20

I love skies, all skies, blue ones with little fleecy white clouds, thunder clouds that look so threatening, totally grey skies that remove all shadows, red skies at night and in the morning (despite the weather implications), and starry skies on the darkest of nights. If you’re imaginative or slightly crazy, you might start seeing animals or people in the clouds. Don’t tell anyone! On a breezy day skies can change every minute and on a still day they can hang around for ever. I remember a photographer who photographed the same patch of sky at the same time every day for a year and the results were amazingly varied. If you want to look at the sky without getting a stiff neck you can often look down and still see it; just find some water. As well as skies, I love reflections. You can photograph a lake and see the sky reflected in it. If the water is rippled you will see a beautifully disturbed, almost abstract, image of the sky above. If the water is still, the reflection of the sky will be a perfect mirror image.

 If we want to understand what God is like, we can read statements in the Bible that help us, God is love / God is patient / God is just / God is wise, etc. But maybe the words are not enough. We would gain more information about God if He lived down here where we are and had to deal with the kind of people and situations that we deal with every day. Instead of looking up to see God, let’s look down to where Jesus walked. He is like the still lake because when we look at Him we see a reflection of His Father.

 When He faced temptation, we see God’s holiness; when we see Jesus faced with spiritual darkness, we see God’s authority; when people presented Him with their problems, we see God’s wisdom; when desperate men and women cried out for help, we see God’s compassion; when we see a man on a cross, we see the love of God. The Bible tells us that, ‘God’s Son has all the brightness of God’s own glory, and is like Him in every way.’

 If, for you, seeing is believing, then look at Jesus.

Where's the Instructions?- 10/7/20

I’m somebody who likes to read the instructions. I like to know what it is I’m supposed to do and how I’m supposed to do it. I operate on the basis that somebody else already knows how to do this and has gone to the trouble of writing it down for my benefit. If I cooked, I would definitely use a recipe, rather than just throwing things into a pan and hoping for the best.

That’s why I like Ikea furniture. I often hear people complain about the instructions, but I have never found them to be a problem. Much of it is in pictures, so you can see what it is you’re supposed to do without having to read complicated text.

I know some people that just dive straight in and start hammering and banging; assuming that their intuition will prove enough. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have colleagues that work in IT, who despair of people who, when faced with a problem, adopt a similar approach. They just press every button they can find because they believe that eventually one of them will do the job. In so doing, they end up making things ten times worse for the poor helpdesk technician who has to fix the mess. Oh well, different people approach problems in different ways.

Of course, certain problems don’t come with instructions. After all, life doesn’t come with a handbook. We sometimes feel like we’ll just have to figure it out all by ourselves, but we are not on our own. We can turn to God. Now, I know some people who accept that, but still get frustrated that God has not spoken to them to give them a clear instruction of how to solve their problem. They have not received a lightning bolt of revelation.

The songwriter, Carolyn Arends puts it like this in one of her songs, “I was hoping you would write for me a message in the stars – as if the stars themselves were not enough”. She realised that this is the God that created the heavens and the earth; His hands threw stars in to space; do we really need to wait for Him to send us a personalised message before we accept that He is on the case? No, we simply need to trust.

So, when we face problems and difficulties we should not be discouraged. Our focus should never be on how big our problem is, it should be on how big our God is.

The book of Ephesians talks of a God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine”. It is this God that we can trust to help in our difficulty. It is this God “who made the earth and created mankind on it”. It is this God who has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

We might not have a set of instructions, but we can leave the problem in His hands; safe in the knowledge that He will seek the right outcome according to the master plan He has for us.

Walk On the Wild Side- 09/7/20

What’s the riskiest, most stupid thing that you have ever done? That is a truly brilliant conversation starter, isn’t it? I mean, we all remember Theresa May being asked something like this and her talking about running through a field of wheat! I could not ever imagine my answer to this being “A hug”, can you? A few weeks ago, I went back to the midlands (down south for you lot) for a funeral. The funeral was being streamed so I watched it whilst at my best friend’s house. It was a bittersweet day. The funeral was tough but being able to watch it whilst spending time with my friend was pure therapy. We were so careful. We had a lovely lunch in her big back garden and kept 2 meters away from each other. There were tears and laughter as we shared memories and watched the funeral. Then it was time to go. On the doorstep I turned around and gave her a big hug. I had missed her, and it was instinctive. It was stupid. It was dangerous. It was risky because we were living through the most dangerous pandemic in our lifetimes. It is, however, not the riskiest thing that I have ever done. That was standing up in a church, telling people that I loved Jesus and wanted to follow him and getting baptised.

Following Christ is not a safe, cosy thing to do. It means being willing to submit to His authority, go where He wants you to go and live in a sacrificial way. In some parts of the world, it can cost you your life. It is the riskiest thing that I have ever done and the best. Following Christ in this world means, to me, peace, hope, a future, and life. In the gospel of John are these words: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”

So, what’s the riskiest thing that you have ever done?

Oh Happy Day!- 09/7/20

Before lock-down, one of my favourite times in the week was Monday evening at choir practice. For those of you who don’t know, Melling Community Gospel Choir will be 9 years old this coming October. Woohoo!! And I hope I can celebrate our birthday with all the choir members. 

We are people from all walks of life, a million different likes and dislikes, skills and experiences. Not one of us is more important than the other. We all need each other. We started as just a choir. We’ve become a family. And, well, Zoom choir just isn’t the same! First of all, we can’t sing together! Secondly, have you ever tried hugging someone on Zoom? Zoom is wonderful, but the choir need to be together. The music we perform finds its roots in the devastating experiences of the African slaves in the United States. The physical and mental pain and suffering that they were put through by other humans was indescribable. They cried out to God, and found their strength and security in Him, and in each other. They weren’t professionally trained musicians and singers but the words they sang together, and the tunes they created together, were so beautiful and so powerful, they have been passed down from one generation to another. None of us in our choir are professionally trained musicians or singers either! We’ve had many a Monday night where we have laughed and laughed trying to get our parts right. But when we do get it right...wow! Between the message of the words, the beautiful music and the sense of unity.....well, let’s just say, I miss our choir so much! Each one of us joined because we wanted to sing. But I think it’s fair of me to say that through singing we’ve gotten so much more!! During this time of forced separation, many of us will be realising all over again just how important others are to us. We need each other. When I’ve been thinking about the choir and my other friends I’ve been reminded of this verse in the bible, 

‘I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy’. 

Maybe there’s people who you feel that way about too? Let them know. It’s important because they’re important. They’re a gift from God.

In the Hands of the Master- 07/7/20

Have you ever wondered what makes a masterpiece a masterpiece?

There is a story that one day the artist Pablo Picasso was in a park when a woman asked him if he would do a portrait of her.  He agreed and set about drawing the woman.  When he had finished and handed over the artwork, the women was stunned and delighted with the resemblance that he had captured.  She asked him how much she owed him for the drawing, to which he replied “$5,000”.  She was horrified and said “but it only took you 5 minutes!” his reply was simple – “No, mam.  It took me all my life.”

Picasso showed talent from a very early age and his father, a painter and professor of art, recognised this and began to formally train him from the age of 7.  By the age of 13 he was accepted as a student at the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona and continued his studies in Madrid at the age of 16 where he spent a great deal of his time in art galleries carefully studying masterpieces and developing his own style of art.  The portrait that he produced for the woman may have only taken 5 minutes of pen on paper time, but the image created was an accumulation of a lifetime’s work.

In Ephesians ch 2 v 10 it says “For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago”. 

None of us are the same as we were when we were children, we have grown and changed physically but we’ve also grown and changed in character, abilities and knowledge – we are, and ultimately will be, the accumulation of a lifetime’s work.  

I looked up the definition of ‘masterpiece’ and it said that it is a work of outstanding artistry; the work of an acknowledged master.  Masterpieces don’t come from nowhere, they are carefully crafted and created; they are the product of skill, devotion and love.  The master commits to the subject and the canvas submits itself to the skilled hand of the master.  The question is, which master do you submit to?

Way back at the beginning of time Genesis tells us that when God had finished creating the world, the birds, the trees, the animals and humanity, he paused and “looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!”  I may not seem very special and I’m definitely a work in progress – it’s a work that will take all of my life, but when I submit to the hands of God the Master I have the potential to become one of His masterpieces.  They say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ – well, when God looks at us, does he see the beauty of his creation?  Does he recognise the work of his hands? 

I choose to submit to the hands of God the Master.  Who will you choose to be your master?

Have You Seen My- 06/7/20

Have you seen my (take your pick) phone/keys/glasses/bag?” How many times in the last week have you got into your car, turned the engine on, then remembered that you didn’t have some essential item. Your passengers roll their eyes and think ‘here we go again.’ Turn the engine off, take the keys, go back into the house to get your whatever. But your whatever isn’t where you knew it would be, ‘Why don’t they leave my things alone’ you say to yourself. It’s never your fault that things disappear of course, you’re so tidy. It’s strange though that this happens twice a week. A ‘quick’ search around the entire house follows before you find the item in an odd place, and you just know that you would never have left it there. Back out to the car to meet one of your passengers coming back in to go to the loo. ‘Why are people so disorganised?’

 Losing something can be very irritating, especially if it’s important, like a letter from the hospital or an envelope with banknotes inside. The strange thing is that if the item is lost in the house, it’s probably safe even though it’s lost. In the odd days of Lock-down during the last three months, many people have felt lost in their own homes. Not allowed out, couldn’t go shopping, Hub, Choir, and Shoot out of reach, forbidden to touch our family and friends; life was put on hold. It was easy to feel invisible and unreachable, just like a lost coin, even though we have been kept safe. Imagine how much worse it would have been without phones, group chats, and Zoom. And gnome deliveries. We have a lot to thank God for!

 Jesus told a story about a woman who lost a coin, and He described her reaction, “She lights a lamp, sweeps her house, and looks carefully everywhere until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together, and says to them, “I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let’s celebrate.” We are beginning slowly to come out of Lock-down, and hopefully we will be able to celebrate with family and friends just like the lady who found her coin. Let’s be grateful to God for our safety which will make celebration possible. Speaking about the lady celebrating, Jesus said, “In the same way, I tell you, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.” God is interested in anyone who needs to be found and made safe.

Taking or Giving?- 05/7/20

During the pandemic there has been a lot of talk about giving. There has quite possibly been a miraculous outpouring of generosity, a true spirit of helping and outreach. We are all so grateful for this response, most have been a part of it within their own sphere and ability: giving and where necessary taking.

More recently, with acute awareness of racial injustice, domination and abuse, there are many who also require us to take…..that is to “take the knee”. And if by this we mean making a peaceful stand for racial equality then we empathise and support.

However, not everyone realises that ‘taking the knee’ is borrowed from the action of Martin Luther King, the well-known black human rights activist, who publicly bowed the knee, or gave the knee to his Heavenly Father, on 1st February 1965 as he prayed for fellow-protesters outside a courthouse in Alabama. It demonstrated a prayerful surrender to Jesus. Herein lay his power.

So perhaps we would do well to look below the surface of cultural gestures to find a true and effective and deeper demonstration of commitment to justice. The Bible says in Philippians 2:10-11 and Romans 14:11 that at the name of Jesus one day every knee will bow. How much more effective would we be if we did that now? A life surrendered to Christ becomes a focal point, a channel perhaps, for the creative power of the Holy Spirit. The individual becomes a ‘thin place’ where Heaven can ‘squeeze through’ into a particular point on earth. When people do that they establish here a part of God’s Kingdom where there is no difference between various groups (Galatians 3:28), where all are equal in value….. and that makes all the difference!! So it’s worth considering: do you want to simply take the knee in the human challenge …… or will you go further and give the knee to our Saviour’s invitation?

Home Sweet Home...Maybe- 04/7/20

I love my home. It’s not just a house. Not just a place to sleep. Nor, by any stretch, is it perfect! My girls are noisy and untidy and, well, noisy and untidy. And Louis, my black lab, collects slippers and shoes and deposits them around the house. Our home isn’t a ‘show home’, and it’s not filled with perfect people, but it is filled with love and acceptance and safety and forgiveness. And good coffee! We can all argue and disagree, but home is still where we all run to when we’re tired, sad, lonely, hungry, needing encouragement and love.

I’ve lived in many different places over the years. In many different houses. But they’ve not all been home. Home should be special. And it can be any flat, house, apartment, tent(!!!!)....as long as there is much love and safety and care. Home is not dependent on the amount of possessions owned. 

But for some people, ‘home’ is not defined like that at all. Home for them may be scary, lonely, abusive, freezing cold with no food, no peace. For these people, ‘Home Sweet Home’ just doesn’t ring true. 

Jesus was big into social justice. He cared. He got angry about injustices. Peoples lives mattered to Him. ALL peoples lives. And He made the point over and over again that we are to care for others. Even when it gets messy and inconvenient and requires sacrifice. When He said, ‘Love God and love your neighbour’, He wasn’t talking just about the people next door. 

Maya Angelou knew what it was like to go through many abuses and tragedies, she said, ‘As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others’.

For those whose home life is suffering because of neglect, abuse, illness, poverty, addiction, loneliness....if we can help, then let’s do our bit. Let’s put away all judgement, and treat others as we’d want to be treated. What a difference it would make to our world if more homes were sweet.

What's In A Name?- 03/7/20

When I was born I was given a name. Strictly speaking, I was given two, but the first one had been decided months before I was born; although, as you are about to read, it changed at the register office. The second one was decided following my birth, but that one too is not what it should have been.My Mum was determined that I would have a name that could not be shortened. She toyed with the idea of Mark for a while, but on checking the births in the Liverpool Echo she decided that there were too many Marks already, so she decided on Ian. Of course, she didn't count upon the determination of the average Scouser to shorten even the shortest of names, so I am often referred to simply as, E. Thanks Mum!My middle name was something my Mum and Dad could not agree upon. The one thing they did agree was that I would not be named after my father or either of my grandfathers. They eventually agreed that I would be named after the doctor that delivered me. This was a decision they were very pleased they had made as I was three weeks late and was a very difficult delivery. I was so starved of oxygen that I was black when I was born. It seemed a nice tribute to the skills of the doctor who ensured my safe passage into this world to give me his name. So my Dad asked after the name of the doctor and was told it was Andrew; which just happened to be the name of my late paternal grandfather, but despite the original agreement regarding familial names, Andrew became my middle name. It was only after my name had been registered that they discovered that Andrew was the other doctor on duty that night... the doctor who delivered me was actually called Colin. To this day my Dad maintains it was an honest mistake, but my Mum never believed him. Oh, and my other name was registered by my Dad as Ian instead of Iain. Another mistake for which he was never forgiven. Personally, I'm happy with both the names and their spelling, so no harm done.In the Bible we find names have a great significance. The meaning of the actual name is important in itself, but often people were given other monikers that described their character or what their role would be.God himself never revealed His name. When asked by Moses, He simply said that His name was, “I am”. That was enough. This was, after all, the God who had created everything, so it was enough to know that He was.Jesus went by many names. His given name was obviously Jesus, but in Isaiah 9:6 we read, “He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. These titles speak of His divinity, His power, His faithfulness, His nature and purpose. It is Jesus that provides us with our salvation; Jesus who gives us life in all its fullness; Jesus who loves us and watches over us. So, the next time you hear His name spoken, remember that the simple name Jesus is not enough to encompass all that He is or does. He has so many more names... and none of them are a mistake.​

Wardrobe Dilemmas- 02/7/20

When our children were younger (not that little either), getting 4 of them up, fed, dressed and out onto buses for school etc was a daily struggle. They also all went to the school that I worked in but chose to get the bus cos being taught by your Mum was bad enough but sharing a car with her was much worse! However, the youngest would often get a lift if she could, along with her maths teacher who lived around the corner. Picture the scene I am late for work and she cannot find her black regulation school socks. Eventually, I gave up waiting and we drove off, leaving her on the pavement screaming and crying.

Clothes matter, the regulation school socks, and uniform told folks to which school she belonged. They were part of her identity. On Saturday, I am attending a virtual wedding. I will dress up in my fancy outfit to watch it on my laptop…because it feels tight and symbolic to do so. Wearing that outfit will remind me that I am witnessing a special occasion and that I am part of it.

In Galatians chapter 3 verse 27 it says this: “for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” When we belong to Jesus, we should be clothing ourselves with Him. Putting on Christ means putting on His characteristics or it could mean that we put on His armour and protection. Either way, folks should be able to look at us and know that we belong to Jesus by the way that we are. Our identity, our very being should be recognisable as Christian or of Christ. No ironing needed, and yes, there will be times when we mess up and go out with the wrong clothing on; when we don’t put on Christ. When that happens, we need to turn to him and say sorry and He always comes back for us.

The Girl With The Dragonfly Tattoo- 01/7/20

That’s me! It was about 8 years ago when I found myself in a tattoo studio in Liverpool, at the mercy of the loveliest hairy biker I’ve ever met! We chatted and laughed as he carefully created an everlasting dragonfly on my back!

Dragonflies are such beautiful creatures! Their colours and delicate shape are just amazing! But they weren’t always like that. In the ‘baby’ phase they are wingless bugs. Living under the water, wallowing in the mud, and eating most things that come their way! Hardly beautiful! And that phase can go on for up to 2 years! In the mud!! And then, one day, DA-DAAAAH!...

Wings! Colours! Flight! That’s SUCH a good day!! And everything about them seems excited and happy! 

Dragonflies can fly at speeds of nearly 60 miles an hour! They can hover like a helicopter, fly forwards, backwards, up and down, they catch their food in mid flight and mate in mid flight! Now there’s a talent!!! 

But they’re not without their struggles and threats. Global warming is threatening their existence, and birds, spiders and frogs love to snack on them! Life isn’t easy for the dragonfly but when I look at one I can’t help but believe that it’s loving life and living life. 

Our days can be fraught with problems and worries and difficulties, all very real, that in some way or other, threaten us, distract us, drain us. David, in the Bible, was no stranger to struggles and worries and real life threatening situations, and it was during such a time that he wrote these words, ‘This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it’. He wasn’t ignoring his problems but he was choosing to get the best out of his day. Recognising each day as a gift from God, and choosing to be thankful. If dragonflies had a favourite Bible verse, I think they’d choose that one! And if David has to be an insect, I think he’d opt for a dragonfly! I love my tattoo, and whatever is going on in my world, my dragonfly is a constant reminder to be real and to be thankful and to seek the best out of my day. I’m SO glad I didn’t pick a dung beetle!

August Sunrises

What’s Wrong With Being Old?- 31/08/20

We went out for breakfast the other day to a restaurant that allows dogs inside. However the morning was so beautiful, that we all sat outside, including the dog. There were sixteen of us and we took up four tables. It was a lovely experience, good food, company, and location. These days Liverpool is looking very good; visitors love it so much that tourism is the city’s biggest business. One of the great aspects of the trip was the view that we had while we ate outside. The mix of buildings side by side was fascinating. Some of them were built in the 1880’s and some were built in the last ten years. Even the sculpture spanned more than a hundred years with one large and famous piece only erected less than two years ago. It is constantly surrounded by visitors from all over the world as they queue up to be photographed with four Liverpudlians. The contrast between the old and the modern buildings is considerable. Some people are offended that modern buildings with their angular shapes and glossy finishes are placed alongside buildings made of brick and stone. Other people think that old buildings should be knocked down, partly because they struggle to pass building regulations concerned with fire escapes, insulation, and achieving enough daylight through small windows, and partly because this is the 21st century and we don’t want our city to look out of date. 

Many people struggle with the Bible because it’s so old; it’s full of camels and wells, sheep and goats, men in robes and silent children. (silent children!!!). People say it can’t possibly be relevant for today’s world. But the truths and teaching in the Bible are timeless. Look around the world and see how people and cultures struggle to relate to each other, and how many governments treat their populations appallingly. We are constantly hearing of domestic abuse or people earning a fortune destroying lives with drugs. Every day we have phone conversations with individuals and organisations lying to us to get to our savings. There are more slaves in our own country than you would believe. Children daily face bullying in schools and are misled by bloggers and ‘celebrities’ to believe in twisted standards and distorted morality. 

Simply reading a few chapters of the teaching of Jesus and putting it into practice will transform the lives of individuals and nations around the globe. And it’s never out of date, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear.” We are not talking about an old fashioned and irrelevant religion, we are talking about God’s standards that will never fade away but have the power to transform your life, my life, and everybody else’s.

What Is It?- 30/08/20

When one of my chicks was just three years old she took herself off with paper and pencils to draw me something special. Some time later she walked up to me, with a smile from ear to ear, and proudly announced, “mummy this is for you!“ I looked down and smiled an equally big smile, and whilst telling her it was absolutely wonderful, in my head I was wondering exactly what it was! I looked at my chick‘s face, she was delighted with her picture, but I had absolutely no idea what I was staring at. It definitely had eyes...I think....And a very interesting body. She said to me, “mummy do you like it?“ “I absolutely love it! Is it a dog?” She began to giggle, “no mummy you’re silly!” We laughed. “Oh! Then I’m guessing it is a very big cat!” Again she giggled, “mummy you’re really silly!” This conversation went on for some time, and I went through all the animals I could possibly think off. Mythical ones included! And she giggled and giggled! Eventually, I turned to her and said, “okay I think it’s a duck billed platypus!” She stared at me, and smiled and said, “well done mummy!”

