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.

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.

© 2016 - 2019 by Melling Baptist Community Hub

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