August '21 Sunrises

'Part of the Body' - 31/08/21

Last week I was watching an episode of Celebrity Masterchef – very often I find I am struggling to recognise any of the celebrities but on this occasion I discovered that I did actually recognise some of them.  One in particular drew my attention.  Will Kirk is a furniture restorer who stars in the programme The Repair Shop.  I have often watched that programme in wonder as Will carefully takes old, broken and unusable wooden items of furniture and restores them to their former glory.  He masterfully repairs and polishes bringing tears to the eyes of many a grateful customer.  Will is a man of great talent and skill – at least he is when he has a piece of wood in his hands. 

As I watched this particular episode of Masterchef, Will decided to cook some duck for the judges – unfortunately, his idea of ‘cooking’ wasn’t quite the same as theirs and he ended up serving them raw meat!  They moved on to round 2 and Will decided this time he would serve up a chicken dish but to his great embarrassment he produced under-cooked chicken.  It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that Will ended up going home after that round!

While I watch in awe when I see what Will can do with an old cabinet or broken chair, I watched the same person in horror as he attempted to serve up an edible meal.

I must confess that his poor attempt at cooking a meal did make me smile – smile because it reminded me that each of has been created differently, each with our own gifts and skills, each with something to bring to our community. 

In 1 Corinthians the Bible puts it like this: “A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge.  It’s all the different but similar parts arranged and functioning together.  If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so?  If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, transparent and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body?  If the body was all eye, how could it hear?  If all ear, how could it smell?  As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.” 

God has placed us together as community for a reason – not only can we support and help one another, but we also bring our different skills and gifts to our community so that when we gather together we become a whole, beautiful, joyful, functioning body. 

I trust Will to fix a chair for me any time, but I think I might cook the chicken!  Perhaps you can’t cook a chicken but you may have a gift for listening.  Whatever you bring to our community, you are just as important and vital as every other part and I count it a privilege to work alongside you.

'Some Things Never Change' - 30/08/21

Yesterday I had to go to a place that I hadn’t been to for more than twenty years. It’s a building that has stood for more than a century, very solid; the only way you could move it would be to knock it down. I knew where it was and how to get to it, but I am aware that things change, maybe the roads are different or the parking has disappeared. So I thought I would take a trip just to check things out. Last time I was there, the building was quite separate and obvious, but as I approached it everything looked different, there were new buildings everywhere and the one that I remember standing proud and distinctive, was dwarfed and insignificant. I felt as if I had taken a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong street but I hadn’t, the building hadn’t moved but everything around it had changed.

  It reminded me of my life, I’m getting on a bit (but I’m dead cool and trendy), and I’m the same person I have always been, but everything around me has changed. Children are driven to school; food can be delivered to your door; people have phones that actually work outside; some people even have indoor toilets. Amazing! The world has been transformed but I’m still me. When I read my Bible, I am hugely encouraged to discover that God has not changed. “I the Lord do not change.” The thoughts He has and the standards He sets are the same year after year, ‘He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change His mind; for He is not a human being, that He should change His mind.’ Best of all, despite our culture losing interest in the God of Creation, we read many times that, ‘His love endures for ever.’  Something else that will not change is our need to respond to His love that we see in action at Calvary; 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.’ People all over the world in almost every country, have discovered that responding to the love of God produces the best change in theirs lives, irrespective of the culture around them. Some things are best never changing.

'Typos' - 29/08/21

Yesterday I made mistakes writing Sunrise! I was told! I went back and looked, and there they were, plain to see. 

Maybe I should just wait a moment now while you all scroll back to yesterday’s Sunrise to see what I’m talking about? Or maybe, you already know what I’m talking about??

But yes, the typos are there. This last week has been a little bit crazy. Needing to empty an entire house ready for building work, has been a huge amount of effort. Add that to a busy family life, and work life, and needless to say, it got a little bit hectic. By the time Saturday morning came I wasn’t sure what day it was! I wrote Sunrise, it went up on the website and I got on with my day…

Some time later I discovered I’d missed what was wrong. I’d been so busy that I didn’t stop to check that everything was ok. Duh!! I’m sorry. I apologise. But in the scale of things, it wasn’t a huge problem. Just little typos. But it did get me thinking. I spend a lot of my life rushing. Rushing to drop my girls at school and college, rushing to pick them up at the end of the day, rushing to the shops, rushing to be on time with work. Rushing, rushing, rushing….