And with that, she picked herself up and ran off to play. And I was left laughing and wondering just which end of the duck billed platypus was the head and which was the tail! 

The simple fact is that what I was looking at didn’t match what I was told it was! 

As I remember that funny story, I think of the lesson I can learn from it too. What do I ‘look like’ to others? It’s an important question. 

The Bible talks about how God changes us, for the better, the more we get to know Him and love Him. Paul called these changes, ‘the fruit of the spirit’ and defines them as, ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control’. And as each one of us learns to trust and love God that little bit more, we will start to ‘look’ differently. We will start to ‘look’ like we love God. We will start to display signs of the fruit of the spirit. I confess, I have a long way to go!! Some days I ‘look’ like someone who loves Jesus and sadly other days I don’t! But every time I mess up I’m thankful for our perfect God picking me back up and showing me, all over again that, ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, great is His faithfulness’. 

So far nobody has ever looked at me and thought I was a duckbilled platypus, although there’s still time, but what would really devastate me is if people looked at me and failed to see any evidence of Jesus in my life.

Where's the Contract?- 29/08/20

I go back a long way with Microsoft, in fact I think I have probably kept them in business over the years. If I left them, I imagine a panic would ensue on the stock market as their millions of clients would be swayed by my dissatisfaction and find a different supplier. Maybe I’ve exaggerated my importance to Microsoft but I’m important enough for them to send me new terms and conditions because they say they want me to get the service I deserve. I feel quite proud that they go to great lengths to secure my custom. So I opened this new document today and started reading, and reading, and reading. Then I stopped for a coffee and two tablets and wondered how many words were in the document. I was quite impressed to discover that I am so important to them that they sent me 8000 words. But I’m a little bothered about the kind of words; they tell me it’s unlawful for me to ‘disassemble, decompile, decrypt, hack, emulate, exploit, or reverse engineer any software.’ They talk about ‘fraudulent, erroneous, or unauthorised transactions’ and they are very firm about ‘Contracting Entity’. Suddenly I’m nervous about signing this contract and I wonder why Microsoft doesn’t sound friendly anymore. Whatever we get involved with in life today, the lawyers have huge influence over, and we are expected to read, understand and sign documents that frequently appear to be written in a foreign language.

 Times have changed; when the disciples swopped jobs from fisherman etc to ‘Follower of Jesus’, they signed nothing; there was no contract and no wages. They just said goodbye to their families and walked away but they could always go home if they got bored or scared, because they signed nothing. ‘One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew-throwing a net into the water, because they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come and follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people.” They left their nets at once and followed Him.’ No contract, no lengthy employment negotiations, no money for solicitors, and off they went. It turned out to be a job for life. In 2000 years it has never changed, being a Christian (A ‘Follower of Christ’) is still a job for life. Simply by acknowledging that Jesus took the punishment for our sins and agreeing to follow where He leads, our lifelong occupation starts with no training or experience and leads to eternal rewards with no 8000 word contract to read and sign. Brilliant.

And What Do You Do?- 28/08/20

When I left school, many years ago, I had, “modest” academic qualifications and had no illusions about further education – a university degree was not in my future, but the climate of employment was such that jobs were plentiful, so it was not the passport to a prosperous future that it seems to be today. I remember discussing the type of job that I might be interested in, it was a long list and I had no definite plans. My Grandad was in the room and he fixed me with a look and said, “Your first job is to look after your family; to put food on the table and a roof over their head. The rest is window dressing”. Simple and sound advice.

Down the years, I have often thought of my Grandad’s words when attending one of the many tedious business meetings or conferences I have been required to sit through in my 43 years of employment. The most commonly asked question at these events is, “and what do you do?”. The enquirer is usually asking in order to make a judgement; either to judge if there is something that you do that will be of use to them, or to judge your status, based upon how important they perceive your job to be.

I always give a straightforward and honest answer, “I’m part of the Government Security Service”. This usually results in the questioner not knowing what to ask next and achieves my desired outcome of killing the conversation stone dead. It’s not that I don’t want to be judged; I couldn’t care less what the person thinks of my job and it’s not that I don’t want to talk to the person - it’s just that I don’t want to talk about my job. I have to spend all day doing my job, I don’t want to spend more time talking about it to strangers. Let’s talk about something more interesting. I’ve often thought about telling people that I do something a little out of the ordinary – just to see what happens, “I’m a seal greaser at a wildlife park”, or, “I put the cherries on top of Bakewell tarts”. It would be amusing for a while, but I’m not sure I could keep up the pretence; better to tell the truth and move on to something else.

It didn’t matter to Jesus what you did for a living. He chose His disciples for what He saw in them, not because of the job they did. There were several fishermen, a tax collector and a zealot - somebody who engaged in political debate, protest and perhaps even anarchy! We are not told about the professions of half of them, presumably because it didn’t matter. Jesus saw people for who they were inside. He didn’t judge them by their social status, but by their character.

The same was true of the people Jesus mixed with; “sinners and tax collectors”, the poor and downtrodden, the sick and needy. Class, social status and wealth meant nothing to Him. He simply loved everybody and valued them equally.

Jesus did, however, give His disciples a job to do and we, as His followers, are equally responsible for getting it done. Again, it doesn’t matter what we do for a living, it is something that Jesus requires of us all. It is often referred to as, “The Great Commission”; it’s in the book of Matthew, chapter 26 verse 19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”

It sounds like a big ask, but it simply requires us to start where we are. To tell those around us. Perhaps take my Grandad’s advice and start with your family. Let anybody and everybody know that Jesus loves them, no matter what they do.

Who Will Sing With Me?- 27/08/20

So, yesterday I woke up and decided I’d had enough of this virus! I was missing my choir family and Hub family, and everybody else. I wanted the freedom to meet up with them all and to sing and chat and laugh, AND HUG! 

My chicks have been getting increasingly fed up over the last few weeks, having done really well throughout lock-down. And so yesterday I woke up muttering!! I wasn’t muttering to anyone in particular. Just muttering! 

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last weeks sorting new choir music, and yesterday I went on to YouTube to find one more song. During my hunt, I came across a recording of America’s Got Talent with a contestant called Archie Williams. I’m giving you the link to see for yourselves what happened to this 58 year old man. I was stunned. Shocked. And I found myself all over again, thankful for, and at peace in, my circumstances. 

https://youtu.be/ShgOH1u78XA

In the Bible Paul was tortured and imprisoned because of his love for Jesus. It says,

‘And the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas. Then the officials tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered them to be whipped. After a severe beating, they were thrown into jail, and the jailer was ordered to lock them up tight. Upon receiving this order, the jailer threw them into the inner cell and fastened their feet between heavy blocks of wood. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them‘.

During these past months our freedom has been restricted and we’ve all, understandably, found different aspects difficult. Maybe we could all learn something from both Paul in the Bible, and Archie Williams today, that during our toughest times we don’t lose hope, don’t give up, give our struggles to God....and maybe even sing?!

Fix That Light!- 26/08/20

Confession time, we are rubbish at DIY. We have a gate that is painted bright blue and the fence that is attached to the gate is a mixture of blue, rust, black and the red paint that we first tried and didn’t like. In our kitchen we have a strip light that has not worked properly for over a year. It doesn’t matter because we managed. We used all sorts of contraptions to light the kitchen rather than replace the light. Then one day, despite standing on a chair and trying to twiddle   with the fitting, it would not turn on at all and the little plug in lamp was just not bright enough. So, we bit the bullet and bought a new light for the princely sum of a fiver. We screwed it in and hey presto, the kitchen is lit. We spent all that time making it complicated and the solution was so simple. Sometimes we make our faith so complicated. We make excuses not to share it, worry that we are not qualified enough or that it is not really our job.

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus said, “You’re here to be light bringing out the God colours of this world”. He didn’t say that we have to try to be something we are not. He didn’t say that we have to go to college to study before we can share our faith. He didn’t say that we have to be clever or creative or deeply theological. He just said that we are there to be a light. Bishop Desmond Tutu put it like this:” We are only the light bulbs; we just have to stay screwed in". Turn on your light and shine, wherever God has put you. 

Being Batman- 25/08/20

Last weekend we went away for a couple of nights.  It’s been such a strange year with so many plans having to be changed along the way, not least of all holiday plans, but we thought at least we could manage a couple of nights away.  We spent our time wandering around small historic towns and the inevitable gifts shops which are filled with all sorts of things that no one ever needs but we all end up bringing back from our holidays.  Amongst these were the usual items adorned with inspirational life quotes, many of which seem to require you to dance in the rain!  However, there was one that made me smile, it said – “Whatever you’re doing today, do it with the confidence of a 4 year old in a batman t-shirt.” 

Immediately, I had images of our children when they were growing up always wanting to dress up as something from a princess or a mermaid to Buzz Lightyear or Woody from Toy Story.  As soon as they put their outfit on, they became that character, they adopted the personality and with it came the confidence that they could do everything that that particular character could do.  You would think that they would become disillusioned once they realised that they couldn’t really fly like Mary Poppins or didn’t have the strength of Superman, but no, as every 4 year old knows – it’s just the adults that can’t see them do it!

Strangely, the Bible also asks us to dress up.  In the book of Ephesians, Paul asks us to “put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.  Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armour of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared…hold up the shield of faith…put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” 

When we clothe ourselves in God’s truth, righteousness, peace and faith we too can face our day with the confidence of a 4 year old knowing that God is protecting us through every battle that we might have to face.  The battles will still come and we will inevitably have times of difficulty and weariness but by wearing God’s armour we have the assurance that we will still be standing at the end of it all.

Whatever today may bring for you, let’s face it with the confidence of a 4 year old superhero with the assurance that God is with us and protecting us through it all.

Should Have Gone To...- 24/08/20

Are you one of those people who keeps a draw full of old specs and twelve cases of various sizes, styles, and colours? Many of us have a long history of wearing spectacles, and if we could put all our old ones in order, we would have a record of our eyesight health over many years. Many people find that one pair is not enough for their needs today. Some people have trouble seeing things close up, while some struggle to see things down the road, and some strain to focus at every distance. I have trouble at both ends so I wear varifocal specs which, if you practice, allow you to get away with just one pair, so mine meet all my needs, but if I ever lose them I’m in big trouble.

 We are very blessed in the UK to have easy access to opticians who can fine-tune our eyesight and also warn of certain health conditions. It’s important to remember that you can return your old specs to many opticians and they will send them abroad to be available to people who cannot afford to pay. Their lives can be totally transformed by receiving your old specs. It’s time to empty that draw. Please don’t throw them away!      

 Sight is such a wonderful blessing; let’s not take it for granted. How awful it must be to lose your sight and how important must be the memories that you are left with of people and places. What do people who were born blind understand when we thoughtlessly talk about colour or shade, light and dark?

 The Bible reminds us that sight is a gift from God; ‘The poor and the oppressor have this in common: the Lord gives sight to the eyes of both.’ In the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus we read that He often restored people’s sight without resorting to opticians or specs, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” ‘Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.’ The really good news is that all those who follow Jesus will have 20/20 vision for all eternity without paying any bills. In the last book of the Bible we read a description of Heaven, which includes the words, ‘The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him and they will see His face.’ What an amazing gift from the God who created sight, that we will have eternal vision after we finally close our eyes.

God's Collection- 23/08/20

Many people are collectors and it’s amazing the range of items that they accumulate. Quite often you can understand why particular products are collected, like small pottery horses or beautiful glassware. These things are the result of a talented individual’s skill and artistry, and many of us wish we could do what they do, but we can’t so we collect these items instead of making them. Then we put them on display in our homes so that visitors can see how sophisticated we are. On the other hand some people collect the most bizarre and often unattractive products that lead people to mutter words of sympathy and scratch their heads before walking away. For instance, 18th century screwdrivers or Victorian policeman’s whistles. It’s unlikely that these will be put on display or have any resale value.

 Sometimes the driving force behind the collection is emotional. I know a veteran photographer who has been building a collection of vintage cameras for years, but recently his wife discovered the extent of it, and when I spoke to him last week he was in the process of selling them on EBay. He’s not happy but his wife is. Then there are the hard-headed business types whose only reason for buying anything is to make a profit, then buy another car. This reminds me of the man I met who owns five mansions around the world and his hobby is collecting Aston Martin cars. Wouldn’t you like to be in his shoes? The slight drawback for him is that he suffers from depression and he collects bottles of rum which he then drinks, and his doctor has told him he will be dead inside five years.

 It’s interesting the value we place on things and our reasons for it. Jesus met religious leaders who valued their position and reputation in society more than they valued the safety and rights of ordinary people. He met Pilate who valued his job more than justice. And when it comes to people, who do you value (love) most and why? Paul told the church in Rome, “God showed how much He loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.” God values us so much that He gave His only Son so that we can join His collection of people.

 And He won’t be selling us on for a profit. He will keep us safe for eternity.

Shapes- 22/08/20

So with a title like ‘Shapes’, what am I thinking about? Could it be the need for people to get back to the gym? People who are looking at new cars are often comparing shapes. If you go to buy a pair of shoes, shape is as important as size. I have a pair of shoes that are the right size for me but not my shape, so they’re uncomfortable. But I’m not thinking about those important aspects of our lives, my thoughts concern the really vital subject of dog biscuits. I bet some of you thought of that as soon as you saw the word ‘shapes.’ Winalot Shapes are an essential part of a dog owner’s armoury. With these in your pocket, you know your pet can be let off the lead because he/she will risk life and limb to get back to you if you hold one up and yell “bikkie”. I walk a black Lab so I know what I’m talking about. There are five different shapes; heart, house (maybe kennel), bone, star, and fish. And there are five colours, but I have discovered that Louis doesn’t care about appearance or flavour, he has no preference, a bikkie is a bikkie, it’s his top priority and he will run a mile to get one.

 What will we ‘run a mile’ for, what’s important to us, what really matters? When we can all meet together again it would be interesting to ask each other what our top five priorities in life are. There would be some obvious replies, but I’m sure there would be some surprises too. Someone is bound to say, “Chickens” or “Cats”, “Formula One” or even “Football”. Personally I would be tempted to say “Photography and Badminton”, but I’m not sure they will be in my top five. Our priorities should provide us with a foundation for living so that in the gales of life we stand strong.

 Jesus told a story of two men who built their own homes. One built his on sand and it fell down in a storm. The other man found a rock to build on and his house survived the wild weather. Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock.” It clearly would make sense for us to check out the words of Jesus and make them our first priority. So what are your other four?

 I’ve got three Shapes left, one heart, one fish and one house (or kennel). First come first served.

Being There- 21/08/20

The American criminal justice system appears to be more about winning and losing than seeking justice. Perhaps it’s because the important jobs within it, the likes of District Attorneys and Judges, are elected positions. The better your track record, the more chance you have of landing the job. Achieving a favourable verdict; “winning” if you will, is therefore uppermost in the minds of those arguing the case. This can lead to some dubious verdicts and wrongful imprisonment. I read of one such case this week.

A young man, Jonathan Irons, who was convicted of serious assault and burglary had his sentence overturned and was released from prison. He had been there 23 years. What brought his story to national prominence was not the fact that the prosecution had won the case, in part, by failing to disclose important information at the time of trial that would have cast serious doubt on the conviction – it was the fact that a famous sporting star had been instrumental in facilitating his release. Maya Moore put her basketball career on hold two years ago to focus on fighting Irons’ cause. This is not just any basketball player. Moore has won the Women’s National Basketball Association title four times in her short career, been voted the league’s Most Valuable Player and has two World Championship and two Olympic gold medals to her name. Put simply, she is probably the best the women’s game has seen. She set it all aside to fight for justice for a man that she met whilst working with her family in prison ministry. She became his voice, his advocate. She worked with his defence lawyers to demand a retrial and finally got one. She kept going. She put her life’s philosophy into practice, “Keep showing up”. Eventually, her efforts were rewarded. She can now go back to her life in basketball, whilst, at the age of 40, Jonathan Irons can finally start his life.

We too can be the help somebody needs. We may not be faced with the challenge faced by Maya Moore, but to the person we support, we are just as valuable. It might be as simple as lending a listening ear, or it might be something practical. You don’t need to put a promising basketball career on hold to be there for somebody - which is good news, because I for one don’t have a promising basketball career - you just need to keep showing up.

It’s not a new idea. In the book of Matthew; Chapter 25, Jesus makes it clear that this is something that is to be part of our Christian way of life. He speaks of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing those who need clothes, caring for the sick and visiting the prisoners. We may not be in a position to do all of those things and certainly not all of the time, or all at once, but we can do what we can, for who we can, when we can. Simple acts of kindness in many cases. Things that often require us to simply be there for somebody. To simply keep showing up.

The Reindeer Can Stay- 20/08/20

So, Rudolph remains firmly fixed in our lounge. We’ve decided to keep him there until after Christmas. After all, Christmas is only 18 weeks away! But I continue to think about all the things I’ve the potential to un-see. Yesterday it was the wonderful gifts we can take for granted. But today I’m thinking about the wrong things that over time have maybe crept in to our lives. Bad habits and practices have a way of creeping in, little by little, and finding their place, well and truly, in our daily lives. They can be subtle. And we may be shocked when we realise that they’ve gone un-seen for so long. Maybe our health is being compromised by what we’re now eating or drinking? Maybe we’ve given up on a daily walk? Or the monthly gym membership is money being wasted? How about that friend that you used to have? The one who hurt you? And the hurt continues to build up around you, like a brick walk, and without realising it you spend so much of your time and energy bearing grudges and keeping others at arms length? Maybe you’ve made a mistake with finances and found yourself in mounting debt that is easier to ignore than address? Or how about that interest or hobby you wanted to take up? ‘I’ll do it tomorrow....and tomorrow....and tomorrow. And you’ve not noticed how long you’ve been procrastinating? 

We all have bad habits. Every one of us. We are massively influenced by our circumstances,  the friends we have, the things we choose to look at and listen to and follow. Every poor habit starts with some kind of poor thought. A lazy thought, a negative thought, unforgiveness, carelessness, revenge, apathy, worry....

Jesus said, 

‘I have come that they (that’s us!) may have life, and life in abundance’. 

Our lives matter, every day is a gift to us, every moment is an opportunity to think and say and do something good. 

Paul wrote, 

‘...you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst, the beautiful, not the ugly, things to praise, not to curse....’

And so once again I’m thankful for the forgotten Christmas decoration on my wall. It has reminded me to be thankful for the things I’ve ‘un-seen’ and taken for granted, and it has reminded me to look at my habits that have become ‘un-seen’ by me. My reindeer can stay, my bad habits can go!

Big Rudolph- 19/08/20

About one month ago I was sat in my lounge with my girls and as I looked up I noticed, on the wall, a large 2 foot reindeer head, complete with antlers and a big red nose! I stared at it wondering what it was doing in my lounge in July!! As me and my girls chatted and laughed about it, we came to realise that it had been there since the start of December! How could such a big decoration go unnoticed? It was next to the conservatory door, so we have walked past it countless times in the last seven months. And not once was it noticed. Not once did I look at it and realise it had been missed when taking the Christmas decorations down. There it was, staring us in the face, every day, and we didn’t see it.  

But as I think about big Rudolph and how I shouldn’t be able to un-see him every day I realise just how often I un-see other things around me. Other things that really matter. Other things that I simply take for granted. Every morning when I wake up, I get out of my comfortable bed and get washed with hot water. I look out of my window and see neighbours that are kind and lovely, trees and flowers that insist on growing despite my lack of skill, the beautiful sky and the sun that turns up every day without fail. I have clothes to wear and shoes that fit my feet. I open my fridge and find food to eat, and I’ve never got to go far to shop for more food for my hungry kids. I have a family that loves me, an old car that keeps going, and a home I feel safe in. These gifts are all around me. I see them every day. But sadly, like Rudolph, they can sometimes go unnoticed. Unappreciated. A forgotten, unnoticed Christmas decoration has caused me to recognise, all over again, how much I have to thank God for. My life is far from perfect. I have upsets and struggles just like the next person. Life has been sooooo tough at times. But when I stop, really stop, and recognise all that I’ve un -seen I’m led to a place of huge gratitude to the God who makes the sun rise. The Bible says, 

‘Give thanks in ALL circumstances’, 

even when life feels terrible and the pain is unbearable, Jesus, who went through such awful suffering has promised that He will, 

‘never leave us nor forsake us’. 

I know your lives aren’t perfect either and each one of us has our struggles. But maybe take some time out today to just stop and look around you. What is there that you may have taken for granted? What, AND WHO have you started to un-see? And when you discover them all over again, thank God for them. And thank God for God and His relentless love for us. May He be bombarded with our thanks! And maybe, who knows, you might just find a Christmas decoration staring you in the face. 

3 Little Letters- 18/08/20

Last week saw the traditional revealing of the A level exam results, except that this year was anything but traditional.  Thousands of 18 year olds waited anxiously to discover what grades they had been awarded during these exceptional times.  Due to lockdown, no exams were taken and so results were awarded according to teacher predictions and the application of some very complicated algorithm which I’m not going to pretend to understand.  Chaos ensued as students and teachers alike protested against the unfairness of a system which downgraded so many results simply by the application of a computer programme.  Does the computer know each student personally?  No.  Does the computer know how hard any particular student was working?  No. 