Don’t get me wrong I am absolutely delighted with all there is to do in each day, but on occasions, any one of us can be in such a rush that we forget to check if all is okay. We can be so busy with our plans that we miss that person being extra quiet today, we miss noticing that somebody is missing, we miss an unusual, telling comment that someone has made. We can be so busy that we fail to see that those around us are not ok. 

The Bible says, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’. When we’re feeling defeated, worn out, hurt, lonely, just having ‘one of those days’ (or weeks/months/years!!), a kind word, an unexpected smile, a listening ear, is worth more than we can often express. 

When there’s something wrong with a Sunrise it’s not the end of the world, but may we never be too rushed or distracted or self seeking to see what’s wrong with those who are all around us.

'Tree Hugging' - 28/08/21

So, Lebanon. An incredibly beautiful, tiny country with the most stunning coastline, amazing history, fabulous food, interesting dancing and huge, 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, civil 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’. Today, may we recognise ‘barbed wire fences’. As the saying goes, ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about’. 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...removing the land mines one by one. 

'Apache Falls' - 27/08/21

I have just returned from a glorious day out with two of my grandchildren. We went to Gulliver’s World theme park, near Warrington (other theme parks are available). The weather was warm and sunny and the queues were not too long. It was a day of fun and laughter and everybody had a nice time. The one minor hiccup occurred when I attempted to take the three-year-old onto the Apache Falls water ride. This is basically a set of circular rafts that are swept along a predetermined course which is guaranteed to ensure that the occupants of said raft arrive at the end of the ride in a much more soggy state than when they started. Like all the rides, there is a minimum height requirement to ensure the safety of the participants. Whilst I met the required standard with ease, my little companion turned out to be just one centimetre short. It was clear that the lady responsible for denying us entry to the ride was doing so in order to meet a stringent health and safety regulation and took no pleasure in being a killjoy. I quietly explained to my vertically challenged companion that we would not be able to go on the ride until she was a little bit bigger; “perhaps next year”, but that we would still be able to go on the log flume. She squared her shoulders and with admirable stoicism asked, “Will we get very wet on the log flume Grandad?” Having been assured that this would indeed be the case, she looked me in the eye and with a big smile on her face, said in a loud, cheerful voice, “Okay, let’s go!”.

This caused me to reflect that her response was far more mature than that of some adults I have met who have been faced with unavoidable disappointment due to recent regulations imposed upon them. It also led me to think about the fact that we live in a society that tells us that we should want everything now. The thought of having to wait to enjoy something is a foreign concept nowadays.

How wonderful then, that Jesus’ promises are immediate. When He says, “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full”, He means now. We don’t need to wait until we have grown another centimetre. Likewise, the most quoted passage in scripture is immediate in its consequence, “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”. Eternal life is not a future concept; it begins the moment we accept Jesus. So, let’s not wait around. Let’s go!

'Who Knows?' - 26/08/21

“There may yet come a time when Heroes are needed once more. There may yet come a time when the dragons will come back.”
Cressida Cowell, How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train your Dragon is the story of Hiccup, and how he becomes a dragon trainer in a world of dragon killers. He is the unexpected hero of the story.

Think back to summer 2019. I was enjoying a holiday in America, visiting family. What were you doing? Whatever it was, I can be fairly sure that no one knew what was about to happen across the world. We were living in blissful ignorance of the global pandemic around the corner.

The idea of who a hero was changed from a Instagram blogger and celebrity footballer, to a NHS worker or lab researcher. Our world turned upside down.

Just as in the book, something happened beyond our control which totally changed our view of the world forever. In the case of Hiccup, it was taking a decision to befriend a dragon rather than kill it. In our case it was learning how to live in a world where a global pandemic was in control.

The truth is that no one knows what will happen next. We may have a wonderful surprise today, or some bad news. We may even discover that dragons are real and living in Chipping Norton! To be honest, after the last eighteen months anything is possible.

Whatever happens today, God loves you and wants to be part of your life, guiding and helping you. In Isaiah 41, it says:

 For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

As you deal with whatever life throws at you today, know that God loves you, and that he will be with you and help you through. Whether its dragons, crowds, or something we haven’t even thought of yet, God’s love for you is constant and unchanging. Let’s hold onto that love today.

'The Repair Shop' - 25/08/21

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.