As I write, the government has agreed that this system was unfair and disadvantageous to so many young people and have agreed to trust the teacher’s knowledge of their students.  There has been so much anxiety carried by so many young people over the last few days including those awaiting GCSE results later this week.  Plans had been made; there were hopes and dreams that were being built on an envelope that held 3 letters within it.  Many may now be feeling relief but for others there is still disappointment and anxiety over what the future holds. 

Psalm 139 tells us “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  When God looks at us he sees so much more than exam results or IQ; when he looks at us He sees so much more than any teacher can ever see – He sees the incredible work of His hands and there is no computer programme that can limit or downgrade what God can do with us. 

For all of the students out there that are facing anxious times trying to work out what their future will look like or for any of us worrying about health problems, finances, anxiety over jobs or anything else that life might be throwing at us right now, let’s remember that the Bible tells us to “seek first the Kingdom of God” and when we do that, everything else will fall into place.  All of our problems won’t just disappear but we will have a new perspective on them. 

As I sit and write this the most beautiful rainbow has appeared outside my window with every colour strong and bright, reminding me of God’s promise of hope and faithfulness.  I discovered this week that rainbows are not actually an arc shape but are in fact a full circle – we simple can’t see the rest of it, but God can.  We see only a bit of the picture but God sees it all and he will never reduce us down to 3 letters in an envelope – to Him we are worth so much more!

Out of Sight- 17/08/20

Yesterday’s Sunrise reminded us that when we look at people we don’t see the complete picture like God does. It can be very unfair and damaging to relationships if we make judgments based on insufficient information. Everyone’s life is complicated and personal, when I look at you, what I see is tiny compared to what I don’t see. Imagine a driver breaking all the rules. He was travelling at 40 mph in a school area limited to 20mph. He went through two sets of red lights, then proceeded down a one way street the wrong way, crossed over the central reservation, turned sharp left into the ‘Exit Only’ lane of the local hospital, and finally stopped under the sign that said ‘Ambulances Only’. If you had seen him speeding or driving through red lights you may have been tempted to report him. But his dangerous and illegal driving saved his friends life by getting him to the hospital just in time. You would probably do the same. Often when we see a friend and ask how they are, we are told, “Fine thanks.” We presume that means we can now proceed to explain at great length how difficult it was to get your TV fixed. You don’t notice that his eyes have glazed over as he considers how he’s going to tell his wife that he’s just been made redundant.

 Jesus was quite outspoken when He considered how people make judgments about each other based upon our ignorance and maybe our feeling of superiority. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite...” When someone is grumpy or not interested in your opinion of the government or the local team, don’t judge them, they may be dealing with issues you have no idea of. There must be times when your personal concerns, invisible to others, cause you to appear to be rude or thoughtless. Let’s remember, only God sees and understands our fears and sadnesses, and those things we hope nobody notices. “From Heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind.”

 So let’s leave the judging to the God who sees, and we can practice patience and tolerance, just like we hope others will do for us.

It's Fading- 16/08/20

I’ve been looking at artistic x-ray photographs. I know, it sounds weird but someone has to do it. It works on anything, flowers, butterflies, animals, water creatures (crabs are great), snakes, seashells, vegetables, and of course people, (and teddy bears). Photographers use it to make the point that a simple photographic image only shows surface detail and tells us nothing about internal complexity, health, or conditions that cause stress. Our ideas of beauty discourage us from producing x-ray portraits; nobody wants to look at a pretty skeleton!

 Our sad 21st Century culture has caused huge numbers of people to spend a fortune plastering their faces with gooey stuff, removing their eyebrows so that they can draw artificial ones, and masses of teenagers spend more time pouting in the mirror than they spend doing homework. (Rant over). I don’t care how lovely a person appears if they’re ugly inside, and I’m not bothered how unattractive someone looks if they are beautiful inside. Let’s be honest, our external beauty is temporary, it’s fading while you read this, and if you believe that age has nothing to do with appearance, boy, are you going to be a sad and disillusioned old grump.

 So let’s think about the important things in life. I’m sure we already know that God is not impressed with the brand name of smelly stuff men and women use, or the attention to detail we insist on to make our hair perfect. He could get agitated when He sees how much money we spend on our appearance, when children around the world are dying for the lack of a few pennies. But He gets much more agitated when our lifestyle and our choices indicate that we think He smiles when we look good. He doesn’t notice and He doesn’t care. When Jesus met Peter for the first time, the Bible simply says, ‘Jesus looked at him.’ But the original words indicate that it was a long penetrating gaze that didn’t notice Peter’s beard or his powerful build, but Jesus saw the man inside the body, and He knew that Peter could do the job God had planned for him.

 I’m very happy that God is not interested in my appearance, but when Jesus gives me that long lingering look, does He smile or cringe?

Now that’s important.

A Nail in the Wall- 15/08/20 

I’ve started a new study in the back bedroom: tidying the first study is ongoing! One benefit of an empty nest I suppose? On the wall I have a beautiful watercolour (not by me) of five boats in a peaceful harbour. I use it as an icon to remind me to pray for my Five Plus, that means my five family members, plus one grandchild, plus extended family, plus our circles of influence. I hate to miss anybody out! I pray that we all may reach ‘safe harbours’….. Jesus is my safe harbour but I don’t need to verbalise that all the time because I do want them to still visit me!! Virtually or otherwise.

Anyway, I recently took the picture off the wall to share with another group on Zoom and so exposed and dislodged the two hooks holding it up. There were two hooks because I couldn’t find the larger type in my box. Now there are only two nails remaining, plain and simple, firm and capable and keeping the picture in place, so calming my worries about those I love, reminding me to pray and reflecting the beauty wrought by another person’s skill.

It’s funny that the Bible talks of a nail in the wall (Isaiah22:23-25). The passage seems to refer to a man called Eliakim who was to replace a bad leader and be a father-leader to the nation. He would control their larger destiny and the smaller details of daily life. It predicted that like a nail in the wall everything would hang on him, although eventually the sheer weight of the load, the responsibilities, would drag him down, pull out the secure fixture. At first I wanted to encourage everyone to discover in what way during Lockdown they were being a ‘nail in the wall’ for someone else, because I am sure this is true. We sometimes only discover years later (or never) what our caring meant to someone else: how our steady plodding on, our brilliant flashes, our self-forgetfulness or our unplanned words of wisdom plucked from the air have rescued them in their moments of weakness. And it’s mutual.

Yet as I Googled again today I discovered that in secular terms to nail (one) to the wall means ‘To punish, berate, or hurt one in a very severe fashion for a wrongdoing or transgression’. So I’m right back to Jesus again: my wrongdoing linked to his severe punishment, his being nailed to a tree. Great in this crisis if you can be ‘the strong one’ all the time …… and even great if you can do it for some of the time ……. But if and when you do run out of strength, when you take a tumble, remember to focus on that ‘Someone Else’ who was a nail for us, in our place ….. and when he fell, remember that it only lasted three days. Then he rose up again and came back to be our constant and permanent and immovable nail in the wall.

Disturbing the Peace- 14/08/20

The world is consumed by protests at the moment. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are regular questions being asked regarding the handling of the Covid 19 crisis; particularly in America. Whilst these questions are usually asked by politicians and journalists and are generally quite measured, the response from those being questioned is, in some cases, quite startling.

There are marches and rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign. Again, whilst the protest may be dignified, some of the events have descended into violence due to the response of those who disagree with the point being made. Most recently, two Major League Soccer teams who, in unison, “took a knee” to demonstrate their support of BLM, were booed by supporters and had water bottles thrown at them.

The recent dreadful explosion in Lebanon was the catalyst for protest against the corrupt government. The government ministers have all resigned, but it remains to be seen what difference the protest will make in the long term in a country that has suffered from successive failed regimes, each unwilling to govern in the interests of its citizens.

These are just the current, high profile protests seen on our screens every day, but when the public lose interest in them there are others that will take their place. It was ever thus.

Those protesting are simply highlighting a particular injustice within society and they are seeking redress. Those who’s firmly held beliefs are called into question by the protest, feel that the protestors are to be resisted. At best, they are disturbers of the peace, at worst they are agitators who must be put in their place… and the methods employed to restore the status quo are not always peaceful.

Jesus was a disturber of the peace. It seems odd to say it when He was known as The Prince of Peace, but think about it for a moment. A disturber of the peace is somebody who, “unreasonably disrupts the public tranquility, or has a strong tendency to cause a disturbance”.

Everywhere Jesus went, He caused a disturbance. Think of the crowds of thousands who gathered to hear him speak. He often disrupted the tranquillity of the public. Nobody who heard him speak went away unchallenged. Jesus came along and shone a light on the injustices in society and the behaviours of the people He met. He took no account of the status of the individual, He simply spoke out about the iniquities He was confronted with. For some, the light He shone illuminated a truth they had not previously seen and their lives were transformed. For others, it revealed aspects of their behaviour and character that they would rather keep hidden. To these people, His actions were unreasonable. To these people, He was to be resisted. To these people, the barbaric method used to restore the status quo was justified.

What they didn’t realise was that they could not extinguish the spark that Jesus ignited. In the book of John, we read that, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.

Jesus is still disturbing people today, because He shone a light on the truth. The truth of God’s love. The truth of a world that is possible. The truth of the change that needs to happen. It is that truth that disturbs people and it is that truth that, once accepted, brings about everlasting peace.

Just a Cup of Coffee- 13/08/20

I absolutely love coffee! When I say coffee I do mean the proper, filtered coffee. I’m afraid a jar of instant just doesn’t do anything for me! It’s got to be strong and not burnt, oh and with hot milk, if I’m having milk! I wake up every morning very grateful that God made the coffee bean! If you ever come over to our house, (and you’re very welcome!) I’ll be delighted to make you a very good cup of coffee, or a decidedly average cup of tea!

Yesterday I woke up to no coffee. It was a tense moment! It was stressful! Tea just doesn’t do it for me first thing in the morning. 

I was reminded of caffè sospeso. It’s Italian for ‘suspended coffee’. Over a hundred years ago in the working class areas in Naples the practice of caffè sospeso was born. If someone was  fortunate enough to have a little bit of spare change one day, they would go into their little local coffee shop, pay for two coffees but only take one. If someone was unable to buy themselves a much-needed coffee that day, they could go into the shop and ask for a ‘caffè sospeso’, This practice of paying for two and taking one, was a simple act of anonymous charity. And a much appreciated one. In recent years I’ve heard that this practice is not so popular anymore. I’m not sure why, maybe for financial reasons, maybe there’s less of a community spirit now. I don’t know. But it seems a shame.

As far as I know, Jesus didn’t make any hard and fast rules about a cup of coffee, but He did have something to say about our attitude....

“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them”.

Paul, some years after Jesus said, 

"Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus...”

A simple cup of coffee provided for someone who couldn’t afford it, was a beautiful gift. But why should we stop at coffee? We all have gifts and skills to offer. Things that maybe we take for granted and think little of, but to someone else they could be an enormous blessing. 

I eventually got my coffee yesterday! And it was wonderful! And so was the chat I had with the lady serving me in the shop. She’d had a long, difficult day. But she was so very lovely. I was encouraged by our conversation. I hope she was too. We have no idea what our words and actions do for others. May God encourage us to treat others as we would like to be treated. We will all be blessed!

Hunting For Joy- 12/08/20

My wife has a book called, ’99 Things That Bring Me Joy’. It’s a list of activities, places, food, people, etc, and you fill in what you feel is appropriate. For instance some of the page headings are: - Things I collect / Things I think are cute / My favourite meals / People I am proud of / Friends I can count on /, and so on. I’ve looked all through this book and there is no reference to me. To be fair, she hasn’t really started listing her favourite things, sights, people; but I’m still not absolutely convinced I will be in her top 99 things that bring her joy. But of course I will be there and at the top of the list. Clearly I bring her joy, in fact more joy than anything or anyone else in her life. Of course I do. I think.

 In our society right now, joy seems to be in short supply. Everyone is on the hunt for it, but it can be elusive. We find things to do or places to go, and that brings some escape from our reality but it usually disintegrates before the end of the day. So tomorrow we start our search again. Surely joy should last more than a few hours in the sunshine or sitting round a restaurant table. Maybe we should ask ourselves if we are looking in the wrong place.

 The Bible tells us that we find joy in the presence of God. Despite all his trials and hardships, David could write, ‘You fill me with joy in Your presence.’ This indicates that a relationship with the eternal God brings joy into the lives of individuals. Peter takes it further when he speaks about placing trust in Jesus; he says, ‘Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you trust in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.’ You don’t get this from Nandos! Joy is not a fleeting emotion based on an activity or an event, it is a permanent condition, despite our circumstances that try to drag us down. Joy is the result of God’s presence in our lives and because God says, ‘I will never leave you, I will never forsake you’, joy is always available.

 

Are We Nearly There Yet?- 11/08/20

Some years ago when our children were still small, we set off in the car for a few days away.  The journey was about 4 hours long but while we were still on the M57 we heard the words that make every parent’s heart sink, “are we nearly there yet?”  We were 10 minutes from home with a long journey ahead and already our children were bored and grumpy!  That journey remains in my memory as one of the more difficult ones we had to make – there was crying and complaining, bickering and endless toilet stops, road works and traffic jams.  We eventually arrived a number of hours after our expected arrival time, exhausted from hours of stressful games of I Spy and repetitive singing of children’s songs – I have to admit, we were the grumpy ones by then!

I would love to have the ability to snap my fingers and arrive at my destination.  To be able to avoid the traffic jams, the queues at the airport, the lugging of luggage and the stress of having to arrive at your destination by a certain time – wouldn’t it be good to just magically arrive?

On occasions we can get really hung up on schedules and direction of travel and we might wish the journey over but sometimes the journey itself is just as important.  In the Old Testament God set Abram off on a journey, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” It was the start of a journey that was to last many hundreds of years before Abram’s descendants finally arrived at their destination but the journey with its twists and turns became every bit a part of their story. 

A friend reminded me recently of the children’s story book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen.  Each time the family come to an obstacle they realise:

“We can't go over it.
We can't go under it.
Oh no! We've got to go through it!”

Five months in to this pandemic and it has become clear that our journey isn’t over yet, there is more ahead of us and the reality is that we can’t avoid it, “Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!”  We may be feeling weary, but sadly there is no end just yet.  The good news, however, is that we’re all in this together and with patience, persistence and determination we can encourage one another to keep pressing on.  We’re not alone.  1 Thessalonians reminds us “He died for us so that … we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 

2020 will not be the year that we lost, 2020 will be the year that we went on a journey together, sometimes with laughter, sometimes barely clinging on but this journey of perseverance, support and encouragement will always be part of our story together.

Precious Smelly Julie- 10/08/20

Julie smells. Sometimes. I can’t deny it. I wish I could say I was lying. But I can’t. She’s often found lying on the ground, face down. She looks battered and used and messed up. If you met Julie you wouldn’t want to sit next to her, and you’d definitely not want to touch her. She’s a pathetic sight. But Louis, my black lab, loves her. Julie is Louis’s beloved teddy. He’s had many Julies. (yes, they’ve all been called Julie!) He would love them at first. But then, one day, maybe weeks after lulling then into a false sense of security, he would turn on them, pull their little glass eyes out and then through the little gaps where the eyes used to be, he would pull out all the stuffing and scatter it across the room. A teddy bear crime scene! But this Julie is different. He adores stinky, pink Julie. He loves her even though she’s wonky, a little bit ripped, one arm is longer than the other, and, well, she’s imperfect. 

When I take her to wash, Louis comes with me. He watches for the entire time she’s being washed and then faithfully sits next to her while she dries. He looks at me, waiting for the moment I tell him, ‘You can have Julie now’. He grabs her quickly, runs to a quiet corner and happily chews her leg. It’s love!

I was walking through a rough part of London some years ago. I was volunteering with a homeless shelter.  It was late night and the streets were crowded. I saw one person after the other stepping over a homeless guy. They were busy going for trains and meeting up with friends. As I got closer to him he looked up. I smiled at him and asked if he was ok. Never in my life had I seen someone look so sad, so alone. As we got chatting he told me I could sit down if I liked, on his blanket, next to his dog. Chris had been homeless for over a year. He was young, intelligent, educated, polite, considerate, and broken. He had found himself in a difficult family situation, things got out of hand, he moved out from his family home into a rented property and then was made redundant. Within a month he found himself on the streets. And then he said to me, ‘y’know the worst bit about being on the streets Jo isn’t the cold or the hunger, although they can both be bad, it’s the looks you get from people. They stare at me, loathing what they see. They laugh at me. They show disgust. And occasionally I get rubbish dropped on me. My dog is my best friend’. We chatted some more and even managed to laugh a bit. His dog was beautiful and showed such adoration for Chris. As I was getting up to go, Chris gave me a hug and thanked me for the chat. Walking away from him that night I felt broken-hearted that we could treat fellow humans with such cruelty and contempt. Chris had got into a big mess, but he was no less valuable than anybody else on that street. It didn’t matter what he looked like, what he’d done, what clothes he was wearing or how bad he smelt. His life mattered. He mattered. And his dog knew it. 

Jesus talked about feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and He summed it up by saying, 

‘whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me - you did it to me’. 

I still think of Chris, all these years later. I hope and I pray that he is alive and well and knows how valued he is, how important he is to God, that he’s not a mistake, that his life is precious. Let’s be more like dogs! Let’s not judge outward appearances. Let’s be kind to one another. Our world needs more kindness, more care, more sacrificial love. 

Julie smells, she’s a mess, but Louis loves her.

I Need A Break- 09/08/20

How do you relax? Why do you need to? Do you need a break if you’re physically or mentally weary, or both? Does relaxation look different depending upon your type of tiredness? If you’re mentally tired do you relax by slumping onto the settee, watching TV, and eating chocolate biscuits, or if you’re physically worn out do you lie on your bed and listen to music, and eat chocolate biscuits? How on earth can anybody relax without chocolate biscuits? Many things can disturb our relaxation; mum’s break is shattered if the kids wake up (if they ever went to sleep). An employee’s weekend rest is destroyed if the boss keeps ringing up. Most of us find relaxation is easier if we can get away from our daily routine and people, even people we love! Relaxation usually means ‘Me Time’.

 Many people view Jesus the way they view Super Heroes. Stopping a storm or feeding lots of people – no problem. Healing a blind person or raising the dead – no problem. Teaching like no one else could or predicting the future – no problem. But the Bible tells us that He became like us, completely human. So He experienced hunger and thirst, He was tempted in all the ways we are but managed not to succumb. He got fed up with some people’s attitudes, occasionally got angry and physical, and just like us He got tired and needed a break away from people. We read that when Jesus arrived at a town called Sychar He was tired and sat down by Himself while His disciples went to buy food because He was hungry like they were. Along came a lady to draw water from the well and Jesus asked her for a drink because He was thirsty. Tired, hungry, thirsty. Totally human!  He became so popular that people would not leave Him alone and we read that, ‘He withdrew again to a mountain by Himself.’ You can almost hear Him saying, “I need a break.” But He hardly ever got one. He just kept meeting the needs of the people around Him.

 During our pandemic many people are weary of constantly doing good deeds and helping others. Like Jesus, we can get tired and sometimes a little fed up with people. Remember He understands how we feel. So let’s just keep going. Like He did.

Have A Good Day- 08/08/20

Time is a funny beast, it’s so difficult to tie down. What do we mean by ‘time’? If we talk about a ‘good time’, do we mean that brief moment when our team scored a goal, or that week we had in Paris, or our five years in senior school, or our fifty years of marriage? And what do we mean by ‘good’? What makes time good? Is it success at something, or lack of stress? Is it good health or good relationships? Could it be a good time in health despite a tough time in work? Is it possible to have a totally good time, or must there always be something that niggles away in the background? And how is it possible for people around the world to be in different sections of their day, all at the same time? Very early one morning I was chatting to a lady in Chile who was still in yesterday, and an Australian man who was just finishing work before I had gone to bed in the morning of the same day? Weird!

 To make matters more complicated, the Bible tells us that God is outside time so He looks at things from a different perspective. We read, ‘With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ Because God is eternal He existed before He created time for us by rotating the earth and giving us a sun to revolve around. So we can count our days and years and watch them mount up. How many days have you seen? Be honest! Remember ten years equals 3650 days plus a few. I’m not telling you what day I’m up to but it’s more than 3650 plus a few. Many people, as they get older, get a little nervous, but we don’t need to be, because God gives us no end of good days. We read in John’s Gospel, ‘Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects Him will ever share in the life, and God will be angry with them forever.’ It’s possible to have so many days and a guarantee that you will never run out of them, that you can give up counting because you will run out of numbers, not time.

Precious Cargo- 07/08/20

I am blessed with four lovely grandchildren. They are uniquely gifted and have their own wonderful idiosyncrasies. There is the one who can role play for days on end and has a growing band of imaginary dogs. Then there is the one who is besotted with the film Frozen – and its sequel… and the songs. Another, can and will climb anything put before him without a moment’s hesitation and views falling off merely as an occupational hazard… and finally, there is the sweet little one with the twinkle in her eye that suggests the possibility of mischief.

Every one of them is full of fun and a delight to be with. They view the world as a new and exciting adventure every day. Their attitude to life is contagious and spending time with them lightens my soul and allows me to treat the world as a playground, if only for a short while. On occasion, their parents entrust them to my care, which is a scary thing. I’m now the grown-up in this scenario. I’m the one who has the responsibility to ensure that nobody comes to any harm. The one that has to maintain discipline. The one who must watch them like a hawk in the play park, so that they don’t fall off the climbing frame or walk in front of a swing, or fall foul of any of the other heart-in-mouth horrors that play parks present to adults. I need to make sure none of the other children pick on them, whilst not being over protective. Sometimes we go out in the car and I think to myself what a precious cargo I’m carrying. I need to take care of them, I need to do the best for them, I need to steer them in the right direction, practically as well as metaphorically. I don’t simply have a responsibility for their physical care. Like their parents, I too have a responsibility for their spiritual wellbeing. This cargo has to be safely guided on its journey through life.

Jesus felt the same way about us. He was concerned that we would be shown the right way. That we would know the path to follow. He was uniquely qualified to demonstrate how to live a life that demonstrated all the good things that I would want to show my grandchildren, but, despite His obvious advantage, He didn’t take that responsibility lightly. He prayed for us and spoke to God, His father, about us. He was concerned that those whom God had entrusted to His care were indeed safe. That none had been lost. That He had set a good example and ensured that those given to Him had been told of God’s goodness and mercy. In the book of John, Chapter 17, we read of Jesus’ prayer, “While I was with them, I protected them…”. He is referring to His disciples, but He goes on, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…”. That’s you and me. This is Jesus telling His father how important we are. Telling God that He has done everything He can to protect His disciples and set them on the right path, asking God that we too, as believers in Him, should be kept safe and confirming that He considers us to be His precious cargo.

Lost At Home- 06/08/20

Have you ever been lost? I don’t mean lost in the sense that you can’t find Primark, I mean really lost. You had agreed to meet friends in a strange city abroad for an evening out and no matter how many twists and turns you make, you simply can’t find the restaurant. The locals don’t speak English and your knowledge of Urdu is nonexistent, and just to make it interesting, it’s getting dark and your phone is dead. The sense of loneliness and vulnerability can be terrifying. I was lost in Munich one night when I was separated from the man who knew where we were going. I had no idea when we were supposed to meet the coach, and where it would be parked. This was before mobile phones and I was hugely relieved to bump into my friend after two hours wandering the streets.

 I was lost again last week but it was different. How could I be lost in Liverpool when I’ve lived here all my life? I had walked for hours down all the roads and back streets that I was familiar with, but then something strange happened. I stopped in one street to look around and realised that I recognised absolutely nothing. I was surrounded by buildings I had never seen before and shops I’d never heard of. Everything had changed since I was last there. I knew how I had got there of course so I wasn’t lost in a real way but it was quite unsettling.

 Recent months have been uncomfortable for most of us because although we are in our home town, we can feel lost because everything has changed. Life is not the way it used to be, and it may never be quite the same again. Most people I have talked to say they are looking forward to getting back to the Choir or Hub or Shoot etc. We will all feel more at home and safer when we say goodbye to the virus, throw our masks away, and hug each other. But that may be months away yet. Could be next year!

 There are many accounts in the Bible of people who felt lost, lonely, and fearful. King David asked the question, “Where can I go from your presence?” and came to the conclusion that God was always with him wherever he went, so even when David felt lost, God was always there. David also said, “I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me.” So in these days when we might feel lost and isolated, when the changes around us unsettle us, let’s remember that some things are permanent. God said, “I the Lord do not change.” The virus may make us feel vulnerable, but God’s not budging.

A Time To Be Thankful- 05/08/20

Last night I watched in horror as I saw the massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, displayed on the TV. The scale of the explosion was shocking. My chicks dad lives in Beirut with his whole family. Understandably we were in touch straightaway to check how they were. Thankfully they were all ok apart from items in their apartments broken by the massive vibrations of the explosion. They were ok. But many others weren’t. 

I have visited Lebanon several times. It is a stunning country with amazing food, an incredible history and aggressive hospitality!....’you WILL eat more food! It has, in the past suffered badly, and it is suffering badly again! Their economy is disastrous, people are out of work, getting angry, feeling vulnerable and fearing more violence and threat to life. It is heartbreaking to hear. And Lebanon is not the only country like that. People, the world over, are suffering horrendously and have done since before this nightmare virus struck. Corrupt governments, wars, poverty and environmental issues have played havoc with our beautiful world. This was not what God had wanted for us. And it breaks His heart.   

‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future’. 

When I watched the news unfold last night, it didn’t take me long to realise, all over again, just how much I have to be thankful for. How incredibly privileged I am. This wasn’t a pretence that everything in life was perfect and that I never had bad days and some really tough times. But rather an acknowledgement of all the good that I get to experience and be part of....and my list is endless!  And, ironically, some of the most grateful people I’ve ever met are the ones who’ve suffered the most. I’ve been humbled so much by the poorest of the poor stopping to thank God for the orange they’ve just picked off a tree; by those who’ve experienced loss and tragedy in war speaking of how they knew God was with them through it all; and others who lost everything, and yet praised God. 

These are tough times for us. And the loneliness and illness and heartache and job loss is very real. I miss hugging my family and my friends, I miss the choir, my chicks have missed school (never thought I’d be saying that!!) and we’ve grieved the loss of friends. But I’m choosing to thank God for all the good in my life, much of which can be sadly and all too easily taken for granted. 

I choose today, in these uncertain times, to join with millions of people around the world and echo the words of King David, who also had known struggle, tragedy and loss, 

‘This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it’.

Can I Have a Cup of Tea?- 04/08/20

Working in a hospital A&E department I work with a huge number of other staff. Nurses, Healthcare assistants, doctors, physios, admin staff, and so many more. I love the team; everyone gets on really quite well and there’s a really friendly atmosphere about it. However, as in any job there is bound to be a few individuals who get on your last nerve. I was on a night shift the other week, running around like a crazy woman. Doris needed the commode, Nell needed blood tests taking, everyone needed to have their blood pressures done!

After a hectic few hours of one job after the other I briefly went to the nurse’s station to catch up with the rest of the team to see what task was to be done next. A young doctor who was sitting there said to me “You don’t look busy, can you do me a favour,” at which point I assumed that he needed something doing for a patient, so I agreed. “Can you make me a cup of tea?” he cheekily asked. At first, I laughed because I thought he was joking, but then realised he was serious. I can only assume that he’d seen my uniform realised I wasn’t a fully qualified nurse yet, and also noticed I was younger than him. It is my job to look after my patients, not be a barista to the doctors! Speechless, I made him his tea and then carried on with my patient related jobs. I imagine he just wanted a cup of tea, but by asking me despite it not being my role, it made me feel below him and like a less significant member of staff.

The next night another doctor was on duty assessing the patients. This doctor asked me what my name was, talked to me like an equal, and was really very helpful and friendly. We all actually had laugh at the nurse’s station meaning there was a really great atmosphere for the rest of the shift.

This got me thinking, in the workplace or in life in general you can either work with people or above people. Jesus was the perfect human being; by all means he should have had the right to behave superiorly. Perhaps in a modern-day context you could say, we should always make him the cup of tea. However, the Bible tells us that Jesus used to treat us who sin with respect. He associated himself with the likes of thieves, prostitutes, and murderers. He talked to people rather than down to people.

In John chapter 13 vs 1-17 we can read the story of how Jesus washes his disciple’s feet. The disciples were understandably confused by why Jesus, the perfect human, the son of God, was washing their feet and not the other way around. Jesus said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Jesus demonstrated that just because someone’s job is greater in rank or qualification does not mean they should look down upon their peers. He also demonstrated that to get through to people you must work with them rather than above them, that’s why he had such a significant impact on peoples lives, as he made them feel appreciated and loved!

Talk To Your Bank- 03/08/20

How many times in your life have you woken up in the morning and thought, ‘Oh flip, it’s Monday.’ In normal times (remember ‘normal times’), the weekend was a period of freedom from the boss, unless of course you were the boss. If you had managed to shop at Asda one evening during the week, you were free from the tedium of both employment and shopping for two whole days. Yippee! Time for fishing or golf or football? Or decorating or gardening or car maintenance or children's homework? Sometimes it was (or still is) a relief to get back to work. However you think of work, it happens to be a necessity unless your dad is a millionaire or a gangster, or both. As we progress in years and move from junior school to senior school, then maybe university or a job, we are constantly told by parents and teachers that we need to consider our future career and how to achieve our aims in life. For some young people this is very difficult because they don’t know what they want to do. Often they take a job they never wanted and hate, but they need the money. We all need the money! Maybe you’re past all that and whether you loved or hated your job, it’s now history and you can’t change it.

 When Jesus decided it was time for Him to go walkabout, teaching, preaching, and healing, He wanted helpers, so He started to say to men around Him, “Follow Me.” He asked for no references, no educational certificates, there was no job description, no guaranteed 37 hour week, and no wages! And no prospects! So nobody followed Him. Actually there were so many who wanted to follow Him that He could choose whoever He wanted. He chose a very mixed bunch of men, and off they went. But they always had the choice to go back home, but they never did.

 Today all over the world, even in the UK, men and women are still making the same choice to follow Jesus. It totally transforms their lives, priorities and activities. Many give up their jobs, their prospects, and their safety. They think they have the best job in the world, and they transform other people’s lives. Their reward is not measured in pounds and pennies or a pension. Jesus said to them, “Store your treasures in Heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Countless millions have moved their bank accounts to the Bank of Heaven. Their wages down here may be limited, but the reward waiting for them is outstanding. Talk to your bank, it’s amazing how little they offer.

Reasons for Writing- 02/08/20

This Sunrise is not being written at sunrise, mine never are; and in fact sunrise this morning was at 5.30am. I’m in no condition to write anything at that time, and if I tried you would be reading gobbledegook now. We all have our own daily routines and trying to impose them onto someone else will probably end in disaster. There must be someone out there reading this who is quite happy to write their thoughts in the middle of the night. That’s not me. I try to write my thoughts down in an understandable way. You may not agree with me but at least you can work out what I’m saying. So often what we write is conditioned by the events of the day or the week. On Thursday this week, I walked around Liverpool for five hours and didn’t go in a single shop! How many of you could or would do that? I was physically very tired. On Friday a group of us said goodbye to a dearly loved friend and the strain was more emotional than physical. So what shall I write at the end of this demanding week, and perhaps more importantly, why?

 Some of the Bible writers talked about their reasons for writing. The apostle John wrote, “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” And at the end of his account of the life of Jesus he says that he has written so that, “you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through your faith in Him you may have life.” Great words. Great reasons.

 So at the end of an eventful week with its ups and downs, joys and sadnesses, what should I write and why? I think I would like to tell you that however you feel at the end of a week and at the beginning of a new one, Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust also in me.” And my reason for writing these words to you is that you might have the same peace as I do, not because I’m a good boy, but because God is a good God.

 It’s Sunday morning, have a great day and week, remember who you can trust.

The Heart of the Matter- 01/08/20

Yesterday I ventured out into Liverpool for the first time since lock-down.  Everything looked the same as it had before the only noticeable differences were the arrows and signs stuck to the ground telling everyone to keep to the left (which everyone seemed to go out of their way to ignore!) and all of the masked faces.  Apart from a minority of people who, for whatever reason, weren’t wearing a mask, most people were being compliant and dutifully donned their mask.  Some masks were of the disposable variety while others were colourful or patterned.  Some were made from scarves which were simply pulled up over their noses while others looked like someone had been creative with an old pair of curtains.  The range was huge from the purely practical to the more decorative fashion accessory but all had the same result – they covered a large proportion of people’s faces leaving only their eyes visible.   

What was particularly interesting was how much expression was lost when two thirds of a face is hidden.  We use our faces to express so much without words – a smile of appreciation, a lip being chewed in anxiety or the wrinkling of a nose in disgust.  So much of our expression has been lost simply because we must cover a large portion of our faces.  It took me a while to realise that if I smiled at someone who stepped aside to let me pass, they didn’t know that I was smiling. 

It took so much more effort to look, really look, at people’s eyes to try and read what their face was saying.  To listen carefully to their words and tone of their voices to understand the meaning of what was being said.  It has suddenly become so much harder to try and comprehend the nature of any particular interaction with someone because our eyes don’t tell us everything we need to know.

The Bible tells us of a story of a man who did try to use his eyes to judge someone but God stepped in to say that’s not enough.  God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint the next king of Israel after King Saul had made a really bad job of it.  He sent him to a man called Jesse who had 8 sons – each son in turn came before Samuel each one big and strong and capable and each time Samuel thought “this must be the one”, but each time God said “not this one”.  Samuel could see only with his eyes but God could see so much more.  “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  Finally, only the youngest son was left and when he was brought before Samuel, God said “he is the one.” 

King David became the greatest king that Israel ever had; not perfect, he made many mistakes, but his heart always turned back to God.  God saw beyond his youth and his inexperience and saw his heart and his potential.

We may be struggling to read the faces of the people around us but no mask can ever hide someone’s heart from God.  Whether the wearing of a mask is causing you frustration because you can’t read people’s faces or whether you enjoy hiding behind your mask in the knowledge that people can’t read yours – let’s remember that God sees beyond our outward mask to the heart and potential of each of us.  Let’s get our hearts right with God.

September Sunrises

Here Comes Big Phil- 30/09/20

It was just like any normal day for me in 6th form. Lessons, chat, lunch… And a cancelled lesson! Our teacher was sick and we had a free lesson before our final lesson of the day. We were feeling a little bit bored. Wondering what to do with our surprise free time. Then we found a long handled floor brush. Perfect! 

“Who wants to play the broom game??” 

We all thought this was a great idea. We took it in turns to get spun in a circle holding the brush up in the air. After 20 spins, whilst feeling completely dizzy and unstable, we had to lower the brush and try and stand on it. What could possibly go wrong? People were spinning in all directions. We laughed and laughed till we thought we could not laugh anymore. Then it was my turn. Just as I was about to be spun, who should walk in to the room but Big Phil! “Oooo can I play too?“ Big Phil was tall and built like a tank! He rushed over towards me and before I knew what was happening I was spinning faster than everyone else put together! I remember thinking to myself that if he didn’t stop soon I would probably throw up on him! As they shouted out “19 and 20!” They all stepped back, and as I brought the brush-head down to the floor, I spun across the room straight into two stacks of chairs. The chairs collapsed onto a table, the table tipped over, and a glass jug full of water, and a pile of plastic cups tipped onto the floor! It’s fair to say, that along with the crash and the bang, we were laughing so hard that tears rolled down our faces. The room had turned into a disaster! As I was pulled to my feet, the door opened. There stood our Head of Year. I won’t say he looked angry, it was more a look of dismay. He’d not been gone for long and suddenly the room looked like a tornado had passed through. We got the speech. The one about how it wasn’t very responsible of us and how we could’ve got really hurt. We all apologised. And then, he smiled, and laughed, and offered to help us put the room back together before our next lesson. 

Sometimes life can feel a bit like the Broom Game. We have times where circumstances cause us to feel completely out of control and then sometimes we end up ‘crashing’. Family crises, loss of a job, stress and ill-health…we’ve all been there. During those times, we need people around us who are a bit like that teacher I had all those years ago. They step into the mess, they help pick us up, they offer wise words and they hang around to help bring some order. And just as we all need those people on occasions, we ought to also be those people. The Bible says, 

“Treat others as you wish to be treated“

And the greatest news of all, is that there is our all-loving, ever-patient, gracious God who we can turn to in any moment, however out of control or close to crashing we are. 

“The Lord lifts the fallen and those bent beneath their loads“. 

These are such comforting words to hear. But it doesn’t stop me loving the Broom Game! Anybody want to play??

Something Borrowed- 29/09/20

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”

Last Thursday a new world record was created as the national treasure that is Sir David Attenborough launched his Instagram account and gained one million followers in just 4 hours and 44 minutes, beating the previous record (held by Jennifer Aniston) by an hour and a half.  In an interview he said that social media was an unfamiliar territory for him but that he wanted his message to reach as many people as he possibly could, including as many young people as possible.  

So what is his message that he is so desperate to spread?  Well, he has spent decades thrilling us with images of species that most of us will never see in the flesh and educating us about the world we live in.  More recently, however, he has brought us stark warnings about the damage that we are doing to the world with our carelessness and self-centeredness and who can forget the images he brought to us of miles of plastic waste floating in the ocean?  His Instagram launch precedes his new documentary ‘A Life on Our Planet’ - but whilst I admire his work and agree with so much that he has to say, there is one point that I must pull him up on - this planet that we live on has never been ours.  

We are merely temporary guardians who take a turn before passing it on to the next generation and into their care.  At the very creation of the world “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” – what does he see now? But it’s not just the earth that belongs to God, it’s everything in it as well.  That means our homes, our cars, our phones, our shiny kitchens, our clothes and expensive trainers – all belong to God.  Does that change how we view those things and what we do with them?  It should do.  If instead of holding our possessions tightly, what difference would it make if each day we started by asking God, ‘how can I best use YOUR car today?’, ‘how can I best use YOUR phone today?’, ‘what would you have me do with this home today?’ The answer may be to not use that car today, you can walk; or use that phone to check up on someone who may be feeling lonely and uncared for.  Perhaps he might suggest that the shiny kitchen could be used to prepare a meal for someone or a cake to just raise a smile.  

This is traditionally the time when we celebrate harvest and give thanks for the provision God has given to us – that’s the wheat and the corn, the fruit and the vegetables but he’s also given us so much more.  Perhaps this harvest we should remember to give thanks for this earth and EVERYTHING in it – including one another.  And when we keep one eye on the giver, the gifts take on a whole new value.

The Nail in the Road- 28/09/20

Last week, I dropped my daughter at college for 9am. College is about 10 miles from home and as I dropped her off, I was already thinking of all the things I was due to do that day. I had a whole plan. Beginning from 9:30am and going right through to school pick up. It was a really full day, too full, and I needed to work quickly and efficiently and with full concentration in order to get everything done that I needed to do by 3pm. As I pulled out of the side road to leave the college, I drove over a huge big nail and suddenly I’m stranded with a flat tyre. I parked the car about 20 metres from where I dropped my daughter off. And staring at my very flat, front tyre for a brief second, a very brief second, I wondered whether I could drive home really quickly without doing too much damage!! I quickly dismissed that thought as completely ridiculous and so got back in the car and wondered what to do! After a few phone calls I finally settled down to wait for the RAC to come and rescue me! And 3 hours later I was finally sorted with a new tyre, and free to get on with my day.

When I got up on Thursday morning I had no idea that I would be spending so much time sat in my car, that I would meet a friendly man who would come to my rescue, and that all the plans I had for my day would be completely messed up. And there was nothing I could do about it.

The truth is, every morning when we wake up we have absolutely no idea what the day will bring. Our lives can be changed forever, in both good ways and bad ways, within a split second.

Sat alone in my car last week I was forced to look at my busy day and prioritise. Some things that had been ‘urgent’ at 9am could now wait until Friday. There were some people I wanted to see and they suddenly became my priority for the day. And when I finally got to bed that night I thanked God for keeping me safe in the car that day and for teaching me a lesson in what was really important. Friday was a busy day. But as I entered that day, I did so with the knowledge of what was really important. The Bible says, ‘Don’t be foolish; be wise: make the most of every opportunity you have for doing good’.

So today, as we enter a new day, with our busyness and pressures and deadlines, let’s just pause for a moment, thank God for a new day, and choose to make every moment count, for good.

Anywhere. Anytime.- 27/09/20

If you watch school pupils emerging from the school buildings in the afternoon, it doesn’t matter how many hundreds there are, they all seem to have mobile phones. And it could be a junior school! We can see TV news bulletins from almost anywhere in the world, including many of the poorer nations where people are living in shacks which are falling down, but you will still see huge numbers with mobile phones. If you go out to the shops or to play golf or fish or just go walking, and you realise that you have left you phone at home, don’t you feel slightly vulnerable? It’s not that long ago when we would go out all day and have no easy means of communication, but that was life and it was normal. It’s so intrusive now that schools ban them, cinemas, theatres and churches ask (or tell) you to switch them off, and for obvious reasons they are banned while you’re driving. This most modern method of communication is now restricted in many places as we try to win back normal conversation. Let’s hope that they are banned from restaurants and dinner tables soon!  

There is a very ancient means of communication that many people have forgotten about despite there being no restrictions anywhere or anytime. It’s called prayer. You may have heard of it. It’s simply conversation with the God who gave us the give of speech and language. It’s important to realise that you don’t need special words or phrases, clothes or locations. And you don’t need to listen to boring music because God is talking to someone else; in fact St Paul encourages us all to “Pray continually” even while driving! Paul also tells us that he prays, “night and day.” Jesus told us to get on with it without waffling, “When you pray, don’t talk on and on like people do who don’t know God. They think that God likes to hear long prayers.” And Paul tells us, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Wherever you are in the world, you will not lose the signal (even in Asda), your battery will never let you down, and God will not keep you waiting.

Be Disruptive!- 26/09/20

Up in western Scotland, the blackberry season is about 3 weeks after the rest of the country and to be honest, there are only so many blackberry crumbles that I can eat but I hate to waste free food. So I tried to be inventive with some cheap yoghurt and recreate the equivalent of a Muller fruit corner. It was rather successful but was lacking the essential bit of the ‘corner’! When Muller invented the ‘Fruit Corner’ yoghurts, they were revolutionary; they were square not round; large, not small; separate fruit to yoghurt…not all mixed up; premium priced not value for money. That was the whole idea. They aimed to disrupt the market and get noticed and as a marketing strategy it really worked. 