'Anyone Know a Good Drain Cleaner?' - 24/08/21

We’ve got local newspapers and leaflets through the door, ‘Yellow Pages’ and ‘Keep It Local’, but when you need a drain cleaner what do you do? You ring your family and friends and a mate who works for the council to ask if anybody has had personal experience of hiring a drain cleaner. Or maybe you need a gardener, a car mechanic, a tree surgeon, a bricklayer or a decorator. Or a ballet teacher. Or a rat catcher. We all need help occasionally and we usually start by asking everyone if they know someone. Currently we need a gardener, a grid fixer, a path cleaner, and a fence builder. But we want a friend to tell us that Billy is reliable and Stan is cheap. This reminds me of a bit of motoring history that goes back more than a hundred years. In the early 1900’s the Packard Motor Car Company came up with a slogan to entice buyers, and help owners of their cars to feel important. The catch phrase was, ‘Ask the man who owns one!’ That was clever because hearing your neighbour or a colleague or friend expressing great satisfaction with a product is a powerful recommendation. People who have that kind of knowledge and experience are usually very happy to share it.

 In our culture where Christianity has taken a back seat, and Christians are not the largest group of people across the country, what happens if somebody wants to know how your faith ‘works’? They are not going to turn to ‘Yellow Pages’ or ‘Keep it Local’ are they. So, are Christians as happy to talk about their faith as they are about the brilliant piano teacher they have found? In Psalm 66 the writer is explaining the greatness of God and all that He had done for His people. Sometimes He even brought difficult times on them if they needed to be reminded of how He had blessed them in the past. It became very personal for the psalmist as it is meant to be for all Christians and he shouted out, “Let me tell you what He has done for me.” In most areas of our lives, we are happy to share our knowledge and experience with anyone, our faith should be the same. David was very keen for other people to discover what he had discovered, “Find out for yourself how good the Lord is. Happy are those who find safety with Him.”  As we live our lives with all their ups and downs, let’s be prepared to share our beliefs and knowledge with those around us. Now, anybody know a good gardener?

'All for One and One for All' - 20/08/21

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.

'Just Imagine' - 19/08/21

“Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.”
Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days

Around the World in Eighty Days is the well known story of Phileas Fogg and his attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days after a bet from his friends.

I visited Liverpool cathedral today with some friends who had never been to Liverpool before. It gave me the opportunity to see afresh a building that I know quite well, but through the eyes of someone who was seeing it for the first time. One of the comments they made really struck a chord with me. My friend looked up at the outside of the building and said with awe ‘how on earth does somebody have the imagination to design something as amazing as this’?

During the visit we marvelled at both the amazing design of the cathedral, but also the impressive skill of the people who made the design reality. The skill of the master craftsmen was equal to the skill of the designer.

As a Christian, I believe in a creator God, who created both the world we live in and the amazing life on it. I look at the hills and trees and flowers, and I marvel at the imagination of the creator God who spoke the world into being. From the tiniest flower to the tallest tree, this world tells us every day of the boundless imagination of our loving God.

The bible tells us of how he has instilled this wonderful imagination into us, so that we can show his love and glory to the world. When God asked Moses to build important artefacts and ornate tables to go into the first cathedral (actually it was a tent in the desert), he instilled that imagination and creative skills into lots of people so that it could all be built:

Exodus 31 1-6

God spoke to Moses: “See what I’ve done; I’ve personally chosen Bezalel. I’ve filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him skill and know-how and expertise in every kind of craft to create designs and work in gold, silver, and bronze; to cut and set gemstones; to carve wood—he’s an all-around craftsman. Not only that, but to all who have an aptitude for crafts I’ve given the skills to make all the things I’ve commanded you.

God placed that imagination and skill into those people thousands of years ago, and continued to do so ever since, right up to today and into all of us. Let’s use our wonderful imagination and skills today, maybe to design or make something, or to imagine a new way of doing something, or a new way to love and encourage someone.