We notice disruptive elements and people. I am more likely to remember pupils like Lauryn, JR, Jeevan and Derrie because they were disruptive. They got my attention. I am not advocating that this is the way forward for us as disciples of Jesus but I do think that we should not be sat at the back doing little and saying nothing. We are called to be in the world but not of the world. Paul, in his letter to the Romans says this: “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.” We have to be different and distinctive. At times that might mean being disruptive by calling out injustice when we see it and standing with those who are being trodden upon and sidelined. At all times it means challenging our own behaviour and each day trying to become more like the Christ that we seek to serve and follow.

We’ll Always Have Paris- 25/09/20

I’ve spent the last three weeks avidly following the Tour de France. I have done so from the comfort of my living room via ITV 4. Physically following the Tour de France would be a wonderful adventure; three weeks spent in the French countryside, enjoying the scenery of the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Cote d’ Azure and, finally, on to Paris… all whilst enjoying the greatest sporting event in the world. The problem, of course, is that I would need the time, the money and the language skills to complete the task. I would also need to be able to find my way around France at the wheel of some sort of campervan… on the wrong side of the road. My wife will tell you that my navigation skills are not of the highest standard and my employer will tell you that I don’t have the time. Add to that the fact that my bank account won’t stretch to cover the cost and that the only words of French I know are, “croissant” and “Pernod” and you begin to realise that the likelihood of such an odyssey is remote.

There are people who manage to follow the tour every year – devotees of cycling who structure their holidays and their bank account around the route and calendar of, “Le Tour”. This year, their annual pilgrimage was disrupted by Coronavirus. The crowds that usually line the roadside were told to stay away. Strict restrictions were put in place. In some cases, limited viewing was possible, but only in sanitised, socially distanced enclaves. Out on the mountain roads of the Alps, policing spectators is more difficult and some fans were still able to get uncomfortably close to the passing cyclists. This of course, resulted in the French authorities imposing tighter restrictions and actually closing the remaining mountain roads to prevent further pedestrian incursion.

In miniature, the tour reflected the issues that we all encounter; how to live our lives in the face of a virus that is not going away as quickly as we would like. Somehow, the organisers managed to deliver this magnificent spectacle with very few problems. Despite himself contracting Covid, race director Christian Prudhomme was able to remain upbeat. When asked about a tour without spectators, he philosophically replied, “A football match without spectators is simply a game played in a dull, empty box… Le Tour without spectators still has France”. Watching the TV pictures of the cyclists weaving their way through rolling fields, rugged mountains and the architectural marvel that is Paris, I had to agree with him.

We’re back to living our lives with restrictions again, but we should echo Monsieur Prudhomme’s attitude. There are things that we will miss, but we are surrounded by people who care for us… people that make our difficulties bearable… people who simply make us smile... those people are reading this article. We also have a God that is not diminished by the restrictions placed upon our lives… a God that cares for us… a God that makes our difficulties bearable… a God that makes us smile… that God is here with us, always. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” the answer is, nowhere… not even France.

Winter Sunshine- 24/09/20

It’s officially Autumn! I like Autumn, it brings sights and events that are beautiful and unique to this time of year. I live under the flight path of the geese flying in and out of the country. It’s a beautiful sight and sound, a miracle of nature. These creatures fly thousands of miles and land in just the right place; no maps, no satnav, and no signs in the sky. We sometimes insult people by calling them, ‘Birdbrain’. That’s a massive insult, not to the people but to the birds. What goes on in their heads is beyond us. I know some people who couldn’t find their way to Bootle! And what about the trees; most of them start the year with no leaves and the shapes of the trunks and branches are miraculous; then along come beautiful leaves that provide colour and shape and shade for months. At this time of the year, many trees provide fruit for us which is pretty clever of them. Then to finish the year’s performance, they put on new clothes and the world is transformed by an onslaught of yellow, orange, and red. Brilliant! There is a downside of course, the trees shed their leaves and go to sleep, a bit like teenagers, and we have to tidy up and there’s never enough green bin collections. But the wonderful autumn display is worth the trouble. The point is that every season brings its own glory if we only keep our eyes open. We are now able to enjoy amazing misty mornings if we bother to go out. Even in the middle of winter we have the fabulous blessing of being able to see a sunrise without having to get up at four o’clock. 

We all live through our own personal seasons of life of course, and just like in nature, these seasons have specific characteristics, opportunities, and blessings. Even old age can be wonderful; we’ve finished work, we’ve raised our offsprings, and we’ve paid off our mortgage (hopefully). We mark our seasons with birthdays that we put numbers to, but the numbers are just numbers and can be misleading. I know people older than me that I can’t keep up with, and some younger than me who can’t keep up with me. And we treat some numbers as more important than others, but they’re all the same, each one is a reminder that God has given us another year. As each birthday passes and we look back, inevitably we will have sad memories but also good ones. So let’s thank God for the seasons we have lived through and let’s trust him for beautiful and fruitful seasons still to come. 

David wrote, ‘I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God: I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.’

Ying Tong Iddle I Po- 23/09/20

A few nights ago, I woke up around 3am, with Spike Milligan on my mind! This isn’t a normal occurrence. I can only assume he had popped into one of my dreams from the deepest part of my sub-conscience! But whatever the reason, I then did what any normal person would do, I got up, picked up my phone, and googled The Goons. I must confess I wasn’t around when The Goons were airing on the radio, causing havoc and much hilarity, but I have listened to them since! Just over two hours later I had laughed a lot, and discovered a lot. Harry Seacombe appeared to live a very happy existence, but not so much the others, and definitely not Peter Sellers. They had all experienced loss and hardship and struggle. But it was Peter Sellers story that continued to play on my mind. He was born Richard Sellers but his parents always called him Peter in memory of his older brother who had passed away as a baby. The story continued that throughout his entire life Peter Sellers struggled massively with his identity, often saying that he had to always be in character because he didn’t know who the real Peter Sellers actually was. It was a heartbreaking story to read, at any time of day. This incredibly talented actor and comedian, was an enormously troubled man who went on to hurt his wives and children greatly. He didn’t know who he was. 

We all have questions at some point in life about who we are, where we came from, what our great grandparents looked like, why we look and sound the way we do.....it’s only natural for us to want some answers! I know that my lack of sense of direction comes from my mum, I’d like to know why I’m such a bad photographer, and I can’t help but think I’m part Italian-New Yorker. There’s a lot about me that I will never really know. But God does. He knows me inside out and back to front. He loves me completely and wants only the best for me. He knows what’s best for me. 

The Bible says, ‘O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit or stand. When far away you know my every thought.....You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it. You were there while I was being formed. You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book! How precious it is, Lord, to realise that you are thinking about me constantly! I can’t even count how many times a day your thoughts turn toward me. And when I waken in the morning, you are still thinking of me!‘

Whatever life throws at us, however we are feeling, in our fun times and our times of struggle and loneliness, when we have big questions and no answers, may we each find comfort and peace in knowing that the God who created us, loves us and wants the best for us. He is still with us. Nothing is unknown to Him and no struggle we have is beyond His help. 

He knows who we are.

Preparing For Uncertainty- 22/09/20

Have you ever played Pin the Tail on the Donkey?  One person at a time is blindfolded and spun around so they don’t know which direction they are facing and then they have to find the image of the donkey and stick its tail on – the one who gets the tail closest to the correct spot wins.  The person in the blindfold has to tentatively find their way around the room being careful not to walk into anything, outstretching their arms in the darkness trying to feel their way while avoiding tripping over or crashing into anything.  I don’t know about you but it feels to me like I am stumbling round in the dark at the moment with my arms outstretched, tentatively trying to find my way through so much uncertainty.  

As we prepare for extra restrictions and lockdown measures to be enforced upon us, there are so many questions - should I dash out and get my hair cut in case I’m not able to go for another 8 weeks?  Should I buy some extra toilet rolls in case stocks run low again?  My son is preparing to go off to university – what will that look like?  Will he still be able to go when he’s supposed to?  How do you make new friends when you’re not allowed to meet up with people? 

The problem is that we feel like we’re blindfolded, fumbling in the dark and unable to see what is in front of us.  We may have health uncertainties, job uncertainties, financial uncertainties – how easy it would be to become weighed down by these as we feel like we’re stumbling around.  But the fact is, there are also some certainties if we choose to look for them – such as the certainty of friendship and companionship that comes from being part of a wonderful community of people; the certainty that if we have a need, we only need to make it known and there are people who will do everything they can to meet that need – we have that!  

The Bible also tells us of another certainty that we have, In Romans we read: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [nor coronavirus], will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We may face many difficult and uncertain times at the moment but let’s remember that we’re doing it together and what’s more, we’re doing it with the absolute certainty that whatever tomorrow may bring we can face it with the confident knowledge that it will not and cannot come between us and God’s love for us.  Let’s step into the unknown together, with confidence, because God is with us all the way.

 

It’s In the Details- 21/09/20

When you add a new piece of software to your phone or computer, you’re frequently asked to agree terms of use which will identify your responsibilities and theirs. This could allow the company providing the software to have access to personal information. For your peace of mind, they provide terms and conditions. I wonder if anybody reading this Sunrise has ever in their life read this document from beginning to end. Most people simply click on the ‘Agree’ button and get on with life. However if you ever have a disagreement with the company, you will be referred back to the document you agreed to before you loaded the software and told to read Para 19, Section 13, Subsection F. This states that you relinquish all rights to privacy which includes your bank account and if you have lost money, that is your problem because you agreed to these conditions. We all sign many agreements during our lives; maybe you signed a mortgage agreement, or life insurance, or something as short-lived as a holiday insurance, but now you wish you had spent five hours with a dictionary and a solicitor friend deciphering the language in the document. The expression used frequently to describe your dilemma is, “The devil is in the details”, which means of course that it’s the little things that you don’t notice that do the damage.

Whenever I hear this phrase I smile because I prefer to think that, ‘God is in the details.’ The astonishing creation all around us which is made up of unbelievably tiny particles working in unison is God’s handiwork. ‘The heavens and the Earth belong to you. And so does the world with all its people because You created them.”  God understands the details because He put them together. But for us in our daily walk, the most important fact is that God cares about the details that make up our lives.  St. Peter wrote to Christians, ‘Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.’ You may not wish to talk about some things, but God already knows about them, ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.’

Many of us are feeling lonely and fragile and sometimes we don’t want to talk to anyone about our worries. That’s OK, talk to the God who already knows and cares. You won’t need a solicitor or a dictionary and there’s nothing to sign.

The Same But Different- 20/09/20

I’m sitting in exactly the same place as I always sit when I’m writing Sunrise. I’m on the same seat in the same room at my normal time for writing and on the same computer. Even the clear evening sky that I often see is there tonight. Nothing’s changed! But something must have because normally on a night like this the sun would be blinding me and I would have to close the curtains a little. So where’s the sun tonight? Ah, it’s gone behind the houses opposite, it’s just a little lower than it was last time I sat here on a clear night. So even though I’m the same person doing the same things at the same time, my world is different. And the leaves on the trees I can see are turning yellow, and the room is colder than it has been for months. One of my family members has returned to Uni so I won’t see her until Christmas. Our Choir and Hub, Shoot and Watercolour and other activities have all been mothballed as well. Now that I think about it, most of my world has changed and I have no control over any of it. And we haven’t even mentioned the pandemic. The nights are going to get darker and the days shorter and the flowers in the garden are already dying and we can do nothing about any of this. 

But let’s understand that there are things we can do, we still have the freedom to make choices. We can choose to practice the fruit of the Spirit that we are hearing about every Sunday morning; we can demonstrate love and joy, peace, patience, and gentleness. We can make each other feel loved and important just by being the people that God wants us to be. This is in our control. The seasons and the weather and the vicious pandemic have not removed our ability to be valuable to each other. We can still visit, phone, text, send cards, go shopping, tell each other jokes and express the truth that we are all important to each other. Melling is alive and well, let’s take back control!

Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Keep On Keeping On- 19/09/20

Is anybody else fed up yet? We have now been socially distancing for 6 months. We can’t easily meet together, life as we knew it has changed drastically, and I don’t think I'm the only one getting a little bit fed up now. When the lockdown started in March we faced the battle head on didn’t we?! We encouraged and supported, we laughed and chatted. People got to know each other better over phone conversations and on text messages. Photographs of times gone by, beautiful gardens, or a DIY project at home were posted on group chats for all to see. And the support and unity were strong. But as time has gone on the lonely get more lonely, the struggling struggle that bit more, those who’ve lost jobs feel that bit more anxious and financially unstable, and those working from home when they really need to be in an office are feeling the pressure mount! While many of us are doing ok and maybe are privileged enough to live happily with others, not have financial struggles and have hobbies and activities to keep us entertained and distracted, let’s not forget that for many others this just isn’t the case.

The Bible gives this wonderful little instruction, ‘Never tire of doing good’. 

It may be a short sentence but if we do as it says then our good words and actions will have a massive impact! Sadly the war with this microscopic enemy is not over but we can continue to help and support eachother, every day, by a simple phone call, a text message, a photo of your garden you’ve been working on, a story of something funny from years ago....

Aesop, the Greek storyteller said, ‘no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted’. 

So, let’s take a deep breath, the battle continues, let’s fight it together and not tire of doing good. 

Seasons- 18/09/20

Yesterday, I looked out of my office window and saw my wife begin the annual ritual of closing up our summer house for the winter. I realise that this statement raises questions. How can you see your summer house from your office window? Why were you watching your wife rather than helping her? Why was she making such an early start on the job?

Well, thanks to Covid, I have to work from home, so my back bedroom is now my office, therefore I have a view of my garden and my summer house. I was busy at work, so I couldn’t help her with the job. She always starts the job during the last spell of sunny weather that we have in early autumn, so that she can get everything away before it becomes damp. Now that we’ve got that sorted out, I’ll continue.

The weather outside is still bright and sunny and it’s difficult to believe that we are on the cusp of a new season, but other signs are there. The children have gone back to school, the football season has started, the garden is full of spiders, the mornings are cooler and have a smell that can only mean that it’s early autumn and the geese are back, flying over my house in their thousands every day. All these are indicators that it is now autumn and the summer house needs to be put to bed.

My wife is not a fan of autumn. In autumn, everything points to winter. She’s not a fan of winter. It’s not the cold or the rain or the snow that she doesn’t like… after all, there’s no such thing as bad weather; merely poor clothing choices – no, what she doesn’t like is the dark. The dark is limiting. It reduces your opportunity to do many of the things that you like to do in spring and summer… walking on the beach in the evening; sitting in the garden enjoying the sunset and watching the bats make their nightly rounds in the twilight. When it’s dark at four o’clock every afternoon you can’t do these things. The only good thing about winter is that it’s one step nearer to spring, which is my favourite season. A season of hopefulness, of new beginnings and lighter nights. A time for hope. A pointer towards warm days and longer nights… before autumn comes along and we start the cycle again!

The seasons come and go, bringing with them their own particular pleasures and dislikes. But whilst the seasons change, God remains constant. Always present, never changing. No matter the vagaries of the weather, or the length of the day, we can be sure of one thing… God is faithful. Come rain or shine, hail or snow, He is there. A steady presence that we can turn to when our own lives pass through seasons. Those seasons may be seasons of age, or seasons of famine and plenty; they can and will change as time passes, but God will remain there, present and steadfast to see us through it all.

“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).

What a Shame- 17/09/20

When you look back over your life, do you think you made decisions which changed the direction of your life? If you could go back would you do the same again or do you now think that you made a mistake that devalued the years and your career path? Many of you reading this have finished with employment so a change of mind now is probably a little late but still possible. But many of you are still working; do you find your employment satisfying and meaningful or are you still open to re-routing your life if you have the courage? We only get one opportunity to live our life down here and when it’s over we can’t go back for a second go. When you make the big decisions in life, were you or are you assisted by family or friends or are you a loner? 

You probably have never heard of Lilias Trotter (you should Google her); that’s because she made decisions that most people wouldn’t. Raised in a wealthy Victorian family, highly educated, and well used to expensive European trips in the summer, she could choose many paths through life. The most obvious one was as a painter. She was introduced to John Ruskin who didn’t believe that women could paint, but he eventually changed his mind because of the quality of her work; and he made it public. He mentored great artists like John Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but his opinion of Trotter was that, “She would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal.” So her life’s direction was sorted. Just one slight problem; she said, “No.” Her Christian convictions led her to walk London’s streets at night alone trying to persuade prostitutes to join her classes where she would teach them other ways of earning a living. A few years later she believed that God wanted her to go as a missionary to Algeria where she spent the rest of her life. John Ruskin commented, “What a shame.” She continued to sketch and write books; these are available on Amazon and are beautiful. Her decision on a ‘career’ left people baffled, but she never regretted the path she had taken. 

Whether you and I are working or not, we still have to make decisions constantly. What is our motivation; to make money, or be famous, to live in a beautiful location, or to do as little as possible? The Bible says that God has ideas for our life’s direction if we want to listen to Him as Lilias Trotter did, “I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

Some of us are beyond a career plan but whatever time is left for us, God can make it worthwhile and satisfying. We just need to turn up at God’s Job Centre, and don’t listen to people who say, “What a shame.”

Do-nuts and Compassion- 16/09/20

So, setting the scene, a grief-ridden family, coming from a double funeral, are leaving San Francisco to go back home. Before leaving, they stop off at a do-nut store late at night, to get something quick to eat and drink. As they enter the store, and sit themselves down, they don’t notice Robin Williams sitting at another table. But he notices them. He notices their smart, dark coloured clothes. He notices their desperately sad faces. And he wanders over to say hello. He introduces himself simply as Robin. One of the family members writing about this encounter said that he, ‘can’t remember what Robin talked about but I know it made us smile. And as time went on, he made us laugh’.

It was Maya Angelou who said, ‘ I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel‘.

Jesus was amazing at making people feel loved, special, accepted. If they needed encouragement, He gave it; if they needed a friend, He was there; if they needed correcting or challenging, He did it with love. People would travel far and wide to see Jesus, to listen to Him, to talk to Him. Why? Because wherever He went and whatever He said and did, He made people.....young and old, male and female, from every place and background, feel precious and loved and important to God. 

The Bible says,

‘Jesus had compassion on the crowd‘.

And again, ‘Jesus showed great compassion’.

And yet again, ‘Jesus was moved with compassion’.

And again, and again, and again.

Let’s go and show compassion as Jesus showed compassion. Let’s leave people feeling better about themselves, encouraged, heard, valued. 

Let’s give people our time. 

From what I know about Robin Williams he seemed like a really lovely guy who had compassion for those who were struggling and finding life so tough. And while that family don’t recall much of what he said to them during their time of grief, they do remember that he made them smile again.

Am I My Brother’s Keeper- 15/09/20

I looked at the news headlines today and was greeted with the headline “Report your neighbours for breaking rules”.  This is with reference to the new rules that have been introduced that say that we should not meet in groups larger than 6 people from multiple households.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am as frustrated as anyone with the complete disregard that some people seem to be showing towards the rules that have been put in place in order to try and halt the spread of coronavirus – I find I am particularly annoyed when I walk into a shop complete with my face mask only to realise that I am in the minority with many people choosing not to wear one.  I am well aware that for some of them there will be very good health reasons why they can’t wear a mask, my niece is one of those who can’t – but are there really that many people who can’t wear a mask?  

Even this morning I listened as reporters interviewed people on the street who were simply saying that they would not be obeying the new rule of no more than 6 people – I could feel my blood pressure rising!  But when I read this headline I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of community we have become.  Is our only reason for obeying a rule, fear of being caught?

In Matthew Ch 22 we read Jesus giving us this simple instruction: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all you mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: Love your neighbour as yourself.”Imagine a world where love of God and love of one another were the driving force behind all we do rather than fear and stubbornness.  There would be no hesitation from us to do those things that expressed our love, whether that was wearing a mask, delivering groceries or buying a coffee for a stranger who looks like they need it.

In Genesis we read the story of Cain who becomes jealous of his brother Abel and so kills him.  When God asks Cain where Abel is, Cain’s defiant reply is: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Well actually, the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’  We all live alongside one another so that we can take care of one another and express that love that Jesus asked us to show.  I can’t control the actions of others but I can choose to show my love for God and those around me by my own actions.  Wouldn’t it be great to shift our thinking away from rules and fear to expressions of love - rather than the headline “report your neighbours for breaking the rules” we could read “show your neighbour how much you love them today”. 

Maybe I could just change my tiny little corner of the world in some small way by choosing each day to try a bit harder to be my brother’s – and my sister’s – keeper.

Gentle Giant- 14/09/20

In 1986 five year-old Levan Merritt fell 20 feet into the gorilla enclosure of Jersey Zoo and lay unconscious on the ground. Parents and zoo visitors understandably panicked and started screaming. As they watched terrified, Jambo came on the scene; he was an adult male silverback, huge and powerful. He placed himself between the small child and the other gorillas and began to stroke the boy’s back gently. As Levan woke up and began to cry, Jambo led his gorilla family into another enclosure allowing zoo-keepers and an ambulance driver to rescue the injured young boy. That was more than 30 years ago but Levan still talks about his Guardian Angel gorilla. Wouldn’t you? The shocking event, the appalling possibilities, and the astonishing outcome, left the family and visitors shaking and speechless. The bedlam in the crowd and the noise they made was in total contrast to the gentleness of the hugely powerful beast of the jungle.