'And I Think To Myself, What a Wonderful World' - 18/08/21

When you woke up this morning, did you think, ‘Woohoooo it’s Wednesday’, or were you more of a, ‘Oh it’s Wednesday’, 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 of starlings. And every year babies arrive!! And 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 weeds and wild flowers (weeds!) when I go out walking. I know they’re weeds, but they are stunning flowers! A miracle! I heard the most beautiful birdsong the other day. I’ve no idea which type of bird it was, but it was simply beautiful! A miracle! My dog is a bit naughty, in a good way, 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. Of which there are many! 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. ​

'Not in the Bag' - 17/08/21

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 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

'what's Your Face Saying' - 16/08/21

George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm is quoted as saying, “By the age of fifty every man has the face he deserves.” It’s interesting that he passes no opinion regarding women’s faces. When I first heard this, I was getting close to fifty, so I had to find a mirror and consider what my face was saying to people. If you try this, you will probably find that its quite difficult because you are so used to your own face so there’s no surprises. You will already have an opinion about the size of your nose or how small your eyes are, and you will be very aware of the invasion of little wrinkles. I don’t think that Orwell was talking about these things but rather what your face suggested about your nature and character as you talked and interacted with people. Faces can express emotions very powerfully without using any words, and we can be deeply moved and sometimes shocked by what we see. This week in Plymouth, people were shot dead in the street for no logical reason and the distress was so obvious on the faces of family and friends. As I’m writing this, the Taliban are rampaging around Afghanistan taking control of the entire nation because other nations have walked away. We have seen the faces of young and old as they realise the terrifying possibilities for their futures. We will not forget! Yesterday was the beginning of the new football season and I saw the faces of those who seemed to think it was the best day of their lives.

 When people look at us, do they see in our faces compassion or irritation, interest or boredom, contentment or envy? As we meet with people on happy or sad occasions, our expressions should indicate that we are with them. The face of Jesus would always be an honest sign of His feelings, children would never have approached Him if they were made nervous by a stern look; and on those occasions when He was angry, people would understand even if He said nothing. When He went to the home of Lazarus who had recently died, His emotions were obvious and public; “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” In the last few weeks we have been able to meet with each other face to face which is wonderful. We are told to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Let’s make sure when we meet, that our love is genuine, and when people look at our faces, they see the truth.

'Fun in the Sea' - 14/08/21

Whilst on holiday recently, we were able to go out on the sea in kayaks and it was great fun. Being by the seaside is one thing which helps me to relax and being able to either swim or play in the sea is great fun. Having enjoyed being in the kayak, we decided to buy one. As I usually do, I did a bit of research on the internet about the different types and prices and shops. Then whilst in a camping shop, we saw one on offer, so we bought it.

I happily brought the box home and it was great, but not much fun. So, I got it out of the box in the garden and laid it out on the grass. It was bigger than I thought and looked great with a splash guard and seats, but it still wasn’t much fun. With the help of some friends, we inflated the kayak and it actually took shape, we even sat in it and the excitement was building, but it still wasn’t much fun. When we took it to the water, we floated the kayak and got in, this is great and then I paddled away and enjoyed the water, a bit of relaxation and time to think.

I was thinking how I can learn from this experience. The final experience came about because I took the necessary steps. The kayak is fun because when inflated it has strength, when it is on the water it floats and when I paddle it can move. As a Christian, I need to be filled with God’s strength and be in the right place, but I can’t just sit and watch, I still need to do the paddling. Our god is a loving God who support us, often through the friends around us. When we are in the right place, we can do new things through his strength and guidance that will show people God’s love and support. We are challenged in the Bible in 2 Timothy Chapter 1

I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you.  For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline

'Sweet Tongue' - 13/08/21

Although I say it myself, I am a patient individual. It takes a great deal to make me lose my patience with somebody. I am fairly sanguine when dealing with other people’s foibles, idiosyncrasies and annoying habits. Well, let’s face it, I have been putting up with my own for sixty years!

Whilst the list of things that irritate me is growing longer all the time, it is rare for one of them to actually make me lose my patience. So, whilst it is fair to say that as the years pass I am becoming more of a grumpy old man, at least I am a patient grumpy old man.

Recently, my benign countenance succumbed to annoyance. My patience was tested beyond its limits. I don’t suppose it will be much of a surprise to discover that this little explosion of temper occurred whilst driving. Those of you who drive will know that other motorists can be challenging at best. The particular motorist who incurred my wrath was one of those entitled drivers who regularly blight our roads. You will all have encountered them. They invariably drive something German, or four-wheel drive, or both. These are the motorists who believe that the indicator is merely an optional extra and that the Highway Code is a book by Dan Brown. For them, the roads are theirs to command and the rest of us are merely something that they are forced to put up with.