In the Bible, Elijah was frightened of his enemies and their threats and travelled far to escape the danger. He ended up in a cave half way up a mountain, hiding from both God and man. But God approached and decided to teach Elijah an important lesson that we can all benefit from. Shocked that God could find him, Elijah watched in awe as God created a terrifying storm that shattered rocks around him. As the storm died God presented Elijah with a nerve-jangling earthquake that he thought would kill him but God protected him and then surrounded him with an enormous fire that destroyed every sign of life as far as he could see. Then there was nothing; absolutely nothing; just silence. Then God spoke; He didn’t shout to show He was angry with the terrified prophet, He whispered to show Elijah that He cared. 

Sometimes people try to hide from God and hope He can’t find them. They may want a relationship with Him but feel that their lifestyle has separated them from Him and are afraid of God’s reaction. The story of Elijah teaches us that the all-powerful God who can create storms, earthquakes, and wildfires, can also be gentle. He can whisper. And if we listen we will hear the voice of the ultimate gentle giant.  

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Three Years- 13/09/20

Can you remember what your life was like three years ago, September 2017?  My wife has a memory like an elephant; not only can she remember things I forgot years ago, I almost believe she can actually remember events that didn’t happen. Not only can she tell me in detail about conversations we had with people, she can describe how we were all dressed, where we were, and what we had for lunch and how much it cost. And she claims that she paid for it. I have no memory of the people, I don’t think we have ever been to the place she described, I can’t remember what we ate yesterday but whatever we tucked into three years ago, I’m not convinced she paid for it. Our lives are constantly shifting and changing. Three years in the life of your child or grandchild can transform a little angel into a bigger monster; happily it can work the other way as well. Has your life drifted during the last three years with no memorable events, meetings, or journeys? Do you look back and see wasted time with nothing achieved, or do you relive sad events? Maybe you smile as you celebrate improved health, better finances or new friendships? Have there been events that you couldn’t have predicted which were either brilliant or dreadful? 

All through the Bible, practically on every page, there are accounts of men and women facing situations they hadn’t planned for. Their reactions varied; anger, sorrow, joy, confusion, despair, or gratitude; all the same responses that we experience when faced with something or someone unexpected. Three years in our lives is not a long time, but its events can transform the years still to come. Solomon had spent a lot of time considering the ups and downs of life and he understood that even he as the great wise King of Israel could not control everything in his life but he could make the point, “God appoints a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” We may not appreciate Gods timing or the events we meet along the way, but Solomon says that God can make “everything beautiful in its time.” That might be hard to believe but often during the hard or sad days, we learn lessons which help us to help others, or we find a new positive direction in life, or maybe we encounter new friends who walk with us on our journey. The possibility for Christians is that by trusting in God He can bring something good out of bad times. By telling us that, “God has also set eternity in the hearts of men,” Solomon is reminding us that there is more than this life and God can make the next one beautiful too.

The Real Gym- 12/09/20

I’ve been reading about body building because I need to get fit and look great again. I don’t look very impressive at the moment and clearly our culture is telling us that appearance matters. I discovered that body builders put themselves through a brutal regime of exercises and a calorie controlled diet that is noted for its total lack of taste and its sheer size. The point is apparently to win competitions by looking more perfect than their rivals. They start by building up size and strength until they are massive, and then as the competition day approaches they focus on losing any fat. A few days before they step on the stage they reduce their water consumption so their muscle tissue is easily visible. Because of the reduced nourishment they are taking in, they are at their weakest on the day of the competition, despite looking like Hercules. 

I don’t think I want to go to these lengths, I am just responding to some photos that have appeared during a tidying session that required us to empty some drawers. These pictures haven’t seen daylight for forty years and the images of me are both shocking and impressive. They are impressive because they show a young man who is six foot two tall and weighs ten stone four pound. He looks as if he could run a marathon, (which he couldn’t but he did cycle to Lands End), and the photos are shocking because he is five stone lighter than the writer. I start going to the gym again in October and it could take me weeks to lose five stone. OK it could be longer than that but I can dream can’t I? Because I’m not stupid I realise that I may never reach my target but I would be pleased to lose a stone and a bit. Having targets is probably necessary for most of us; there must be something we can improve. I’m not too bothered about my appearance but I would like my heart to have an easier life.

The Apostle Peter who was a very fit man talked about having targets and a regime that would improve all of us. He wrote, ‘Do your best to add goodness to your faith, to your goodness add knowledge, to your knowledge add self-control, to your self-control add endurance, to your endurance add godliness, to your godliness add Christian affection; and to your Christian affection add love. These are the qualities you need, and if you have them in abundance, they will make you active and effective in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Nothing there about body building but a lot about character building. Nothing there about appearance but a lot about people seeing Jesus in our attitudes and priorities.  We don’t need the gym down the road, our real gym is where we are. Let’s give each other some time and see if we are in better shape than we are now.

Will You Join Me?- 11/09/20

When Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the Olympic podium in October 1968 to receive their Men’s 200 metres gold and bronze medals, respectively, it was the culmination of years of hard work. Years spent in early morning training; pounding the pavements come rain or shine and working long hours in the gym. Years of sacrifice and physical effort. It was an achievement to be savoured. Something to tell their grandchildren. A personal triumph. A moment to remember.

When the U.S. national anthem began, they did not stand hand on heart, as so many of their triumphant countrymen had done. Instead, they donned a single black glove and, heads bowed, each thrust an arm into the air in a, “Black Power” salute. A moment to remember, indeed.

As a result of their actions, they were both expelled from the games. The Olympic Committee President suggesting that their gesture was, “a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit”.

Back in America, reaction to their statement was almost universally negative. They were accused of disrespecting their flag, their country, their national anthem and the Olympic movement. They were criticised in Time magazine and a great many news outlets. They were described as, “ignoble, juvenile and unimaginative”. Both they and their families received death threats.

Smith and Carlos took their stand to provide a platform for debate. They were the forerunners for many sportsmen and women of today, who take the opportunity to use their status as public figures to highlight their concerns. These statements are better received today, but they still attract criticism in certain corners. The, “sport should be separate from societal debate” mantra can still be heard. It should be remembered that sportsmen and women are, first and foremost, simply men and women. They have concerns and opinions just like the rest of us.

Nonetheless, I have heard people complain regarding these statements of discontent; “Why do they have to keep banging on about it?” The simple answer is, because nothing has changed. Despite reminders down the generations, various elements of our society are not treated as they should be. It’s not just black lives that are affected. In many countries women are, at worst, actively discriminated against or, at best, not treated as equal. Even this country had to enshrine it in law before it began to happen. If it takes an act of parliament to make women equal, then something is very wrong with our society, but then something is very wrong with our society. The simple fact that people of colour actually feel it necessary to point out that their lives matter, or that women have to lobby parliament to be treated as equal, should tell us that something is wrong.

So, what do we do about it? Well, I’m not suggesting that we all start rooting through our cupboards to find a black glove, or that we join radical political movements to campaign for change. No; I’m suggesting that we do something simple. That we simply do something. That we treat people, all people, with dignity and respect. That we are kind and patient and understanding with people. That we act when we see injustice. It isn’t just politicians and law makers that have a responsibility to improve things. It is incumbent upon us all to be agents for change.

Why? Because I believe that Jesus valued everybody. Not only did He value them, but He showed them that He valued them. Time after time we see instances in the Bible of Jesus demonstrating His love for people… all people. Men, women, rich, poor, sick, downtrodden and social misfit alike received care and attention from Jesus. He spoke out against injustice and took action to put things right. He made the ultimate sacrifice for everybody, not for the select few; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. Jesus did not stand by and sympathise. He got involved. He did something. If I am to follow Him, I need to do likewise. Will you join me?

Rough Day- 10/09/20

You know how it works don’t you; the Sunrise writers live idyllic lives filled with tranquillity and provision, and order reigns. It’s amazing how everything in the house always works, the car always starts, and the health of friends and family sails on and on untouched by Covid or any other interfering monster. So it’s very easy for us sheltered and pampered people to sit down in peace with coffee and chocolate biscuits to amaze you with our brilliance and wisdom. 

OK let’s get real. Today has been a beast; a combination of bad health and bad behaviour together with the fact that I have sat in for four hours waiting for a phone call which I have just discovered won’t happen until tomorrow, it’s turned into a rough day. It’s the kind of day that we all experience more often than we wish, and Sunrise writers are not immune from the ‘poor me’ disease. My thoughts turned to Katie, a young schoolgirl I read about who was given an essay to write called, ‘My Perfect World.’ She wrote, ‘In my perfect world, ice cream is free, lollipops are everywhere, and the sky is blue all day with just a few clouds that have interesting shapes.’ Sound good, I like this world. She continued, ‘No one will come home to bad news. And no one will have to be the one to deliver it.’ Now she really is dreaming; we find it easier to believe in free ice cream than the absence of bad news. That’s not the life we know. 

Jesus lived a life that was filled with bad news, just like us. He experienced sadness, frustration, and irritation, just like us. He knew that life down here would never be any different, just like us. But He still managed to offer hope to people who thought that hope was fiction. He looked ahead and promised ‘My Perfect World.’ It’s a world full of ‘no more’ – ‘no more evil, no more death, no more mourning, no more pain, no more tears.’ This promise of a new world order allows us to, ‘With joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for His people in the kingdom of light. He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.’

My day is still a mess, but the great Creator God says I can look forward to a much better world. And the ice cream is free.

An Unexpected Visitor- 09/09/20

Have you ever been caught out by an unexpected visitor and found yourself apologising for an untidy house or unwashed dishes?  I have.  Many times!

I remember after I had Ben and the Health visitor called round in the way they do to check on the progress of the baby.  Alice was little and had been playing when the doorbell rang and there was the health visitor – I had washing everywhere - the maiden and every radiator was covered and there were toys all over the floor.  Alice loved to play with some small plastic animals – everything from dinosaurs to cats and dogs and everything in between – and she would create an animal parade which would wind it’s way around the house.  I answered the door and immediately started apologising for the washing and the toys and quickly trying to pick things up so she didn’t trip over a small leopard or giraffe.  Straightaway, she said ‘oh don’t apologise!  It’s the immaculate houses I worry about where I can’t tell what a child is allowed to do or play with’.  That worked for me!

In the book of Luke we read a story about 2 sisters who responded quite differently to some unexpected visitors: “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Jesus and his disciples had been travelling and simply turn up one day at Mary & Martha’s home.  They have no hesitation in welcoming them in with no mention of whether the bathroom was clean or the hoovering done; they are simply welcomed in and Martha sets to work to prepare some refreshments.  But this is where the sisters differ.  While Martha is busy with preparations, Mary is sitting listening to Jesus.

As Martha becomes more and more exasperated with her sister (we’ve all been there!) she eventually cries out to Jesus “Tell her to help me!”  She doesn’t actually address Mary or complain to the disciples, she goes straight to Jesus.  She knew who to take her problems and anxieties to and she knew she didn’t have to wait until she was less emotional or make her words pretty.  She came as she was.  Jesus isn’t offended by our emotions or our stresses he just wants us to share them with him.  How often do we spend time worrying and stressing over things and letting problems build up inside us because we don’t think it’s important enough to bother God?  He wants to hear from us, he wants to be a part of our lives, even the seemingly mundane.  If it’s enough to worry us, it’s enough to be of interest to God.

I can imagine Jesus smiling at Martha – he knew Martha and he loved her – even in her moments of frustration.  He accepts us as we are.  It wasn’t Martha’s preparations that were the problem, they were appreciated, it was the fact that she was worrying about things that didn’t need worrying about.  Jesus gently reminds Martha what was important – to keep her focus on him.

This isn’t a story about one person doing the right thing while another did the wrong thing – it’s a story that reminds us to ask ‘what is God asking of me today?’  Do I need to serve or do I need to listen?  The answer will be personal and different for each of us – and very likely different to what will be asked of us tomorrow.

Whether today is a day to serve or to listen, let’s not worry about the unimportant things, let’s find satisfaction in our work and recognise the need to keep Jesus the focus of all we do.

A Child’s Eye View- 08/09/20

So good to learn recently that God sees the end from the beginning. He understands why things are happening (the whys and wherefores) whether there is an immediate remedy (a quick fix) or whether in this pandemic we all have to just patiently pull together (the long haul) until the exit appears. Meanwhile we hold our needs before Him, waiting to understand, and roll up our sleeves when necessary. Enough of the mixed metaphors!

I remembered recently one very surprising realisation I had as a child. My father was very keen on protecting our eyes when studying and if possible would get us to sit with the daylight coming from the right! Or he would put the electric light on for extra illumination. (Dads are like that I suppose and he loved photography of the family variety) One day he mentioned that the sun was much brighter than the bulb: I was astonished and I don’t think I really believed him. After all it was a very dull day and I could see immediately what a difference the electric light made! It seem dramatic, it was nearby and it was instant.

In John’s Gospel 8:12, Jesus declares that he is the Light of the World. We recognise that this is true when we encounter his brilliant mind and graced character. He makes the statement in the context of healing a blind man (ch9), making a massive difference to the direction of that man’s life and revealing the love of God to the onlookers. Heaven in its brilliance came close through a perfect human being. Not many of us could duplicate what Jesus did that day.

Yet Jesus told us elsewhere that we are the light of the world? (Matthew 5: 14-16)…..You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

So as we’ve also been learning, we are required to show kindness in order to reveal the Light of Heaven into our dark times. Thank goodness the sun is still shining, it is incredibly large and constant, hidden at night but returning faithfully at every dawn. This is the Godlike light and heat that holds everything together, that renews us and inspires continuing life. But for the instant effect, the dramatic impact, the immediate benefit we are chosen to be the main actors. We have all benefitted from the hands-on actions of another human being, or their listening ear, especially when it is unexpected or even feels undeserved. A few years ago I was feeling despondent, not sure where God was and certain that there were no friends thinking about my needs, when a special lady arrived at my door with a jar of pickled herrings. Now I understand that not everyone likes pickled herrings. But I do and I felt very loved and protected. There was an instant light-bulb moment of human kindness and a long-term Heavenly reassurance. We should go for it!!

God’s Perspective- 07/09/20

Most of us are within ten minutes of two motorways that link to other motorways that link to other motorways. It is possible to travel all the way to the south coast or south Wales, the east coast or Scotland, London or Glasgow and never see a set of traffic lights, a zebra crossing or a roundabout. But we know that life is not usually that simple. We have all experienced that moment when speeding along we see in front of us three lanes of stationary traffic. We need to decide instantly which lane to join and the car’s occupants all have different advice to give. I’m sure there is a law at work that states whichever lane you choose, it’s the wrong one, and your fellow travellers will point your mistake out. We can sit there wondering what could possibly hold us up and how far away it is, then suddenly it’s all clear and off we go and we never see the reason for our infuriating delay. 

A little while ago, thoughtful friends sent us a meal token for the restaurant that is the closest to Heaven in Liverpool. It’s possible to get a nose bleed just travelling up in the lift. But when you walk into this facility in the sky you immediately forget about your nose and stare out of the window with your mouth open, which is a good thing to do as you’re in a restaurant. Looking down on the streets below is like looking at a 3D map complete with pedestrians and vehicles all moving along. But in one long winding back street the traffic was going nowhere. From my position in the sky I could see why. At the far end a lorry had shed its load so the traffic stopped and those at the other end could see no reason for their delay. 

I felt a little bit like God because I could see the situation that some people were in and what had caused it and how long they would have to sit there fuming. We don’t have to be in a traffic jam to feel confused and helpless, but it’s worth remembering that God’s perspective is different to ours, we read in Psalm 102, ‘The Lord looked down from His holy place on high, He looked down from heaven to earth.’ He sees more and He knows more than we do. There’s a Bible story about a lady called Hagar who was dying in the desert all alone but God sent an angel to help and guide her. As she realised what had happened she gave God a new name, she said, “You are the God who sees me.” How brilliant is that. He didn’t just see what nobody else could, He got involved. Whatever your situation, however you’re feeling right now, even lonely and fearful like Hagar, nothing has changed, our God is still ‘The God who sees me.’

All or Never- 06/09/20

It’s strange and a little scary how we talk to each other sometimes. Conversations can start very amiably and gently and continue for a long time then suddenly one person quite innocently mentions a subject that is for the other person a raw nerve. And the conversation explodes. Tempers become frayed and statements are made that can be thoughtless, hurtful, and extreme. Ordinary normal little words can be very damaging. Words like ‘All’ or ‘Never’ or ‘Everyone’ or Nobody’ etc. To be told that, “You never listen to me”, or “Everyone tries to avoid you” is so damaging because it’s so total in its condemnation. There is no room for moderation, ‘Never’ and ‘Everyone’ are conversation stoppers and can cause good friends to walk away. “You do this all the time” or “Nobody believes you” is so unfair because it’s almost certainly untrue. Without an apology or forgiveness it could be the end of the road for a beautiful friendship. We need to weigh our words very carefully because they can be savage and destructive. For someone to write a document that includes repeated use of the word ‘All’ for instance might cause people to be cautious about treating it seriously.

King David wrote Psalm 145 in which he uses the word ‘All’ fifteen times to describe God’s love and character. David only wanted to tell the truth, this is not an exercise in exaggeration so David could receive a pat on the back from God. As we read through this Psalm the picture of God we see is that of the great creator God caring for all people including you and me. Listen to some of the statements that David makes, “The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made...The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does...The Lord is righteous in all His ways...The Lord is near to all who call on Him in truth...The Lord watches over all who love Him.” It’s comforting to know that whatever our history, no matter how many times we have disappointed or offended Him, His compassion and concern for all of us is all the time. God loves All of us, Nobody is ignored by Him, Everyone can approach Him, and He will Never give up caring for us.

Let’s be careful with our words and let’s celebrate God’s.

One Day At a Time, Sweet Jesus- 05/09/20

I have been on YouTube again. This time listening to country music. Who remembers the song, ‘One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus?’ It was first recorded in 1974 by the singer Marilyn Sellars, and has since been re-recorded over 200 times by other artists. As I listened to the song I found myself swaying to the music. Something our gospel choir members will totally understand. ‘Sometimes you’ve gotta sway!‘ But it’s popularity over the years, has not just been because it is good ‘sway material’, but the words carry meaning to many of us. The singer is asking Jesus for help and guidance today. Not tomorrow. Not in a week‘s time. But,

‘One day at a time sweet Jesus 

That's all I'm asking from you. 

Just give me the strength 

To do everyday what I have to do. 

Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus 

And tomorrow may never be mine. 

Lord help me today, show me the way 

One day at a time’.

Just this last week, schools and colleges across the country opened their doors for a new school year. After five months children and young people are getting up in the morning, and heading back to classes and hopefully good friends. Workplaces are also opening their doors to more people. And then there are the people who have lost their jobs, and those who are ill or vulnerable and needing to remain at a safe distance. Whatever our current, personal situation may be, we are guaranteed to have times of difficulty, anxiety, stress and sadness. And fear of the unknown can be immense. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said, 

‘...do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own’. 

Worry is something we all do, the ‘what ifs’ in life can be overwhelming. But when Jesus was talking to His disciples about prayer He taught them to say, 

October Sunrises 
No Coriander Please! - 31/10/20

It was about 25 years ago when I had my first encounter with a coriander leaf. I was living down south and out for a meal with friends. We decided to go to a Thai restaurant. I’d not been to one before and looked forward to a fun night out. When my meal came, it was quite simple really, I took a big bite of whatever it was, grimaced slightly at something that didn’t taste so good, felt very ill very quickly, turned a very ugly shade of green and remember nothing more about the evening. Putting it bluntly, coriander is seriously bad for me!! Lemongrass has the same effect on me!! How I survived working in Thailand for two months I’ll never know! These days I can spot it instantly. The smell alone is enough of a warning to keep my distance! As I was chatting to a friend the other day who was with me at that Thai restaurant all those years ago, we were reminiscing about all the mad things we got up to. They were an amazing group of friends, I’ve lost touch with most of them now, just because life has moved on for us all, but those friends were good for me. Remembering my coriander incident got me thinking though, some people can have a very similar effect on us. I guess we’ve all met in our lives, that person, or those people, who drag us down, cause us harm and would eventually destroy us if we let them? Maybe their words are always putting us down, comparing us to others, fuelling negativity and stealing our joy? The Bible is very straight on this...’Bad company corrupts good character’ and James has a whole lot to say about how poisonous our words can be. Just like coriander is to me, so words can destroy a person. The Bible tell us to, ‘...encourage one another and build one another up...’ What an amazing world we would have if we all practiced that more. If we put aside our anger and bitterness and jealousy and judgement, and actively chose to see the best in others. 

So today, let’s recognise the ‘coriander’ in our lives and choose to hear other voices. The good ones, the ones that encourage and cheer on and bless. And when you do encounter those toxic voices, wish them well and walk on...just like I do with a Thai restaurant. 

 
Cheers - 30/10/20

I recently noticed that Channel 4 are showing re-runs of one of my favourite comedy shows; Cheers. Some of you may remember it. It’s the ongoing story of a bunch of disparate individuals who meet in a Boston bar every day. It was full of great characters; Sammy, Woody, Cliff, Carla, Diane, Norm and of course Frasier, who went on to have an equally successful spin-off show. When it first aired in the early 80s, we didn’t have any means to record the show, so if you were out at nine o’clock on a Friday night, you missed it. Now, I simply set my digi-box to record all the episodes and the entire catalogue will appear for my delectation. So much time has passed that I can’t remember which ones I missed, so I’ll probably end up watching them all again. I don’t have to wait until Friday, I can watch it every day of the week!