The egregious behaviour of this particular individual led me to question out loud their fitness to be on the Queen’s highways. The words I chose to use were not kind... to say the least.

Now, my car is well stocked with chewing gum. Eucalyptus and menthol flavour. Refreshing, zesty and sinus clearing. I often pop in one of these little blue lozenges to freshen my mouth. Having launched into my tirade of vitriol at the errant road hog, I was suddenly struck by the realisation that, whilst my breath may have been sweet, my words most certainly weren’t.

In this case, the target of my sharp tongue was unable to hear my criticism, rendering the outburst pointless, but that does not excuse it. An outburst of temper is unbecoming and betrays a lack of thoughtfulness, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding”. I need to remember that my words carry weight and can be either vicious or kind. I need to remember to err on the side of kindness. “Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body”.

So, let’s see if the next time I come across a discourteous driver I can make my words as sweet as my chewing gum.

 

'Happy Place' - 12/08/21

It is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible.”
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey tells the story of Catherine Morland, and her journey to understanding both herself and the world around her. One of the things she discovers quite quickly is that there are many things in life that can get you down, or ‘steal’ your happiness. She determines to have as many things to celebrate as possible.

I wonder if you have a ‘happy place’. A favourite place to go and sit and enjoy or feel at home. For some people it can be a beautiful place that they love to return to, for others its just being at home with a good book, and for others its simply being with people they love.

For me, it’s a certain bench at the top of a hill overlooking the Somerset levels, in a country park called Ham Hill. There, with an ice cream of course, I love to just sit and look at the beautiful surroundings and take time to ‘be’.

Quite often, life can be so hectic, the times we have to just sit and appreciate things can be few and far between. However, it’s important to ‘count our blessings’ as the phrase says, to remember the things in our lives that we have to be thankful for. Especially when it’s a really bad day, it’s good to remember that things are not always like this, that life has joy and hope and love in all sorts of ways.

The bible reminds us that God loves us, and longs to be part of our lives. It tells us that God loves us so much, that following him brings a kind of Joy that no one else can provide. Its not a super happy all the time feeling, or an endless supply of great things happening. It is, however, a certain hope and contentment that comes from knowing that you are absolutely and completely loved, and that God can be trusted. So whatever life throws at you, God is not going anywhere, and he loves you despite everything.

Nehemiah 8:10

Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

So, wherever you are today, try and find time to sit and just ‘be’, and count your blessings. Take in the idea that God absolutely and truly loves you, and be joyful, and have an ice cream if you can of course!

 

'Baggage' - 11/8/21

We are currently in the process of emptying our house. We are needing to move out for the next few months while work is done on it. We are excited for the work to be done and at the same time up the wall trying to pack up all our belongings and throw the ‘junk’ away.

‘Junk!’ I had no idea that we had so much!! The stuff that we have kept in cupboards and drawers ‘just in case’. It’s been very therapeutic to get rid of it. Very freeing! 

But that ‘junk’ or ‘baggage’ isn’t the only stuff we live with. We all have baggage in our lives but it’s not all physical. Do you recognise resentment or unforgiveness in your life? How about jealousy or greed? An inferiority complex or a sense of superiority? Selfishness or anger? When we live with such baggage it clouds our judgement, distracts us from what is important and good and simply weighs us down.

The Bible is very clear about ‘junk’….

‘…So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God's throne’.

Life can be difficult enough without our baggage. May we all seek to get rid of it, to live free of it, and trust Jesus to guide us through this journey called life.

'Take a Break' - 10/8/21

Did you know that today is International Lazy Day?  I certainly didn’t – if fact I didn’t know there was such a thing!  Apparently it is a day to celebrate doing nothing.  In all honesty, I think it may be fair to say that some people might find that easier than others.  Some people struggle to sit and be still and simply rest.  When questioned about his impressive knitting skills last week, British Olympic diver Tom Daley explained that his new hobby began because he struggled to stop and rest and switch off.  His coach suggested he find a hobby that would allow him to rest his body and clear his mind and, after discovering knitting, he has found that he can allow himself the physical and mental rest that his body needs.  

We live in a culture that demands much from us and all too often we can find ourselves competing for who can be the busiest, all too often we place our value on how busy we should be.  However, while I would not suggest that it is good for us to become lazy, God himself set a precedent for resting when our work is done.  He created the heavens and the earth and everything in it and when he was finished and he was pleased with his work, then he rested.  

In the book of Matthew Jesus says these words: “Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Jesus invites us, not to do nothing and become lazy, but to work alongside him where our gifts will be recognised and valued and the rhythm of our lives can include rest for our bodies and our minds.

Perhaps today on so called ‘International Lazy Day’ we could all spare a moment to rest with God, pausing even if only for a short while and allow him to bring his peace into the noise of our lives; calmness into our chaos and stillness in the midst of our hustle and bustle.

“At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep, for you, God, have put my life back together”.   

(Psalm 4:8)

 

 

'From Trash To Treasure' - 09/08/21

I read of a remarkable man who lives in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. His name is Jose Alberto Gutierrez but to the children in his corner of the world he is simply Senor Jose. He has no educational qualifications, he’s not any kind of performer, he’s not a singer or dancer or sportsman and he has no money to give away. In fact, he’s the local binman. So why is this man a great favourite with the children and their parents? It’s because his old unassuming rambling house is home to 25,000 books that he has rescued over the years as he has collected the ’trash’ that people have thrown out. Refuse collection in Colombia is not as organised or as tidy as it is in the UK; it’s mostly on display for all to see, especially if you’re the local trashman. Each weekend during the ‘Library Hours’, the locals prowl through every room in the house, all of them stacked high with books that can provide entertainment, education, and inspiration. Mums, dads, and their many off springs recognize that this humble down-market building in the poor part of town is more than Senor Jose’s home, it is a treasure trove, an Aladdin’s cave.
In the Bible we read that we are like humble clay pots and God is our maker, ‘You Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.’ Just like clay pots we can become damaged and unattractive by events in life; maybe people walk away or ignore us because we look a little like Senor Jose’s home on the outside. But Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that what is inside us, an awareness of God’s love and grace, makes us special, like the contents of that house in Bogota. ‘We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing great treasure.’ Paul explains that the treasure of God’s love and presence is the result of the work of the potter, we are just the clay jars. Just as Senor Jose opens his home up so people can experience the treasure inside, let us be willing to invite our friends and neighbours to see what God has done inside us.

'Peace In the Valley' - 08/08/21

Thomas Dorsey was born on July 1st 1899. He grew up in rural Georgia. His childhood was filled with the sounds of blues music, slave spiritual songs and all the restrictions and injustices that came with being black. Thomas struggled at school and finally dropped out. He started to hang around theatres, paying close attention to the blues musicians. At home he practiced on an old family organ. As he became more musically skilled he became a regular performer at all kinds of events. Often having little or no warning before being invited to play, he became a natural at improvisation. 

Thomas was not a seeker of fame. His love for the blues was met with his love for God and he spent most of his adult life writing gospel music. A quiet, private man. He became known as the Father of Gospel Music. In the somewhat restrictive and composed, black church congregations of the time, he is recognised as the man who transformed them into free, clapping, foot stomping, enthusiastic worshippers. Thomas was intent on sharing the gospel of Jesus through the beautiful music he could create. 

His story is one of hardship and determination, restrictions and prejudice, humility and immense talent.

Click the link below to hear the great gospel singer, Ruby Turner, along with Jools Holland, perform one of his most famous creations. Peace in the Valley is all about the hardships of life coupled with the promises of God….much like Thomas’s life.

https://youtu.be/R3KBqqc7uvg

'I Can See Clearly Now' - 07/08/21

… the rain has gone!!

 

Well actually, what I was thinking of, is that we have just had some glass units replaced in our windows. It is one of those things with double glazing, over time they can get little defects in the unit which has the potential to allow the units to “fog”. The damp gets in a then you can properly clean the window. At that point, the view out of your window is changed.

 

The great thing is that with the help of a glazer, you can replace just the glass unit in the frame quite quickly and easily, at which point, our view is transformed again.

 

This is something that happens to us as well. We can often let our view of the world around us be gradually clouded by others around us which is not always appropriate or helpful. One of the things about our modern day world is that our phones or computers will keep telling us things that we have previously seen, so our views keep being re-enforced, when we should be looking for a more balanced view.

We should be careful that our view of those around is not clouded by our own opinions but we should look to see to the heart of the matter or to look at the heart of the person we are with. Before David met with Goliath, he was being chosen by God through Samuel to lead the nation. When Samuel looked at David, he did not see what God saw. Samuel was looking at David’s brothers thinking they would be the chosen one.

 

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16v7)

 

Let God guide us to how we see people around us and events around us, that we can see clearly and share Gods love into the heart of those around us.

'Stay In the Ring' - 06/08/21

I recently went to the cinema. This would not normally be a thing worth reporting, but these are not normal times. I have not been to the cinema since I first heard the term, “Coronavirus”, so this was an exciting event! I have to report that the three other people sitting in the cinema with me were properly socially distanced. Choosing a Wednesday lunchtime showing probably accounted for the paucity of spectators, but that was the point of choosing a Wednesday lunchtime showing.

 

The film I opted to see was, “In the Heights”. It's an uplifting musical about a group of immigrant families living in the Washington Heights neighbourhood of New York. It's a story of love and hope and is romantic in the broadest sense of the term. The families have their struggles like every family and at times there is a temptation to give up their dreams and settle for what they can get, but they don't... they battle on to fulfil their aspirations. Their attitude is best summed up by one father, who confronts his daughter who is struggling to come to terms with the discrimination and difficulties she encounters during her time at college. He reminds her that she is bound to take some blows along the way, but she must, “stay in the ring” if she is to overcome. Spoiler alert... given that this a Hollywood musical, things work out for the best.

 

I was reminded that most of us encounter difficulties in life for a variety of reasons, but not all of us have the benefit of a scriptwriter ensuring that everything turns out okay.

The Bible tells us of the struggles of the Apostle Paul, who endured all kinds of hardship in his life. He travelled across land and sea telling everybody he met about Jesus. He faced regular opposition, was beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and imprisoned... but he stayed in the ring. He knew that through all his troubles, God was with him; just as He is with us and he asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”. Paul knew that no matter what lay ahead of him, God would be there and nothing could change that. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. So, when things are not going to plan, when the script of my life is not written how I would have written it and the temptation to give up rears its ugly head, I need to stay in the ring and remember who is in there with me.

'Which Way' - 05/08/21

Some people are headstrong, always acting quickly and decisively. Which is a fine quality when you are right, but a liability when you are wrong. It’s great to be the fastest runner, but not when you’re running in the wrong direction.”
Richard Osman, The Thursday Murder Club

The Thursday murder club is a story where a group of pensioners from a retirement village set about solving a murder of someone in their village.

As the Olympics continue, we have caught a glimpse of so many sports. From sailing to diving, to skateboarding to show jumping and weight lifting, there have been so many competitors. As the Olympics progress, the action now moves to the athletics track for the final few days. The 100m is seen as the blue ribbon event in athletics, who will be the fastest person in the world? In 2021, Lamont Jacobs and Elaine Thompson-Herah won this coveted event. However, can you imagine what would have happened if they had run in the wrong direction during the race? It might have made memorable TV, but it wouldn’t have won a gold medal, even if they were the fastest. It wasn’t enough that these athletes were the fastest, they had to run their race in the right direction, and in the correct lane. One of our athletes was actually disqualified for running out of her lane in the 400m, Nicole Yeargin, ending any hopes of a medal for her, even though she had qualified for the next round.

Its easy for athletes to see the path they should run, and how far they are to go. In life, sometimes its not as easy. Which path should we take? Who should I listen to about how to conduct myself? The lines are a lot less clear.

The bible speaks really clearly about who you should listen to. Proverbs 3:5 explains:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.

So today, whatever decision you have to make, whether big or small, know that God can be trusted. The maker of the universe loves you so much, and he never fails. Let’s do things his way, loving him and loving others, and whether you win a medal or not, he really will keep you on track.

What is it? - 04/08/21

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.

'Make a Joyful Noise' - 03/08/21

Yesterday evening the Melling Community Gospel Choir gathered together for the first time in 16 months!  Amidst the face masks and hand gel there were cautious hugs, greetings and a few tears – it was good to be back!

As we gathered together the anxiety, stress and difficulties of the last 16 months fell away and was immediately replaced with joy, excitement and laughter.  The room that had been silent for over a year was filled with noise, but not just any noise, it was filled with a joyful noise!  And as we began to sing together again, it may not have been pitch perfect, we may not have remembered all of the words but no one listening in could have accused us of lacking joy!

In Psalm 95 we read: “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!”  

While it may take Jo a little time to whip us back into shape, nag us to learn our words and get us exercising our vocal chords so we can reach all of the notes again, God doesn’t demand those things from us.  He simply asks us to come with thanksgiving – thanks for our community over the last year and a half; thanks for taking care of one another; thanks for the laughter over group chats and thanks for the technology that allowed us to come together to share God’s word and pray over Zoom.  While physically apart, God held us together as a community and held us close to Him.

While Jo may demand something tuneful from us, God simply asks for the joyful sound of our heartfelt thanks for sustaining us through some difficult and trying times.  So whatever your instrument of choice may be – be it your voice, a keyboard, a set of drums, a couple of spoons or even a blow-up trombone!  - let’s join together and make a joyful noise to God our Rock as we give thanks for the community he has placed us in, for the friends he has surrounded us with and for His love that sustains us through it all.

 “Praise God in his holy house of worship, praise him under the open skies; Praise him for his acts of power, praise him for his magnificent greatness; Praise with a blast on the trumpet, praise by strumming soft strings; Praise him with castanets and dance, praise him with banjo and flute; Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum, praise him with fiddles and mandolin.  Let every living, breathing creature praise God!”

And now back to practice – God may not demand tuneful perfection, but Jo does!

'Who Wrote This Stuff' - 02/08/21

I’m sitting at my desk with a great desire to shout at someone but at the same time I’m feeling very pleased with myself. I’m patting myself on the back because I have just assembled my new desk all by myself and now this ‘Sunrise’ is the first document to be typed here. I have space and order that I am determined to protect at all costs. So why am I grumpy? Well firstly the assembly instructions were written by somebody who’s first language is not English, then it was translated by somebody who’s first language is not English, they used all the right words but not necessarily in the right order. I’m assuming they used the right words but I’m not entirely sure because some of the type is too small to read even with my reading glasses. Some of the lettering is one millimetre high (I’ve measured it), it looks like this…it’s too tiny to read. Then there’s the diagrams; obviously done by the writers four-year-old child with no understanding of perspective or which way is up. Apart from that it's excellent. 

It led me to think about the need for instructions to be clear and unambiguous, with enough words to make the advice complete but not so many words that confusion sets in. I’m sure that you’ve all read reviews of art exhibitions or music festivals where the writer takes so long to make the point that you walk away. 
Someone who was a master of communication was Jesus. By using illustrations that anyone could understand and by saying important things using words that didn’t require a dictionary, Jesus destroyed confusion. People may not have liked the message, but they certainly would understand it.   For instance Jesus said, “You have heard people say, ”Love your neighbours and hate your enemies.” But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.” He also warned people to be careful, “Don’t condemn others, and God won’t condemn you. God will be as hard on you as you are on others. He will treat you exactly as you treat them.” There’s no confusion when Jesus speaks. He made many many statements that were absolutely clear; we can’t excuse ourselves on the grounds that we didn’t recognize the words or that we need better glasses.

'74 Weeks' - 01/08/21

Tomorrow night is a special night. After missing 74 Monday evenings, our amazing gospel choir will be getting back together. 74 weeks without our choir practices!! 74 weeks of not singing together!! 74 weeks of missing eachother!! 74 weeks!! 

I’m excited to say the least. No doubt we will have A LOT of work to do as we all try and remember our parts, our words, our timing….oh dear!! Yes, a lot of work!! But as the old saying goes, ‘If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’. 

Our choir has existed for nearly ten years and in that time we have made new friends, learnt beautiful songs, performed in hospices, shops, cathedrals, churches, city centres, for special events and for fundraisers. It’s been a lot of hard work for every one of us. And it’s been worth it! 

The Bible says, ‘Put your heart and soul into every activity you do, as though you are doing it for the Lord himself and not merely for others.’

Tomorrow night is choir night!! And I can’t wait to get back!! It’s going to be a lot of hard work for us all….but it’s SO worth it!!!

But if we take that verse seriously and put our heart and soul in to every single thing we do, (not just choir practice!!!) as if doing it for the Lord himself, we will see the benefits. Better relationships, better productivity, peace of mind, satisfaction, good relationships, sense of achievement….It’s worth the effort!

Have a very lovely day today everybody, remember to give your best in everything you do. And choir, we meet again tomorrow for a lot of laughter, encouragement, tears…and hard work!!!…Oh Happy Day!!!