People often comment on the show’s theme song, “Where everybody knows your name”. The lyrics paint a picture of a warm, welcoming place. A place where you can be with people who know you, people who listen to you and take time to understand you:

“Making your way in the world today, takes everything you’ve got.

Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go…

Where everybody knows your name,

And they’re always glad you came.

You want to be where you can see

Our troubles are all the same.

You want to be where everybody knows your name.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The problem is, it’s not like that. I’ve been to Cheers (yes, it’s a real bar in Boston) and nobody knew my name. More to the point, if you watch the show, you’ll find that the behaviours exhibited by the characters don’t mirror the sentiment of the song. They might know everybody’s name, but they are not terribly sympathetic or understanding towards one another. In actual fact, they spend most of their time mercilessly ridiculing each other and making jokes at the other’s expense. Now for the purposes of a comedy show, this is both hilarious and necessary, but if you were really treated that way, you wouldn’t be in a rush to go back.

Contrast that with the wonderful community that is being built by the Melling Baptist Community Hub. Many of us have only met through Zoom and everybody didn’t know my name, but they could cheat and read it on the screen. I know that, whenever we meet, I am assured of a warm welcome and will be greeted by a sea of faces that seem genuinely pleased to see me. It’s a place where people laugh together, cry together, quiz together, buy cakes together, play bingo together, learn about God together, pray together and feel that they belong together. A place that people will want to go to in person when the whole Covid pandemic is over. Each time I drop in I am reminded of Paul’s words in the Bible; “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. I’ll take that over Cheers every day of the week!

 

How Are You? - 29/10/20

We’ve all done it and continue to do it every day of our lives. It’s very British apparently although I don’t know how it would be different in other countries. It’s that two-way conversation that we are obliged to engage in. You meet a friend in the street and the conversation goes like this, “Hi how are you?” “Fine thanks, how are you?” “I’m OK thanks.” Job done so we move on. We weren’t asking for information, good grief we don’t want information and we simply were not prepared to talk about our bunions. If the other person did stop and tell us how they were, that they had been laid off, the car failed its MOT, their card had just be rejected by Lidl, but it didn’t matter because they had just won the Lottery and were moving to Florida, would you be happy to hear all that? Often our apparent concern for other people and their welfare is simply a matter of good manners that we don’t expect will cost us anything in either time or money. But if there’s a real need and real tears, do we spring into action or run for the bus? If you and I were honest with each other when the question was asked, “How are you” would the world be a better place even though a little slower?

Jesus was walking through Jericho when He passed a man called Bartimaeus who was sitting on the floor begging. This was because he was blind and the only route through life for him was to ask other people for money for food and clothing. Probably nobody asked him how they could help; his need was obvious; he needed money. People brought him to Jesus who looked at him and asked a daft question, “What do you want me to do for you?’ It didn’t take a genius to realise that he needed money. But the answer He got back was as daft as the question; “I want to see.” Of course Jesus knew that but He wanted Bartimaeus to tell Him the truth and not just be polite and ask for a coin. Bartimaeus on the other hand, believed that Jesus cared and could help, so he said what was on his mind. ‘Jesus told him, “You may go. Your eyes are healed because of your faith.” Immediately he could see, and he went down the road with Jesus.’

That was a very brief, direct, and simple conversation that turned out to be life-changing. Are we are missing something as we bump into each other on the street?

Let’s not ask questions we don’t want the answer to, and if we were asked, “How are you?” would it be the right time to be honest?

 

Christmas is Coming - 28/10/20 

A couple of days ago I was doing some shopping and walked into one particular shop and not only was I greeted by their display of Christmas decorations but they were also playing Christmas music!  I love Christmas.  I love the lights, I love the decorations, I love the excitement and the shopping, I even love the music.  The moment we get to December, my decorations and Christmas lights go up and my husband begins his annual moan that it takes 20 minutes just to go up to bed while we go round and turn everything off!  However, no matter how much I love all things ‘Christmas’, I don’t want it to be Christmas in October – I’m not ready!  

There is a temptation for us to rush towards those things that we think will make us happier or times we believe will be better than we are experiencing now.  This year has been a tough year – it is very tempting to just put our heads down and wish it away - let’s just get to 2021 when things will be better!  But no matter how many bright lights we put up or jolly songs we sing along to, we can’t get there any quicker.  

From the beginning of December we start the period of advent.  This is the time when Christians all around the world begin a time of preparation and waiting before the great celebration of Christmas day and the birth of Jesus.  Advent isn’t about getting to Christmas as quickly as possible, it’s about the preparation we do while we wait.  Yes, for me that includes putting lights up and decorating Christmas trees, but it’s also about preparing our hearts to remember and recognise who that little baby truly was – “Emmanuel … God with us”.  The same little baby who grew to perform miracles; the same little baby who grew into the man who was nailed to a cross and conquered death and who will return again one day.  Are we preparing for that?

Isaiah 40 says “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint”.  We’re all feeling a little weary now but Christmas lights won’t renew our strength – for that, we need to wait on God.  Let’s enjoy the preparations, let’s not be in too much of a hurry to get to Christmas day, let’s use this time to prepare our hearts so that we can recognise the baby.

 

Thick and Thin - 27/10/20
 

In Celtic Christianity there is a tradition of so called ‘thin’ places, where heaven & God seem to be so much closer. The island of Iona is one such place. Aa you step onto that island you can almost feel that there is something special and deeply spiritual about the place. It is understandable I suppose as since the time of Columba way back in history, there have been monks, pilgrims and hermits praying day and night on the island. It would be wonderful if the communities that we live in could be like that. However, true Community is not like that at all. It is a ‘thick’ not a thin place. True community requires a level of sacrifice and selflessness. It can be noisy as everyone tries to get their voice heard. It can be messy, as things often are when human beings live and work with each other. It can be uncomfortable and require that we welcome interruptions to our neatly planned schedules, when that is the last thing that we want to do. Few of us are called to live in beautiful ‘thin’ places. Even if sometimes, being a hermit sounds like an attractive option(at least you would get some quiet!) Most of us are called to live & serve in towns, villages, suburbs, workplaces, churches, pubs, coffee shops or busy streets and all whilst juggling family, jobs, commitments ,money and a hundred and one other things.  In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus tells us; “ You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth…”.

We are called to do that wherever we find ourselves today.  

 

A Real Man - 26/10/20
 

I think I’m more impressed and moved by sculpture than I am by paintings. If you go to an art gallery and view classical paintings, they can be very powerful and moving;  if you have ever tried to paint, you will appreciate the enormous skill, dedication, and patience required to produce these masterpieces. I can admire the composition, colour distribution and the depiction of light and shade. But as a photographer I can do nothing with it. I can of course photograph it but all I will produce is a copy of someone else’s work. I can’t put that in a competition or on the wall, anyway that’s where all paintings finish up, on the wall, so there’s not a lot of scope for me. Having just written this, I’ve had an idea, remember you heard it here first; if I could take paintings out of the gallery and photograph them in various locations, I may produce something that could add to the image on the canvas. I’m not sure what painters would think of that, it might be interesting to find out. Sculpture however is a very different thing because it is three dimensional. You can walk around it and you can view it from below or above, and its shape will change and it can look totally different as you move. Also as you circle it, the background changes producing another variation. Finally you can transform it with lighting. 

People are often like paintings, they can be beautiful but no matter how many times you see them, they are always the same. Irrespective of what is happening in our world or community, they have nothing new to offer and you are never surprised by them. They are two dimensional characters. 

The individuals in the Bible are real three dimensional people, they are happy or sad, inactive or violent, weak or powerful, and as we look at them we get different pictures and different messages. For instance, we see Peter attacking a man with his sword then standing in the dark weeping! 

When we are talking about Jesus, we are not talking about a cartoon character or an image fixed on canvas, but a real life three dimensional man. We read that He was both gentle and violent, He wept and got tired, He was angry and sad. He taught and He healed. When they whipped Him He bled, and when they crucified Him He died. Three days later He was back and they thought He was a ghost, but His response settled that for all time, ‘He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” The disciples were probably not art critics, but they recognised a real three dimensional man when they saw one. Let’s understand that we do not worship a painted image, but a real man who is really God.

 

The Stationmaster's House - 25/10/20

I wonder how lucky you are with level crossings? In my experience, if I returned to Maghull from Melling via the station I had a 90% chance of being held up and having to wait for the two trains to pass, one for Liverpool and the other for Ormskirk!! It was hardly surprising therefore that I began to notice an old broken-down two-storey house which I assumed had once been the satisfactory home of the then stationmaster. Why else would someone live so close to the noisy railway? There was so much damage to the outside and inside that, at first inspection, it looked virtually collapsed and ruined, but also so much structure was left standing, an outline and image of the original design. I don’t know why but I began to pray for its restoration. Eventually, not only was it totally restored but three new properties were added on some adjoining land. The creativity and resourcefulness of some entrepreneur had presumably made this possible. To me that person was divinely inspired!! The Divine hallmarks of restoration and new life were evident. (And in childhood a month-long holiday next to the Metro in Paris had already proved to me that we humans can screen out much noise……which meant that somebody could buy this house and expect to be happy).

Now it may seem like a bit of a waste of prayer. Why would a God in Heaven be concerned about such a project? Maybe I should go back to praying about people? Yet restoration is His business (Joel 2:25 gives a promise from God “I will restore unto you the years that the locusts have eaten”), and local Community is His passion (1 Corinthians 13 is a whole chapter devoted to building loving relationships. St. Paul says “If I have no love, I am nothing”). Now in human terms we can easily understand a restored building, perhaps a mended marriage or a flourishing of a neglected friendship, even a return from financial despair and general economic downturn. We might dare to pray for any of these. However, from the above quotes we learn that God can do the impossible**, which is to give us back the time we have lost ….. or wasted or not appreciated. He calls us to a brand new life with his Son Jesus in our hearts. In this Life we experience lost opportunities coming back, or the enthusiasm and energy we once had being channelled into new directions. We are able to start again. This promise of hope is needed now in our ‘plague of viruses’, our invisible locusts, which attack life and health, work and finances, closeness and love. It is a promise from our Heavenly Father who knows every hair on our heads and every thought before we think it. We are all in some way experiencing this community of love, of restoration, of comfort and compensation, and of pinpricks of light and hope. Just don’t let go. If you sometimes can’t hang on, then ask to be held. Perhaps one day just go and look at the Stationmaster’s house. It is truly inspiring, because it is whole again and hopefully will soon contain a loving dynamic.

**https://www.thegospelcoalition.org ‘God Can Restore Your Lost years’

 

If I Could Turn Back Time - 24/10/20

In 1989 Cher’s new song, ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ was released. The song tells of a person’s deep regrets and the desire to turn back time and do things differently. With the lyrics, ‘I don't know why I did the things I did, ‘I don't know why I said the things I said‘, Cher tells the story of someone living with the consequences of their poor judgement, poor behaviour and unkind words. This is probably a song that each and every one of us can relate to in some way. The conversation, or maybe argument, where in the heat of the moment, words were said that were cruel, untrue, and damaging? Or maybe a situation or incident where you did something you weren’t proud of and living with the consequences is crippling? If only we could turn back time! Hindsight can be truly wonderful! If only it took place first! The Bible is jampacked with normal people who said the wrong thing and did the wrong thing and had to face the consequences. King David is just one of these people. Guilty of some outrageous behaviour, he sought out God’s forgiveness. ‘O loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon me and take away the awful stain of my errors. Oh, wash me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again. For I admit my shameful deed—it haunts me day and night’. David couldn’t concentrate on the present and the future because his past haunted him day and night. He needed to say sorry in order to move on. Maybe there are things in our lives that still haunt us? Things that are holding us back because of our deep regret and guilt? Maybe there is someone we need to say sorry to? The Bible tells us that we all make mistakes. But it also tells us of an incredible God who can help us learn from the past and leave the past in the past. ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, great is His faithfulness’. In the absence of a time machine, let’s look at our past and choose to learn from our mistakes, seek forgiveness for the wrong we’ve done, and thank God for His new mercies every day. And as for turning back time?… The clocks go back tonight everybody. But just one hour.

 

A Cast Iron Hope - 23/10/20

We’ve just bought a chiminea. In case you’re wondering, it’s a cast iron, wood-burning stove. I believe they originated in Mexico.

Now those of you who have been to my house will be thinking that I have a perfectly adequate central heating system and have no need of supplementary heating devices. That would be correct, but this is to use in the garden.

Again, those of you who have been to my house will be thinking that in addition to perfectly adequate central heating, I have comfortable furniture and have no need to sit outside. Also correct, but this is something different to do on those cold winter nights when we have nowhere to go because of lockdown.

Now, I’m a man, and the gender stereotype dictates that men like to play with fire… ever notice that men always do the cooking at a barbeque? It’s not because we like to cook, it’s because fire is involved. In this instance, the gender stereotype is correct. Fire is fun!

At this point I feel I should include a disclaimer that the disregard for political correctness and cavalier attitude to health and safety are entirely the responsibility of the author.

Okay, back to the plot. Sitting in the dark in the garden, watching the flames twist and dance and feeling the warmth from them gently singeing my legs, brings a feeling of satisfaction that the time spent carefully building the pyramid of fire-lighters, kindling, small twigs, bigger twigs and very big twigs has all been worthwhile. Even greater satisfaction is achieved by throwing on some cardboard. This provides a double endorphin boost, because not only do the flames spectacularly engulf the entire chiminea and anything within two feet of it; satisfying the male pyro maniacal sensibilities, but it means that the mountain of cardboard boxes, kindly supplied by Amazon over the past six months, can be reduced to a heap of ash.

So, like I said, fire is fun. I will doubtless extend an invitation to join me one evening to sit in my garden and be entranced by this new plaything. Oh, wait a minute. I can’t. We’re all in Tier Three lockdown and we can’t meet in gardens. But that’s the thing about our chiminea; it’s a testament to hope. Once we move back to Tier Two and beyond, we can have people round to join us. The chiminea was bought in anticipation of just such a time. It’s a cast iron hope.

Throughout history, people have endured various troubled times and those who have come through those troubles have needed hope. That hope has always been there. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Why? Because the Bible says this, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” We too can rely on that faithfulness, because God is our cast iron hope.

 

Emmanuel - Not Just for Christmas - 22/10/20

As I sit in my lounge, drinking a good coffee, and trying to teach myself to sit still for five minutes, my eyes have landed on ‘mini me’! Let me explain. Last Christmas I wanted to get each of my four daughters something personal and special and well, something that would just be lovely! I went on the internet and found ‘mini me dolls’!! These are stuffed dolls, shaped a bit like a gingerbread man, about 20 inches long, and you send the company a photo of your face and that gets put on the doll!! Voila!! How much fun is that?! So, I ordered four of these dolls and a week later, there I was, sitting at home while all my chicks were out, staring at four little ‘me’ dolls!! I’ve got to say, in addition to them being very funny, they’re also terrifying! When my chicks go away somewhere, (not going anywhere at the moment!!) I put them in their bags, with a message ‘mum is watching you!’ I don’t deny it’s creepy really, but very funny. 

My chicks are getting older and like any doting parent I have to be able to ‘let go’ and let them grow up. It’s only right and natural for them to gain more independence, but, well, I still want to be there for them, and protect them. 

And in this time now, isn’t it difficult not being able to go and spend time with family and friends and neighbours? We want to be with them, check on them, be there physically for them....and, well, we can’t.

But! God can be there. God is there. David wrote in a psalm, ‘Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast’.

I’ll be completely honest, my mini me dolls do not bring comfort! Anything but! And as humans, we are restricted and limited in where we can go and what we can do. But today, may we find comfort in knowing that God can reach us in hospital, in school, in the loneliness of our homes and the busyness of our lives. Wherever we are and however we are feeling, may you know ‘Emmanuel - God With Us’

 

Planning for the Future - 21/10/20

I am not much of a gardener probably due to being impatient for results and I do not like waiting. However, in the Celtic tradition of prayer, waiting is something which is very much encouraged. One of the Celtic saints, St Hild of Whitby, spent a huge chunk of time just praying and waiting. She is said to have encouraged her followers to prepare the ground by praying. Then she said that you should plant promises that those who come afterwards will recognise. She argued that we do not need to see the results of our planting because God was the keeper of the plans, not us.

 As our harvest week approaches, in amongst the fun, the quizzes, the baking and the eating, let us not forget to pray. We may never see the impact of that praying or even of our fundraising; but that is okay. Someone else in Beirut, Lebanon, will reap that harvest of Gods promises. So, if we need some inspiration, one of Gods many promises to us is from  Philippians 4:6-7 :”Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

Now, where can we plant that today?

 

It's all in the Preparation - 20/10/20

Over the course of last weekend while we had some lovely autumn sunshine, we spent some time out in the garden tidying things up a bit, cutting back some of the dying foliage and raking up fallen leaves.  I’ve taken delivery of the allium bulbs I ordered and they’ve been strategically planted out, ready for spring.  Edward, our friendly and increasingly brave squirrel, has been busy collecting the nuts we put out and presumably storing at least some of them away in various places (he now has a couple of friends that have joined him but as we can’t tell them apart they’re now all called Edward!) 

It’s that time of year isn’t it when preparations are made ready for winter.  The luscious green of summer turns to beautiful shades of red and orange which in turn will eventually die and leave the garden looking rather barren and dead and we all retreat indoors to stay dry and warm.  In some ways it feels as though the garden is reflecting a bit of the situation we currently find ourselves in - our usual activities continue to be halted and we must all retreat from each other and hibernate away.  But hibernation isn’t about doing nothing, hibernation is about preparation.

The bulbs I’ve planted may be hidden from sight but they’re not doing nothing; they’re gathering nutrients and establishing good roots so that they will be ready when the time is right.  The perennial plants aren’t dead, they’re just preserving themselves so that they will be ready when the time is right.  The trees losing their leaves isn’t a sign of death, but a way of helping them conserve their energy so that they will be ready when the time is right.

This year has been a strange year, different to any I have known in my life-time, and at times you may have felt like hiding away and telling someone to wake you up when this is over but would that have helped to prepare you for next year?  Some people refer to this year as the year we lost, but while it’s been different to anything we have known before, we didn’t lost it – each and every one of us has changed in some small, or maybe significant, way this year.  Some of us have learned that we can be more resilient than we ever thought; some of us have learned that we truly do have good friends we can depend upon and some of us have learned that we can be a good friend.  None of that is wasted, it’s preparation for the community of people we will be when we are all back together again.  

And while we’ve been preparing and growing this year, Jesus has also been busy.  He’s been working in us and through us and the Bible also tells us that he is busy preparing a place for us: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.  If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”

Let’s use our time well and prepare ourselves to be the people that God would have us be – ready when the time is right.

 

Friends and Friends - 19/10/20

I’m sure this is something that we all know; there are friends and there are friends. They seem to belong in different categories depending on your lifestyle. You could have friends in all kinds of places; - work, golf club, church, gym, scouts music society, etc. Some friends you see several times each week, some on dry days when you play golf, or every second Friday night in the month at the music society. One may be the friend who sits in the season-ticket seat next to you every home game. You may only know him as Billy and you have no idea where he lives or works, but he’s still a friend. If you’re on Facebook or Instagram, you might tell me you have 597 friends, but you have never met 458 of them. Some friends you chose, some of them are just in the same place as you, like the office or the football match. And they’re all different; - sporty or arty, philosophical or noisy, male or female. Some of course may be family members, but that’s not always the case. Do you have degrees of closeness? Are some good fun but that’s all they are? Have you had deep and personal conversations with any of them? Could you trust any of your friends with secrets? Here’s an interesting question, if you were seriously worried or frightened, and you had to talk to someone at 3 in the morning, how many friends have you got? 

King Solomon had thoughts about friends, “A friend loves at all times.” Do you have a friend who will tell you the truth? Solomon said, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” These words really reinforce the reality that there are friends and friends. In a conversation with the Disciples who considered themselves to be followers and servants of Jesus, He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” This sounds like promotion with conditions, but all Jesus was saying was that He knew what was good for these men in this life and the next, and He wanted them to have the best of both worlds. There is no time limit on this and we have the same choice. As we are building friendships in our community that we can trust, let’s learn to trust Jesus as the ultimate friend. He will never let us down or leave us because He’s found different friends. And we can talk to Him about anything.

Even at 3 in the morning.

 

Light My Fire - 18/10/20

I’m sitting here quietly by myself looking at photographs of matches, I bet you’re not. It sounds like a strange thing to do but I have a good reason for doing this rather than watching Michael Palin on TV. It’s all to do with our camera club ‘Shoot’. We have a new theme each month and our excellent members submit their interpretation of the given subject for assessment. During our recent lock down when we were confined to barracks, our themes could be created in the safety of our homes. This particular theme was ‘Close Up’ and many different approaches were applied. Strangely two members, without talking to each other chose to photograph matches. This does sound odd I know, but a few years ago for a different theme two members photographed the same street lamp in the centre of Liverpool. Photographers are interesting people! Back to the matches; one picture shows an extremely close view of five match heads. They are twenty times bigger than life-size, and the matches are like works of art; very deep red with texture like orange peel and a beautiful shape. The other picture is also, oddly, of five matches but these are just normal scale. These matches however are lit; so one photograph depicts their appearance and the other indicates their purpose. 

I spend some of my time talking to children in a junior school and I’m always impressed with their energy and smiles, but mostly by their potential. They are like the close up image of the match heads, lovely and interesting but not yet fulfilling their hidden promise. This reminds me of Bible characters like Joseph, David, Mary, or Peter; people couldn’t tell by looking what they would be like when they exercised the ability God had placed in them. When that happened, they were like the lighted matches, giving out light and warmth. And they were noticed. Many people comfort themselves by thinking that what they believe in is all that matters. But God expects the match to be lit. But other words hearing the words of Jesus, even remembering them, is not enough, we must exhibit the light and warmth that comes from God. 

In the Bible, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote this, “Someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.”

Our days are not getting easier at the moment, but in our Melling Community we are learning to rely on each other’s generous actions, which demonstrate our mutual concerns. But remember, God would love our actions to be an expression of our faith in the One who planted our potential.

 

How Great Thou Art - 17/10/20

It was 1998. I was on my way to do a few weeks of AIDS education and training in Thailand. On my way there I stopped off in Malaysia for a few days and spent some of that time working in a home for destitute women. The majority of these ladies had been horrifically abused and were both physically and mentally harmed. The stories I heard from the carers, and some of the sights I saw upset me enormously. During one afternoon I went for a walk, on my own, with just my tiny cassette player for company. I had a new cassette that I had picked up in a store and hadn’t yet played. I had no idea if it was any good or not. As I walked around a large park, trying hard to compose myself and asking God to help me be of some good to the ladies I was serving, a song started playing that instantly distracted me. The words were familiar, but I’d never heard it sound so beautiful and so moving as I did then. The words poured out the mouths of a large choir with such power and emotion. 

 

“O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy Hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

 

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art

 

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow with humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art”

 

As I wandered back, I thanked God for the rescue home that cared so beautifully for these ladies. For the smiles and laughter that were gradually appearing in such broken lives. I went in and played them this beautiful song and we danced and giggled like little school girls. Separated by language, but on that occasion it just didn’t seem to matter. After they’d danced, and swayed and danced a bit more, they all collapsed in a heap, laughter was everywhere. My friend took out her bag of cheap nail polish and we spent the rest of the afternoon painting finger nails and toenails! Much to the delight of all!

 

I left Malaysia with a dream. ‘One day I’ll be part of a choir that will sing music that is that beautiful, and they too will bring laughter, smiles, tears, encouragement, and above all, hope, to the people who hear them. Hope in a God who loves us, who can restore the broken hearted, who can place us in families, who can do the impossible‘. 

 

Melling Community Gospel Choir is 9 years old today. Happy Birthday to the most amazing choir, who love, who care, who help to restore, and are family. May God bless us with many, many more years together. And when life gets challenging and our problems seem overwhelming, let’s remember those beautiful words, ‘...my God, how great thou art’.

“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.”

 

16/10/20

You need to read this in your best movie trailer voice. You know the one; deep, growling, filled with the promise of menace and adventure. “Imagine a world filled with fear. Fear of contamination. A world where your every waking moment is spent avoiding those who are unclean; those who are contaminated. A world where you must prove that you are able to participate in the clean society; where you must dress to show that you are avoiding contamination. A world where the unclean are isolated, excluded, vilified. Welcome… to Covid.”

Okay, you can stop doing the voice now… it hurts your throat after a while. How long do you think it will be before Hollywood comes up with the movie? It’s perfect for a dystopian future epic… except that it’s not the future, it’s now.

It’s also the past. In biblical times cleanliness was very important. Rules were in place to monitor the clean and unclean. People were fearful of contamination. Leprosy was a common disease. Lepers were to be avoided. They were sent out of the local area, declared ritually unclean and isolated, excluded and vilified. Just as today, the rules regarding cleanliness were there for sensible reasons. They were there to keep people safe, but they took their toll.

There are those people today who complain about the rules being complicated and confusing. Spare a thought then for the people of Jesus’ day. The law makers of the time, the Pharisees, took the 613 laws of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible) and created over 2,000 rules to add to them; because 613 was clearly not enough of a challenge! In doing so, they forgot the people the laws were designed to protect.

When asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself'. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus made it clear that we are to love God and, very importantly, to love people. Everything else follows on from these two basic principles. To simply give people a set of rules to follow and wash our hands of them is not enough – no pun intended.

As responsible citizens of the United Kingdom, we must follow the rules and guidelines set out to protect ourselves and others, but we should also remember that this is not the only kingdom we serve. We are citizens of God’s kingdom and we are called to fulfil the law, just as Jesus did. We are called to love God and to love others. To care for those who are isolated and marginalised. To look out for those left out, or kept at arm’s length. To be mindful of the effect of the pandemic on people’s mental health. To remember the value of relationships. To be kind. To be a friend. To be there for others.

So, if you feel fearful, fed up, or forgotten; remember that you belong to a community of people who are there for you. A community who follow the rules without forgetting their relationships. A group of God’s people who demonstrate joy and hope beyond our immediate circumstances. It’s a world you don’t need to imagine.

 

Don't Forget To Remember - 15/10/20

It’s funny how you can be certain that you’ve never met someone who your friend is talking about with such enthusiasm; “Wasn’t if funny when he fell off his bike into a holly bush.” or “How brilliant it was that night when he jumped into the canal to recover the football for the little boy crying on the bank.”  Listening to your friend recalling events from the dawn of history, you know he has mistaken you for someone else because you have no idea who he’s talking about. Then he says, “And remember that camping weekend when a cow sat on his tent.” Ahhh, it all comes flooding back now; “Oh him, yes of course I remember, how could anyone forget?” But you did forget until something triggered one memory that led to dozens more. I wonder how many of your old school mates you ever think of now? Does an event or a sound or a sight ever remind you of someone you haven’t seen for many years? In our present situation, what does it take to remind you of someone in the Melling Baptist Community who you used to sing with in the choir or have breakfast with at Hub? Is it now a question of ‘out of sight out of mind?’ Do you think that you have been forgotten also?

There’s a Bible story about Naaman who was the Army Commander of Syria, a very powerful and influential man, but he had leprosy for which there was no cure, so he was dying. From one of his invasions of Israel he had brought back a servant girl to attend his wife. When she heard about his illness she was reminded of Elisha, a man back in Israel who God had used to heal people. She had no reason to want her captor cured but she believed it was right to tell him about the man she remembered in her own country. The outcome was that Naaman was healed, but only because the young girl he had taken from her family home was compassionate enough to care. 

We read in our Bibles that God needs no reminder, He never forgets us and is compassionate enough to care. “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you.”

Do we remember those people we used to mix with or do we need a reminder? How great it would be if we called a friend we hadn’t seen for months simply because we cared enough. We read at the end of the book of Hebrews this reminder, ‘Do not forget to do good and help one another, because these are the sacrifices that please God.’

 

You Matter - 14/10/20

Outside the Oratory, next to the huge Liverpool Cathedral there is a Tracey Emin piece of art work that is exquisite but it is rarely noticed. It consists of a 4” bird on top of a pole. So often we can feel like that bird. Unseen, unnoticed, unimportant next to the giants of our culture like celebrities and even local heroes. We too can be guilty of not noticing an individual because they are not important enough to us. The Bible tells us that we are precious, that we matter. Jesus reminded us that we are valuable, precious. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Do you need that reminder today? Do you need to remind someone just how precious they are, not just in Gods eyes but because they are?

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? - 13/10/20

It’s that time of year again.  

I was sitting on my sofa, minding my own business when something caught my eye.  I was aware of movement and turned to discover the biggest spider I’ve ever seen walking up the wall (the one in front of you always seems to be the biggest one you’ve ever seen!)  Now I don’t like spiders – I don’t want to hurt them and I appreciate that they have an important role to play, but I don’t want to share my living room with them.  I screamed and my husband rolled his eyes before finding a suitably sized cup to put over him.  The problem was, just as he was about to put the cup on top of him, the enormous spider decided to jump – yes jump! – off the wall and disappear.  We moved sofas, cushions, bins – anything that could be moved to try and find him but the biggest spider in the world had simply disappeared.

You will have heard the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – I can honestly tell you that that is nonsense!  Just because I couldn’t see it, that spider was very far from being out of my mind.  Every time I walked into the room I would check the floor and walls, the chairs and cushions in the certain knowledge that he was somewhere … just waiting for his next venture out.

As we face further restrictions on our movements and lives, it would be all too easy to begin to think that God had stopped watching over us, that he had forgotten about us in some way and left us to just get on with things.  But that wouldn’t be true.  

In the Bible we read: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.  You know when I sit down or stand up.  You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.  You see me when I travel and when I rest at home.  You know everything I do.  You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.  You go before me and follow me…  If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the depths, you are there.  If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.”  

If you’re feeling anxious or alone right now, that’s completely understandable as these are strange times, but know with absolute certainty that God sees you and he knows you and he is with you every step of the way guiding and supporting.   Unlike my spider, you’re not out of sight and are very much in God’s thoughts.  What’s more, the fact that we are unable to physically see one another at the moment, doesn’t mean that we are out of one another’s thoughts and prayers either.  We are part of a wonderful community of God’s people and we have been put together for a reason – to watch over one another and offer a helping hand when it’s needed.  That’s something to celebrate.

And the giant spider?  Well he turned up again a few days later and was gently and humanely rehoused to somewhere he can live in peace.  I think we’re both happier that way.

Change - 12/10/20

I’m looking at a photograph on my wall in front of me. It’s a picture of Liverpool Waterfront, taken from Birkenhead about fifteen years ago. If anything happened to it and I wanted to replace it by taking another one, I couldn’t do it. If I stood in exactly the same place at exactly the same time of the year, the same time in the day and in the same weather conditions, the new photo would not match the first one. Things have changed, life has moved on; there are new high-rise apartment blocks, a new museum and two huge modern buildings used for large events. Almost certainly some elderly structures have suffered violent attacks from monster cranes swinging nasty metal balls. The waterfront church, St Nicholas, which used to be conspicuous, is now dwarfed by modern shapes that have rendered this famous icon almost invisible. Can you remember the Liverpool of your youth; Paradise Street before Liverpool One, the Pier Head Bus Terminal, the Overhead Railway, what about Lewis’s when it was a shop? Can you remember paying with cash? Something I haven’t seen for years is a line of local shops, closed in the evening, with not a roller blind in view. That hasn’t changed because shop owners love the sight of metal blinds, but because society has changed, not for the best. I can remember when we played out in the street and every school had a Christian assembly! There have been many wonderful changes through the years, and there have been changes which cause us to be fearful and sad. Can you predict how society will look and behave in twenty years from now? 

We are clearly living with shifting styles of behaviour due to the pandemic and when it’s over, not everything will return to what we used to call ‘normal’. Bible characters lived in a world where standards and patterns of behaviour were static for thousands of years. They would be shocked at the speed of change we are trying to cope with. Nevertheless they had to live with the realities of famine, flood, invasion and more. They would view the future with fear and trembling, and the people of Israel would look to God for reassurance that He had not changed but was still the God of Creation, the God of Heaven and Earth. 

As we look forward and imagine life without Covid, will it all be sweetness and light or are you nervous? Let’s be encouraged by what the Bible tells us about God, ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows’...’Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures for ever.’ Let’s give God the last word as we struggle with changes out of our control, “I the Lord do not change.”

Call Someone - 11/10/20

At this time in our history it’s very easy to be worn down by the constant supply of depressing news. It could be Covid-19 or Brexit, forest fires or floods, or something really important such as our football team losing the last three games. Often people don’t help; we read of ‘celebrities’ spending a fortune on another car, or we look at those in charge of the country and think we could do better, or as we sit having our cornflakes we resent the fact that nobody has rung us for a week. We can get into a damaging mindset that causes us to wake up expecting more bad news before we get out of bed. But maybe we need to look again at the world, but this time with fresh eyesight and a positive and grateful attitude. There are always different ways of looking at things. Like many professional photographers, De Witt Jones who works for National Geographic, uses his skill to celebrate what is right and beautiful in our world. By having a positive attitude and not rushing, he will eventually see the shaft of sunlight that penetrates the heavy cloud and transforms a drab city street into a wonderland that encourages you to jump into your car and head for Bootle before the sun disappears. But you don’t have to go to those extreme lengths, just open your door and step out. Listen and watch the magic of a flock of geese, look at that ordinary tree that’s transforming itself into a rustling golden miracle, pick up the acorn on the floor and admire the tree that provided it and remember that’s where the tree came from. Oh and that silence on your phone, why don’t you cause someone else to hear their phone ringing? 

In the Bible, Job had more cause to complain about life than you or I ever will; read the first two chapters of the book of Job; you’ll be shocked. Eventually God asked him about the wonders of nature that were obvious to anyone who bothered to look, and suggested to Job that God was slightly wiser than he was, could do anything He wanted to and was still in control of the world He made for us to inhabit. “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand....Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn it’s place?....Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt?....Do you give the horse it’s strength or clothe it’s neck with a flowing mane?....Does the eagle soar at your command and spread it’s wings towards the South?" 

There are lots more that God talks about; the point is that however you view the world this morning, and your place in it, God is in charge. Many places in the Bible assure us that God knows what He is doing and is concerned for those who trust Him. ‘This God-how perfect are His deeds! How dependable His words! He is like a shield for all who seek His protection.’

OK, time to get up, grab a coffee, call someone.

Here Comes SpiderMan! - 10/10/20

Last week I was in a supermarket trying to get my shopping done as quickly as possible. I reached the queue and found myself stood behind two young girls. As I stood there I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. It started with one girl making a comment about the person in front of them being too slow. The other girl responded in agreement and then went on to criticise the persons shoes. The first girl laughed and added to the insult by commenting on the ‘ugly clothes’. The conversation grew more insulting with every comment. Every word more toxic than the last. Until, after just a couple of minutes they decided they’d waited long enough, dumped their unpaid-for goods and stomped out of the shop, pushing past the bewildered customer in front. Thankfully, the customer hadn’t heard the comments and was saved from feeling hurt and embarrassment. I came away from the shop feeling angry and sad that humans could speak with such cruelty. It was deliberate and unprovoked!

The Bible has a lot to say about this! It makes it clear that what we choose to think about and dwell on, will eventually come out in our speech.  It gives us huge warnings about the dangers of wrong thinking and the immense damage that our cruel and toxic language can cause. It says, 

‘...the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A great forest can be set on fire by one tiny spark’. 

As I walked towards my car, there was a little boy in a SpiderMan costume walking with his mum towards the shop. He looked up at me and said, ‘Hello, I’m SpiderMan, and SpiderMan says hello to everybody!’ What an amazing contrast in the space of just a few minutes! 

I don’t know why those girls were so cruel, I don’t know what kind of experiences they’ve had themselves, and every one of us is guilty of speaking out of turn at some point.  Proverbs says, 

‘Some people like to make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise soothe and heal’. 

SpiderMan may have only been about 3 years old but his words were simply beautiful! So today, and every day, let’s be more like SpiderMan!

 

Buongiorno - 9/10/20

I’m currently learning Italian. Not because I want to learn something new for lockdown, but because I want to feel less ignorant whilst abroad. Italy is my favourite tourist destination, but I am linguistically challenged and find it embarrassing that every waiter seems to speak perfect English, whilst I am left floundering with even simple phrases of Italian.

I once asked a charming, elderly Italian lady for directions - having studiously rehearsed the appropriate phrase. She listened carefully to my beautifully modulated enquiry and proceeded to give me a full and detailed set of instructions to find my required destination. You might surmise that this encounter was a success, until you realise that I didn’t understand a word of her answer. I simply thanked her profusely and continued wandering about aimlessly.

Though I say so myself, my progress has been remarkable. Only thirty-three days in and I am already able to assert that I am indeed the man in possession of an apple; “Io sono l’uomo. Io ho una mela”. Should ever you find yourself in dispute with a greengrocer in Milan, please feel free to give me a call.

My tutor is a little green owl who regularly rewards me for my various stellar achievements. Now before you think that lockdown has affected my mental health, let me explain that I am using an App on my mobile phone and the little green owl is the animated instructor. He rewards my progress with jewels and crowns. I get some for correctly answering questions, some for correctly completing entire exercises and yet more for learning on consecutive days. I’m able to, “spend” the jewels to allow me to continue learning when I have run out of chances to progress - due to too many wrong answers. It’s a little like being able to carry over the accolade from a previous good deed to deflect the disapproval of a current misdemeanour. I’m not sure what the crowns are for, I only know I’ve got fifteen of them. I’m sure I’ll be told at some point. Of course, my rewards are virtual and I’ll never actually get to see the jewels or wear the crowns, but it’s nice to have somebody tell me that I’m doing well… even if it is a little green owl.

Alongside the language App on my phone is a Bible App. I noticed that my tally of consecutive days reading is eleven. Not as impressive as my language App tally, but I do tend to prefer the dog eared paper copy that sits on my bookshelf. Neither one offers me rewards for reading it. The reading of it is reward in itself. Whichever version I choose to read, it tells me that I don’t need to, “cash in” my good behaviour to atone for my bad. I simply need to come to God and say I’m sorry. He is “a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love”. I’m also told that, if I keep the faith, a crown of infinite value is awaiting me, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day”.

I’ll keep up my language learning and continue to receive my virtual rewards, but, more importantly, I’ll continue to keep the faith, assured that one day I will receive the greatest reward of all. Grazie a Dio.

 

Rocking And Creaking - 8/10/20

I’ve got a rocking chair in my front room, I’ve had it for years. Someone in my family is going to go mad when I tell you that I can’t remember when or why I got it, or who gave it to me; I don’t think I went round the shops searching for my chair, but if I did I have no idea how we got it home, it’s big and heavy. It’s beautifully made and finished; it’s golden and shiny but I’m not sure what kind of wood it is. It could be Beech or Ash I suppose; what wood do they make rocking chairs out of? I’ve got a feeling someone is about to tell me. Anyway, when I’m in a thinking mood, I often retreat to my rocker and in case my wife walks in I have developed a very good thoughtful expression. I think most men have done this but I guess that not many wives are fooled. A few days ago I was gently rocking and I was genuinely in a pensive mode but something kept interrupting me but I was only vaguely aware of it. Eventually I was forced to pay attention to my thought intruder and I realised that my lovely rocker had developed a creak. Every time I rocked forward then back there was a whisper from my chair down by the carpet. I can’t find anything loose and all the joints seem firm. I intend to continue my relationship with my rocker, but I’m worried that it might be warning me of trouble ahead. 

 

At this time in our history we are all fully aware of our society creaking, caused by Covid-19. We have survived more than six months and we thought it was going away, but now it seems to be fighting back and we are all worried that there may be trouble ahead. The Bible is full of stories about people who were fearful of the future; Noah, Abram, Joseph, Elijah, and many more. They all were comforted by the belief that the future was in God’s hands and they all demonstrated concern for those who were struggling.

‘We who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves....Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other.’ In our Melling family let’s continue to meet each other’s needs as we have done this year, bringing friendship and hope for the months to come. And let’s pray that the creaking stops soon.

 

One Big Family - 7/10/20

All around my house I have photos of my girls! Photos from when they were tiny, right up to recent. I look at the earliest photos and am instantly transported back to that time. Nappies, bottles of milk, nappies, baths, no sleep, nappies....I seemed to have spent years without any sleep. Only one of my chicks liked to sleep. The other three were up all day and all night. I try and tell myself that it was because I was so much fun they just didn’t want to miss anything! It’s more likely that God was allowing me valuable lessons in patience!! When they were little they all had very long, dark hair; they watched the same tv programmes, played the same games and had a very similar dress sense....well, I chose their clothes! They were my little Russian dolls. But as they’ve all got older they’ve very definitely developed their own characteristics, their own likes and dislikes. One can play beautiful guitar and loves all things blingy; another lifts weights at the gym, loves Billy Joel and gets seriously excited about algebra; another is our style guru who has to match every item of clothing and can chat all day and all night to anyone; and my other chick is loud, noisy and has the ability to take over the world! Putting it bluntly, all my girls are completely different and I have to treat them all differently. Each one of them has strengths and weaknesses, frustrations and enjoyments, good days and bad days. And I love each one of them more than I can say. 

As we look at our own families, friendship groups, WhatsApp chats, Zoom groups....we will see such a huge array of different characters with different skills and hobbies and dislikes. Some skills and hobbies we can totally relate to and some that complete baffle us! But one thing is certain, everyone is equally important! How boring life would be if we were all the same. God created us all different, on purpose!! It’s no mistake!! I’m so thankful for all the amazing people I know who are blessed with such incredible gifts and skills. I couldn’t do without you!!! And as for your weaknesses...well all I can say is Thankyou for being patient with mine!! When we look at others, let’s choose to see the positives! Let’s encourage and bless and accept one another. There’s enough bad news in the world, so let’s start with our friends and families and create some good news!! 

‘ So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it’.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

The Sound of Silence - 6/10/20

In Celtic prayer there is a tradition of being silent. Our world is very noisy and sometimes it really can drown out the whisper that God speaks into our souls. Even Jesus took time out to be alone , away from the noisy crowds: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

I love these words that were written by Francis J Roberts: