March '22 Sunrises
'We Can Be Heros' - 22/04/22
I spent much of last week wearing my Batman outfit. Now, I must stress at this point that this is not an admission that I am Batman (although it's fair to say that you have never seen the pair of us together in the same room). The reason for my extended alter ego adventure was that I was attending Spring Harvest. For those of you unfamiliar with this event, it is a week when the church effectively takes over Butlins (well, at Minehead and Skegness anyway). It's lots of fun for all the family. The adults can attend meetings and seminars, whilst the children have age appropriate groups to attend that build their confidence and knowledge of their place in God's kingdom in an entertaining way. Of course, for many adults the children's meetings are even more fun than their own. I am one of those adults. This year's children's theme was superheroes... hence the Batman outfit.
What is a hero? There are different definitions and we probably all think of heroes in different ways. For some of us, our heroes are figures from history, for others it may be a sporting star and for others still it will be a family member. It is said that a hero is the person running towards the burning building. In other words, the person who tackles the problem head on despite the danger. I prefer a different definition, "A hero is the person who does what they can".
Last week the children's teaching centered around the story of Nehemiah. It is one of my favourite stories. Nehemiah is one of my heroes. God put a call on his heart and Nehemiah answered it. He returned to his home in Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, at great personal risk, to undertake the task of rebuilding the city walls. A city without walls is, of course, a city that is unprotected. The problem was that he was one man alone and the job would have been impossible for him. So, he brought the people together and together they completed the task. People who had no experience of building walls simply got stuck in and within fifty two days the job was done. They all did what they could and in my eyes were all heroes.
The Bible reminds us that we all have a part to play in answering God's call, "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us". We will not all be the one running towards the burning building, but we can all be heroes by simply doing what we can.
'Feet' - 14/04/22
Today marks the day that Christians celebrate as Maundy Thursday.
It's the day when we remember that Jesus was arrested. He went willingly, knowing that he would be beaten, put on trial, and put to death. He went for us all, to save us by beating death so we could have a way back to God. It's the definition of unconditional love and sacrifice.
So how does the church around the world mark this day? Interestingly one custom is common around the world on Maundy Thursday, and that is the practice of feet washing.
It follows the example of Jesus in the last supper, when he washed his disciples feet. At that time, it was a custom when people visited a home, that their feet (often dusty from the dirt roads) would be washed by servants so that they were clean and fresh.
Jesus took on a job reserved for the lowest servant to show how much he was willing to give up for those he loved.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “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.
In Italy on maundy Thursday the pope makes a special visit to a prison to wash the feet of the prisoners there, to follow Jesus' example. A different prison is picked each year. In 2017 he made the interesting choice of going to the Paliano prison. This is a very specific prison for a very specific group of prisoners that cannot be housed anywhere else. This because they are all members of the mafia who have all betrayed their fellow mafiosa for a reduced sentence. They are about as popular as Judas iscariot at a disciple reunion!
The lowest prisoners in the pecking order had their feet washed by the pope. This act of humbleness demonstrating that Jesus came for everyone, and as Christians we should love and serve everyone with that love.
Now it may not be appropriate to try and wrestle the shoes off everyone you meet today, but offering to love and serve each other is a task we should try and do everyday. As we remember and give thanks to Jesus for how much he gave up for us today, let's keep on humbly loving and serving one another.
'Emmanuel... Not Just For Christmas' - 12/04/22
The crowds cheered. The atmosphere was electric. It was the arrival of the king. The shouting and chanting and praising got louder and louder.
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!‘
The crowd were throwing their cloaks on the ground, and they waved their palm leaves with much excitement and enthusiasm.
The King has arrived.
On a donkey.
Wait!! A donkey? Are you serious? Kings don’t ride on donkeys! Donkeys are kind of cute, a bit funny looking, enormous big ears....but definitely not regal!
But here He was.
Riding on a donkey. This was a far cry from the pomp and circumstance of other kings processions. But Jesus wasn’t ‘just another king’.
He was God’s son.
The Miracle Worker.
The Servant King.
The King of all Kings.
Jesus brought a message of love, forgiveness, grace and hope.
As the people cried ‘Hosanna!’ Jesus knew that their cries, just a few days later, would be ‘Crucify him!’ Jesus wept.
He wept for every person who had missed ‘Emmanuel, God with Us’.
He loved them and He wept.
The first ‘Palm Sunday’
And today, Jesus loves us and weeps for us.
May we not miss ‘Emmanuel, God with Us’. But celebrate Him, thank Him and invite Him in to our messy lives.
‘I have come that you may have life, life in all its fullness’. John 10:10.
"After You" - 10/04/22
“Manners maketh the man” has been quoted in a recent film but dates back to the 15th century. It is the motto of Winchester College and is believed to have its origin with William Horman, who was headmaster of the college.
It is broadly seen now as meaning that you should be polite and considerate to others but was also thought to mean that the way you behave is what defines you.
There was some debate about whether a man holding a door open for a woman was being sexist, but for me it was just being polite. You would hold the door open for anyone who was close behind so their journey was made easier. But then, do you hold the door open after going through it so they can follow or do you hold the door open to allow them to go through first? Some have a preference but I am not sure it matters really.
The phrase “the last shall be first” is quoted by some as referring to the order in which things happen. In the bible, this phrase refers to a story which Jesus told referring not to the order but to the pay received by workers being same whether they started at the beginning of the day or half way through the day. Some of the workers thought those who worked longer deserved more. Jesus was referring to the fact that all those who enter the kingdom of heaven will be equal. But there are also many stories in the Bible about serving others and putting others first. Jesus compares how we treat “the least of us” as being an indicator of our character.
How we treat others is about being considerate to others, about helping and caring for them. How we treat others is also an example for others. When Jesus came to live with us, he came here to be our sacrifice but he also was an example to us. In the book of Ephesians in the Bible, it says
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved [a]you and gave Himself up for us,
In more recent times, this has been turned into a question, “What Would Jesus Do?”.
As we go about our lives, let’s remember the example of Jesus and choose to follow him.
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.
"Pigs" - 31/03/22
When I was in London a couple of weeks ago we walked past the Bentley garage. It was an impressive sight. There were some extremely beautiful cars, with some very impressive price tags. The cheapest thing in the showroom were Bentley sunglasses, at the bargain price (compared to everything else in the shop) of £995!!
One thing I am now aware of, is when a Bentley drives past me, that the person who owns it must have a considerable income to afford such a car.
In this country, cars are often seen as status symbols. An expression of how much wealth a person has. However, in the small island of Vanuatu, in the Pacific ocean, they don’t care about cars at all.
If you want to show everyone how important you are, or how much money you have, its all about pigs!
The more pigs you have, the more important you are, and the bigger the pig, the more status you have. For those of you who have met Ron, the Tamworth pig in Acorn Farm, he would be considered the ‘Bee’s Knees’ in Vanuatu!
The reason is that in Vanuatu, daily life, and every celebration and festival that occurs on the island, revolves around the Pig. Whether it’s a hog roast or roast with crackling, it’s the meat of choice for every table, and therefore the more pigs you have, the better off you are and the more status you have.
Now I am not sure about cars or pigs, but in the bible, God makes it clear that its not what you have that matters, its your heart. How much you love God and follow him, and how much you love others is more important that Bentley’s or Tamworth Pigs, and even if you have a whole herd of pigs, if you don’t love God and others, it doesn’t matter.
When God was showing Samuel who was to be the next King of Israel in 1 Samuel, he explained this like this:
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
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 people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
So, whether you have lots of pigs, or lots of Bentleys, or even none at all, God loves you and asks you to love him and others with his love. So whoever you meet today, and no matter how much or how little they have, lets love them with Gods love.
"Good-Looking Thoughts" - 20/03/22
A few years ago I decided to join Instagram. This is a social media platform where you share a photo or image and add a caption or comment. I’ve got to confess I’m no fan of social media, but I’ve had an absolute ball with Instagram!! I don’t have many followers and I don’t follow many either! Beyoncé has 246 million followers! Cristiano Ronaldo has 419 million! I have 126. Just 126. And I’m happy. If somebody likes my post they show it by clicking on the heart! Once, 40 people liked my post! It took me all day to calm down from the excitement! The truth is, I don’t do this for the ‘likes’ I do this because it’s just a bit of fun. But for some, it’s not quite so much fun! In today’s world there’s more pressure than ever to look a certain way, dress a certain way, stand a certain way, pout in a certain way and then provide selfies of all the above! It’s easy to say, ‘don’t worry’, ‘who cares what people think?’ But when society says you’re too tall, too small, your nose is too long, your eyes aren’t big enough, your hips are too wide, your hairs too curly, you don’t suit that colour and you need to pout, there’s a temptation, at any age, to feel inadequate. To not feel great. A bit of a mistake, or misfit.
In the bible, Paul wrote to one of the churches telling the people that they were, ‘God’s works of art’. Can you believe that? We’re a work of art. God doesn’t make mistakes, so who are we to tell others that ‘they don’t look right’? Who are we to tell ourselves that? Whatever our age!
God told Samuel when the people of Israel were looking for a king, ‘...man looks on the outward appearance, the Lord looks on the heart’.
Ronald Dahl in his book The Twits put it like this, ‘If a person has ugly thoughts it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly that you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of you like sunbeams and you will always be lovely’.
God looks on the heart, our beauty comes from within. So I guess I can stop pouting now!
"Alexa! Please Stop!" - 29/03/22
I live in a very noisy household! Me and my four chicks all love music and if they’re not playing one of the numerous instruments in the house then they are keeping Alexa very busy! Even Louis, my black Labrador, will join in with great enthusiasm the moment he hears a harmonica! Noise, noise, noise!!! I have to admit, I love it! Most of the time! We go from Billy Joel, to Les Miserables, to Frank Sinatra, a bit of Paloma Faith, oh and then there’s The Mamas and the Papas, maybe the odd Don Williams song, what about The Everly Brothers....don’t you just love their harmonies?! And let’s not forget the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir! Their version of How Great Thou Art is coming to an event near you....just as soon as we can start choir practice again...not on Zoom! We love music! Of pretty much every kind. Alexa keeps VERY busy! But some days, just occasionally, I’d love there to be no noise! Occasionally Alexa gets a few hours off. And there’s silence in the house....but still there can be noise! Not from Alexa, or my chicks, or Louis, or my very busy phone, but in my head! Do you know what I mean? A million thoughts going round your head that makes it almost impossible to hear anything clearly! A traffic jam of thoughts, worries, stresses, more thoughts, ‘what ifs’, busyness, loneliness.....You don’t have to live with four chicks and a big dog for there to be noise in your head. Sometimes silence can be the most deafening of all. Your external circumstances may look wonderful and calm and beautiful.....but maybe you’re screaming inside for some peace? God said these words in the Bible, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’. He wasn’t saying, ‘stop all the music, everybody shut up, nobody speak’. Nor was He saying, ‘I’m going to explain everything to you and tell you just what I’m going to do next’. No. He was saying in the midst of the deafening silence, the excruciating loneliness, the constant music, the relentless ‘To Do’ list....I am God. Trust me. Allow me to walk with you. Know my peace. My home will never be quiet. And I love that. But to know peace in the midst of a bit of Status Quo....it’s a gift from God!
"How Did That Get There?" - 28/03/22
Travelling abroad is stressful enough without all the queuing and checking luggage in, then trying to find a seat in the departure lounge for the next two hours. Going out is tough but at least you have a holiday to look forward to, but coming home is a pain because all you can look forward to is work and washing clothes. Having said that, certain people can get very nervous travelling, because going through customs is more stressful for them than it is for the average passenger. One traveller was stopped by a customs officer who was simply doing his job to randomly check passengers luggage. The unfortunate and ordinary looking ‘holiday maker’ was asked to open his ordinary looking case. What was discovered inside was not exactly ordinary. The Swiss customs agent found a sketchbook containing 14 original drawings by Pablo Picasso, estimated to be worth £1.5 million. I can imagine the traveller saying something like, “Oh that’s a surprise.” You can’t always tell people’s story just by looking; occasionally we may discover attitudes or activities we could never have predicted.
When Jesus walked around the towns and cities of Palestine, He encountered all kinds of characters, both male and female, but none of them surprised Him, He understood everything about everyone. However, those who met Him and heard Him speak, were shocked to discover that He was wiser than any of their spiritual leaders and were simply stunned to witness His power over nature and illness. He hid nothing. In the Gospel accounts of His life we read many statements like these, ‘The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, not like their teachers of the law’…”Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him.” He was, (and is) keen that we should not hide our faith out of sight, He taught, “You are the light of the world…let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds, and glorify your Father in Heaven.” We certainly don’t have the wisdom of Jesus, or the ability to control nature, but let’s do what God has equipped us to do, so that as people discover we are Christians, they will never respond with, “Oh that’s a surprise.”
"THANK YOU" - 27/03/22
Today is a difficult day for many people. Mother’s Day can bring back good or bad memories. It can fuel such painful emotions. Or it may cause great excitement and ‘I’ve made you breakfast’ moments.
‘Mums’ may be mums, dads, carers, aunties, uncles, nans, grandads, neighbours, friends.....but we all have one thing in common, we’re not perfect.
Today I want to say THANKYOU to all the ‘mums’ who have been up countless nights with a screaming baby and still managed to get through the next day;
THANKYOU to all those ‘mums’ who have sent their children in to school in their uniform only to realise its own-clothes day;
THANKYOU to all those ‘mums’ who felt like crying when they made dinner only for it to be looked at with eyes that said ‘what’s that???’
THANKYOU to all those ‘mums’ who have felt like failures....I completely relate!
Being a ‘mum’ can be really tough. Happiness, good health, success and contentment is what any loving ‘mum’ wants for their children, but it’s not guaranteed. There can be great happiness, and there can be immense sadness. Like the song says, ‘love hurts’. When one of my daughters hurts, I hurt, but when they are having a great time, well, that’s wonderful!
THANKYOU to everyone who has filled the role of ‘mum’ in some way for someone and experienced the laughter and the pain.
Let’s remember to be thankful for the wonderful, amazing, imperfect ‘mums’ both past and present. May God bless us with wonderful memories. May He comfort those who grieve. May He rejoice with those having fun. May He heal those in pain. May this be a time when families and friends can be drawn closer together. Whatever you are feeling today, the bible says that God knows, He understands, He cares.
‘You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
"Outward or Inward" - 26/03/22
Having started to go back into the office, it’s been good to meet people I have not seen for a while. There are still not many people going into the office, some are regularly in 1 or 2 days a week but some have still not ventured back to the office at all as yet.
On meeting up with people again, there have been some obvious changes in people and some not so obvious. Over the last few weeks, the main comment I have had has been about growing a beard. Something I have never done before in work, so I have had the occasional comment about losing my shaver or checking whether I had time to get washed and dressed properly before coming into the office. Lots of the usual fun between friends. Some people returning to the office have changed what their role was and are now doing different things, which is quite confusing when you first start to talk to them again. Some are anxious being in the office but know that they need to meet up with people again.
Many of us will have times where things have visibly changed for us in some way or times when things have changed but not in a way that is visible to others. We need to know and understand each other to see and accept when things change.
Jesus knew this and understood people better than they knew themselves. He would meet people and see their outward appearance but he also knew and understood their hearts. He knew when someone needed comfort, he knew when someone was being genuine and he knew if people were trying to trick him or manipulate him. But he was gentle in how he dealt with people. We heard in our Sunday talk a few weeks ago about how Jesus was honest and loving in his dealings with people.
Outward change is driven by inward change, if we want to change our behaviour then it will only last if it is something we believe. Jesus would know the motives behind the way people behaved and he spoke to them in those terms. In the Bible, God said to his people,
“I, the LORD, search the minds and test the hearts of people. I treat each of them according to the way they live, according to what they do."
How does our inward belief affect our outward behaviour? How is our outward behaviour driven by inward belief? Let us fill our hearts and minds with Jesus’ love and guidance and our outward behaviour will flow through with Jesus love and compassion to others.
"Intended Purpose" - 25/03/22
I cycled twenty kilometres this week. I know this because the little electronic gizmo on the handlebars tells me so. It also tells me how fast I was going over the twenty kilometres, but we won't go into that. The important thing is that I did it. Well, it is spring after all, so it was time to dust off the bike and get moving again after what seems like a long, dull winter.
I can't really say that I enjoyed the journey. Not because the exercise was too much for me, or that the weather spoilt the ride. It was more a question of the disappointing scenery. Instead of gazing at the passing countryside and feeling the breeze in my hair and the sun at my back, I simply pedaled away without moving and watched as my garage walls stared back at me. You see, the twenty kilometres were completed on a stationary exercise bike. I suppose it's inaccurate to say that the garage walls stared back at me. Not because garage walls don't have eyes, but because my garage is so full of stuff that I can't actually see the walls. Quite aside from the exercise bike, there are two real bikes stored in there, one of which belongs to my wife and one of which had a dodgy tyre, which is why I had to settle for the exercise bike. There is also a lot of gardening equipment - despite having a separate plastic storage shed for things like the lawn mower - plus boxes of toys, camping equipment, folding chairs, tins of paint, boxes of tools and things that will come in handy. In short, my car has as much chance of seeing the inside of my garage as I do of winning the Nobel Prize for literature. My garage is no longer a garage, it has lost its raison d'etre, it is not being used for its intended purpose.
I got to wondering whether the same was true of me. Am I still being used for my intended purpose and who decides what that purpose is? Is there some grand plan for my life and have I deviated from the original course, or am I on target to achieve the ultimate goal? As a Christian, I believe that God has a plan for my life. I believe that He knows what my purpose is and He helps me along the way to achieve it. Oh, I know I have lost my way on too many occasions to count, but I also know that God has always been there to steer me back towards the correct path with words of guidance and encouragement, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose". I also know that I can trust the plans that God has for my life, because He loves me and wants the best for me, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future". So, I'm happy that as long as I continue to trust in the one who wants the best for me, I will still be used for my intended purpose.
'Wave' - 24/03/22
Unless you were at the hub yesterday, you may not have ever heard of Norfolk Island. It’s a tiny island in between Australia and New Zealand, with a population of around 2000 people.
However, it has a special place in history as it is the island which Queen Victoria gifted to the mutineers from the mutiny on the bounty in 1856 as a place to settle. The mutineers married local women and the community grew. There are still direct descendants of Fletcher Christian living on the Island today.
As a small but friendly community, over the years they have adopted a wonderful custom called the Norfolk Wave! Whilst there are many good surfing waves on the Island, the Norfolk wave is a traditional greeting. Its very simple and involves waving and saying hello to everyone you meet as you travel around the island. It even includes cars that pass by! This is made possible as the islands speed limit for motorists is 30mph everywhere, so everything is going slowly enough to stop and say hello as people pass by. Everyone on the island joins in with the custom, and it’s considered very rude not to wave and say hello if you meet someone, even if you are in a hurry!
It sounds wonderful, but I suspect that it means that you have to plan any journeys knowing that there will be a lot of chatting along the way!
Enabling everyone and anyone to feel welcomed is a very important part of Norfolk Island culture. Its also a very important part of Christian culture as well.
God welcomes in anyone and everyone who wants to know him better, and encourages us all to do the same. No one is better than anyone else, and everyone has a part to play. We are all equally loved and wanted in the family of God.
Jesus reminds of how important being welcoming is when he is talking to his followers in Matthew 10:
Jesus explained, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one (God) who sent me”.
So today, lets starting a Melling Wave! Let’s welcome everyone we meet with the love of God and encourage each other so that we all feel welcome, valued and loved.
"Coffee!...Please" - 23/03/22
The owner of a small deli was recently fed up with bad mannered customers. He decided to do something about it. He put a new price list for coffee on the board outside. It said this...
‘Coffee!’ - $5
‘Coffee please’ - $3.50
‘Hi! Can I have a cup of coffee please?...and thankyou!’ - $1.75
The change was instant! People didn’t want to be paying $5 for a coffee and were therefore given a wake up call to their not-so-great manners! This story can bring a smile to our faces but how important it is to show manners.
Jesus met ten men one day who all had leprosy. This was an incurable disease. And highly contagious. They shouted to Him. ‘
‘Jesus, have mercy on us!’
He told them to go and present themselves to the priests. While they were on their way, their leprosy was cured. One of the men was so shocked and delighted he turned around and rushed back to Jesus straightaway. He was full of praise and gratitude. Jesus looked around,
‘Weren’t there ten who were healed? Where are the other nine? Have they not come back to give praise to God?’
Then Jesus turned to the one thankful man and said,
‘On your way, your faith has healed you’.
The men had been cured of leprosy. What a gift! And yet only one came back to say Thankyou.
In our frustrations, tiredness and rushing, let’s be careful to still exercise good manners. They cost nothing and may even get you a half price coffee. But more importantly, they show respect to the one you are talking to.
Jesus said, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’.
So if you like to hear ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ and have people hold a door open for you and help you pick up the papers you’ve just dropped all over the floor, then let’s do it first for them.
"Remember To Remember" - 22/03/22
‘Remember the way He led you up to the top of the highest mountain
Remember the way He carried you through the deepest dark
Remember His promises for every step on the road ahead
Look where you've been and where you're going
And remember to remember’
(Steven Curtis Chapman)
On May 31st 2008, Christian musician and singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman’s youngest daughter, Maria-Sue passed away in a tragic accident. Maria, just 5 years old had been playing in her garden when she saw her 17 year old brother, Will, arriving home in his truck. As Will backed into the path, Maria appeared from nowhere and was knocked down. For many people it will be hard to comprehend the devastation felt by the Chapman family. Not only for the loss of their adored little daughter and sister, but also the pain and guilt felt by Will. In the days and weeks, months and years since the accident, the family spoke of having great days and terrible days. But one thing remained constant, their belief in a God who laughed with them and wept with them, and never left them.
Remember to Remember is one of Steven’s most recent songs. It speaks of the trials and traumas of life, the good times and the bad. Life! And it’s the words of a man in the midst of both joy and deep grief acknowledging that God has walked with him through it all. It’s a powerful and beautiful song.
Sometimes life can be tough, painful, overwhelming, at other times we can have so much joy and happiness. Whatever place you are in at the moment, can I encourage each one of us to look back and see all that we can be thankful for. And in those toughest of times may we recognise and remember a God who said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you’. May we all remember to remember.
"No More Than Six Words" -21/03/22
The best shop in Liverpool One is Waterstones. Discuss. Primark: boring. M&S: boring. Boots: boring. Apple: boring. Disney: boring. You may disagree but I know I’m right. The shop seems to have books on almost every subject under the sun. Many are beautifully designed and printed. Book shops are dying because of Amazon who never appear to be out of stock of anything and will deliver tomorrow. Look around the three large retail parks in Aintree, there are shops selling everything, but there isn’t a single book shop. And don’t get me started on the lack of magazine outlets; where do you get magazines from these days? Asda. Great. One of the most popular sections in book shops today is the biography/autobiography section. There are books about, or by, an amazing range of people from great historical leaders to sporting ikons; from musicians to scientists; medical greats to ‘celebrities’. I met a man some years ago, very educated and professional, and he told me he had been commissioned to write the biography of each of the Beatles. This was going to take him more than ten years! Some of the biographies in Waterstones are so long they are difficult to pick up. The world’s longest biography so far is about Winston Churchill which was started by his son Randolph and continued by another author. Currently, it’s made up of eight volumes, plus sixteen companion books, and contains ten million words. It makes you wonder how many words a life is worth.
Recently I have been wondering how few words you could use to describe a person’s importance. I read of a lecturer who challenged his students to attempt to write a biography using no more than six words. The Bible is full of biographies, so I went looking. Very early in the Bible’s first book, Genesis, one person’s life was summed up like this, ‘Enoch walked with God.’
God describes David, the shepherd boy turned King, by calling him, ‘A man after my own heart.’ A teenager had her life’s work and her part in God’s plan encapsulated with these words,
‘The virgin shall be with child.’ The writer of half of the New Testament and the greatest Christian missionary ever, described himself simply as, ‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ.’ Such great lives, so few words.
Now it’s our turn; can we describe our lives and impact in six words; or can we think of six words we would love someone else to use to describe us? Or do we think we deserve ten million?
'What Standards?' - 20/03/22
One of the aspects of my job is that what we do is measured against a standard. So all the different jobs and roles that we do are meant to achieve a particular standard. Whilst this is set by the company, it is based on international standards. But the problem we have is that there are different standards, so which is right! So for my job in computers, the standards that are required sometimes depend on who the customer is. So despite there being different standards and the company choosing one, it also depends on who we are providing the work for as to which standard to apply.
So which “standard” is “standard” if they are all slightly different??
Sometimes the standard will define what we have to do and sometimes it will tells us how to do it. But mostly, it does not change what we do just how other people judge us.
One aspect of life which is very hard to deal with is when others try to judge you, sometimes they don’t even know you, they think they do and they try to put you down and condemn you. But what are they judging us against? Often, it’s their own inflated opinion of themselves. But who is in a position to judge? What standards should we be achieving in our lives?
When Jesus lived here, his life was seen as an example for us all. But then we are not all the Son of God, so it can be a bit tricky to live life like that. He was often challenged about he lived his life, with people trying to catch him out. But being Jesus, he knew the real motives of those trying to do this. He always had an answer for them.
One such answer I often remember
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. “
So when it comes to standards, Jesus gave us the example, first love God and second treat others as you would want to be treated. Or as others put it, if you want to have a friend, you need to be a friend. If you love God, you can share those blessings with those around you.
What standard are you following?
"Pruning" - 18/03/22
I spent some time this week in a tree. You would be forgiven for thinking that I am usually out of my tree. Well, yes, but this week I chose to climb into one. I must admit that this was not my original intention. My original intention was to reshape the tree in question using a combination of sharp things and a set of ladders. This was reasonably successful, but left me unable to reach the top of the third trunk... the one right at the back against the fence. Now, you are probably wondering why the tree has three trunks - most trees usually have one. The tree in question is a Cotoneaster. The Cotoneaster can be grown as a bush, a hedge, or a tree. It all depends on what you do with it during its early years. What I did with it in its early years was to allow it to become a hybrid. It's a bush shaped tree.
I wasn't reshaping the tree because it has got out of hand. Quite the reverse. This Cotoneaster has been cultivated and trimmed in previous years to resemble a dome shaped umbrella. Quite a pleasant sight, but it is now such a size that it has become difficult to maintain such a precise shape. So, time to break out the secateurs, the hedge trimmers and the long loppers. Both my step ladders and my long ladders eventually proved useless in the quest to reach the final trunk, so it became necessary to make an arboreal ascent. It's a few years since I climbed a tree. I'd forgotten how much fun it was. Saw in hand, I plotted my route up the tree and successfully navigated my way to a position where I could adequately apply saw to branch and achieve the final cut. There was a point when I realised that the branch I was hanging onto to maintain my precarious grip on the tree was actually the branch that I was cutting off, but sadly for this story, that point came before I cut all the way through. Disaster averted and with a sense of satisfaction, I yelled, "Timber!" as the errant branch fell to the ground without taking me with it. I can't honestly say that the tree looks better for my attentions. It seems a little forlorn and bare, but in a short time, once spring kicks in properly, it will flourish again and feel the benefit of having had its dead wood cut away and its healthy branches pruned and manicured.
We too can benefit from a little pruning... at least spiritually. Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful". Just as a tree grows strong and sturdy, with lush foliage and good fruit, as a result of pruning and shaping - so we grow stronger in the ways of God and able to bear greater fruit when we allow Him to prune us... to cut away that which would hinder our growth. To remove the dead wood and straggly branches, the bad habits and harmful behaviour that prevents us from bearing the fruits of the spirit that He longs to see, "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control". We too might look a little forlorn and bare at first, but the benefits of the pruning will soon be there for all to see.
New Starts - 17/03/22
As the tide of refugees grows bigger every day, I find it difficult to imagine what I would feel like in their shoes. Having to leave everything behind and flee, wanting to go back but having to go forward into a new country, new people, new beginnings.
It made me realise that whilst some new starts are exciting new beginnings for people, some are forced upon people, as in the case of the Ukrainian refugees.
Spring is often the season for new beginnings, and this can be associated with many customs across the world. In Poland, there is a very interesting custom on the first day of Spring called ‘The Drowning of Marzanna’! Thankfully, Marzanna is not an actual person, she is believed to be the Slavic goddess of death and winter. The idea is that by getting rid of Marzanna, then death and winter will be chased away, and you will have good luck for the rest of the year.
This is accomplished by a parade and a bonfire, where Marzanna (a scarecrow) is burnt at the stake, and then for good measure, thrown in the river to drown. It’s a little bit like our Guy Fawkes night, but with more water and less fireworks!
I am not sure whether Marzanna will be drowned this year, as so many in Poland are spending so much time helping so many refugees fleeing the war. So far more than 1 million refugees have entered Poland, and they have been welcomed with open arms and open homes, as polish families help people find a new start, even if its only for a little while.
Jesus talked a lot about how a life with Jesus is a new start for anyone who welcomes him into their lives. In Matthew 11 he described it like this:
“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.
Now it doesn’t mean that life with Jesus means that all your problems are sorted and life is one long party. However, it does mean that whatever life throws at you, Jesus is with you every step of the way.
As you live your life today, know that whether it’s a new start or the same old routine, know that you don’t have to face anything alone, that you can rest in the love of Jesus, even in the chaos. And lets pray for and support the Ukrainian refugees as best as we can, so they can have a safe new start, wherever that is.
"You Can Count On Me" - 16/03/22
The wonderful upbeat song, ‘Count on Me’ by Bruno Mars, is full of encouragement and promises to ‘his friends’ that in the most difficult of times he will be there for them. ‘You can count on me, like one, two, three, I’ll be there.....coz that’s what friends are supposed to do....’ And he goes on to stress that he can count on them to do exactly the same for him. It’s a lovely, positive song that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy!! But can we really sing those words and mean them? Can we really be counted on to ‘be there’ to encourage and support? Or can we be counted on to not encourage, to complain, to always find fault?.....
I once knew somebody who I could count on to criticise pretty much everything I said and did. Not once would I get a call from them to just ask me how I was, or to give me a tiny word of encouragement. But I would get phone calls and knocks on the door to criticise the way I’d said something, with instructions for what I should do next time. Their ‘need’ to continually tell me how I’d got it wrong was really hard work.
We all make mistakes. I make many! And we all need encouragement and to know who is there for us.
At this particular time there’s a lot of mixed emotions! Laughter and fun, chaos and noise, loneliness and deafening silence, anxiety and stress, short tempers and boredom, irrational behaviour and definitely heightened frustrations. Each day brings its own set of challenges to each one of us. How are we going to respond to eachother? We all have our bad days, that’s when we need to know we can count on others to encourage, support and be a friend.
The Bible has heaps to say about how we should treat one another,
‘bear one another’s burdens’, ‘encourage eachother’, ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep’, ‘do for others as you would have them do for you’......
How amazing it would be if we can all allow for each others mistakes and encourage eachother with kind words, forgiveness, support and understanding. And let’s thank God that despite our mistakes and bad moods and frustrations, each and every day He says, ‘You can count on me, I’ll be there for you’.
"Smile" - 15/03/22
Good morning everybody, Tuesday Sunrises, for the coming weeks are going to be a selection of songs that I’ve been requested to share. Today we start with Kirk Franklin’s, ‘I Smile’.
‘This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it’.
"You Can Trust The Catcher" - 14/03/22
I know someone who trusts nobody; not doctors or nurses; not social workers or counsellors; not neighbours or friends, (oh sorry, he has no friends). He lives alone and even if he didn’t, he would still be alone. We all need people who we can trust, and we need a lot of them. We need to trust our food supplier not to poison us; the car mechanic to fix the brakes; the bank to protect our funds; the airline pilot to avoid alcohol. Then there are those people who are much closer to us; they know all our shortcomings and idiosyncrasies; can we trust them to keep our secrets and meet our needs? And still be there tomorrow! We must remember of course that they may be asking the same questions about us. It's a two-way street.
I read recently of a trapeze artist who was well known for his skill and daring. There was a large gathering at his funeral because he was famous and the ‘star of the show.’ His pastor said however that this daredevil told him that the real ‘star’ was the ‘catcher’. This was the person who was always in the right place at the right time going in the right direction. This was the man who guaranteed a safe landing.
Life has many ups and downs; sometimes we are flying high and performing brilliantly, but there are other periods in our lives when we fall into disappointments and failures and on dark days, fear can drag us down. Events can overtake us almost without warning and we find ourselves in our own no man’s land. The truth is that occasionally we have needs that none of our friends or family can help with. Who do we turn to then? Who can catch us on the way down? In the Bible we read this description of God, ‘The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’ For those people who have put their faith in God, even those who right now are experiencing the terrifying obscenity in Ukraine, we can trust that when we are beyond all human help, we can reach out and the everlasting arms of our caring God will gently catch us and deliver us to a safe place.
'A Little Watering' - 13/03/22
This time of year starts to bring about more colour into the garden as the spring flowers are coming into bloom. We have to plan for trimming the hedge, mowing the lawn and putting the feed & weed on the lawn. Each of the plants need looking after in slightly different ways, some like full sun, others shady corners. Our house plants also require different care and attention, some require different soil types and some require different watering, some top up regularly and some top up rarely.
Each of us have different needs, we like to do things in different ways. When we have holidays with family or friends, there are a wide variety of approaches to how we do things. This can often cause some fun when people do things differently and others then get upset because it is now how they do it. I know how I load a dishwasher but everyone else does it wrong !!
We each have our “needs” and ways of doing things, but why do we worry about it.
In the Bible, Jesus explains to a large crowd in a story known as the “Sermon on the mount” how we can sometimes look at things the wrong way
Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen colour and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?
What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.
God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.
Let God look after your needs, let him provide the nourishment that we really need. Focus on God and share the blessings he gives us to those around us.
"Red And White Cords" - 10/03/22
This weekend I was really pleased to discover that some beautiful crocus bulbs, given as a present last year had managed to survive the winter and were blooming again. I wasn’t sure they had survived, so it was a lovely surprise to see them looking so beautiful.
Things are so difficult for so many at them moment, its easy to despair. However, this small act of defiance against the cold, wind and rain reminded me that spring is coming.
It also reminded me of a wonderful Moldovan tradition to welcome in Spring. It has been celebrated for thousands of years, and its called Martisor. It celebrates Spring defeating winter and involves Moldovans wearing read and white cords, keepsakes or flowers on their clothes or lapels throughout the month of March. The colours symbolise purity and new life (white) and love, courage, sacrifice and suffering (red). It’s a visual reminder that winter is not forever and spring is coming. At the end of march, these keepsakes are hung on trees all over the country as a continuing reminder and hope for the coming year.
This tradition is still being observed this year, even with the influx of refugees and increasing concern about where the Ukrainian conflict will end, as an additional reminder of hope. It’s a small stand, not only to celebrate spring, but that this season of war and suffering will not last. That peace will come, that crops will grow and be harvested, that there will be peace.
We may not have red and white keepsakes on our clothes, but it’s important to remember that we have a hope in God and Jesus. The world will not be like this forever.
In the bible when David was being hunted for his life by King Saul. He cried out to God. He was honest with how he felt, but he never stopped trusting him.
In Psalm 31, he tells God how he feels
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.
But he also remembers how much God loves him later on in the Psalm, and finishes it with these words:
But I trust in you, Lord………Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
Let’s marvel in the wonders of the emerging Spring today, and lets also marvel in the Hope that we have in Jesus, that Darkness will not win, and there is a hope and a future with God.
"You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks" - 09/03/22
I was reading an article recently which was considering why it is that people are less likely to try and learn new skills as they get older. The good news is that it is apparently very little to do with the fact that we are unable to learn a new skill but rather more to do with the fact that we are apprehensive. If you have been fortunate enough to find something that you are good at in life, whether that is for work or as a hobby, then we are less likely to try new things for fear of failure. It seems the older we get, the more likely it is that we want to be good at something and not seen as mediocre or, worse still, really bad at something! And yet, it turns out, that it’s actually really good for us mentally and emotionally to have a go at learning the trombone with all the enthusiasm of an 8 year old, even if it doesn’t make the neighbours very happy; or drawing a picture that others might rather kindly categorise as ‘surrealism’ while they politely try and work out what it actually is.
Changing our behaviour or ways – something that is more commonly known by trendy people now as ‘reinventing’ ourselves, can be something that is good for us. Good for our mental health, physical health and also our spiritual health.
God wants us to change and grow throughout our lives as we walk with him. The more we get to know Him, the more we change from the inside out. He takes what we give him and creates something amazing and something beautiful.
“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
And the thing is, God doesn’t make mistakes and he doesn’t make rubbish. In His hands every single one of us will be transformed and renewed and will become something wonderful! There may be hiccups along the way and we may stumble a few times (or even regularly) and one or two cracks may need repairing, but if we are willing to seek him out and submit to him, God will create something priceless: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
So this old dog is up for learning a few new tricks – will anyone join me?
'Seeing the Whole Picture' - 07/03/22
Do you feel that it’s time you had a holiday? I imagine that you have been nowhere exciting for at least two years, and now you’re ready to spread your wings. We all have different interests, and this is reflected in our choice of destination and holiday activities. I might think your choices are ridiculous and you may feel mine are pathetic, but that’s ok; if we all agreed we would be tripping over each other and dropping our ice creams on the hot sunny sand or cobbled streets. Recently I have been re-visiting favourite holiday places while sitting at my desk or in the armchair. It’s a very economical way to break away from reality and you don’t have to fight the crowds. Two of my favourite places are Paris and Rome and one of the things in both cities that I remember seeing when walking around was artists creating caricatures of tourists. Usually, they would simply choose one feature of a face and have fun with it, and amazingly produce an image that was recognisable. It was humorous and cheerful, but never an in-depth record of the persons characteristics., it’s just one face.
It reminds me that many people perceive God in the same way. They have a distorted view of Him that concentrates on one aspect of His nature and ignores others. Some people see God only as an angry and cruel individual, having no patience or compassion. This image leads to resentment and rejection. Others see God as a friendly kind-hearted grandfather figure who fails to dispense justice even when it’s needed. Both groups believe that God is incomplete and not worthy of consideration. Those who see ‘God’ as an intellectual idea about morality have no sense of God being a reality. The Bible records God’s own description of Himself; “The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. But I do not leave the guilty unpunished.” We are all aware of horrific events in our world today, and almost the entire planet is calling for justice. Our Creator God is not a caricature having only one face; however things look to us, let’s not imagine that our loving God has no sense of justice. The Bible reminds us all of a fact that we need to remember; ‘Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.’
"Our Souls Hurt" - 05/03/21
I found this week difficult watching what is going on in Ukraine and feeling quite helpless. Speaking with some of my colleagues, they have felt similarly. Ukrainians desperately trying to flee the onslaught, trying to defend themselves. Some people have decided to go to Ukraine to join them. We have watched their journey, starting with anticipation and purpose and watching the fear and realisation of what is happening come over their face. Being a voyeur through our TV and phones to this war makes me uneasy.
After the global pandemic of Covid-19, large parts of the world pulled together, helped each other, talked to each other, supported each other, showed each other love and compassion. Then the focus was changed to this particular war. And there are many others happening around the world which don’t attract the same media attention.
And again, people pull together, warehouses are filling with supplies for Ukranians either in their country or for those who are now homeless refugees.
This world has people with such different ways of looking at things and it is so so sad that this can end up in things like this war. It may be a country wide battle, or it may be only a few people fighting or bullying.
Where is love? Where is compassion? Where is hope?
Quite often, when we are in times of difficulty, when we are confused and helpless, people turn to God. They say a prayer and cry out. We can all do it now, “Please Lord Jesus”
But let’s not just turn to Him in times of trouble, let’s turn to Him each day. Our God is love and compassion and hope. He is also a God of freedom and we all get to choose. Turn to God each day and ask his forgiveness, ask for his blessing, show others our forgiveness and show others His blessing. It is summed up when Jesus taught his disciples how to reach out to God. Here is a version of the Bible known as “The Message” with its translation of the Lords Prayer;
This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Try saying this each day.
"An Open Book" - 04/03/22
So, day one of my first foreign holiday for two years got off to a good start. A comfortable flight, sunny, warm weather on arrival, a smooth transfer to the hotel, which turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be. Nice view of the sea from the balcony and a lovely sunset. Then I decided to drop my mobile phone on the marble tiled floor of the hotel bathroom. Mobile phones don't like being dropped on marble floors, even ones as nice as the one in the hotel. My phone promptly decided it had had enough and refused to communicate with me. It was still working; calls and messages were still being received and reminders and alarms were still going off, but the screen would not illuminate to allow me to answer the calls, see the messages, acknowledge the reminders or turn off the alarms. Very frustrating, but I was on holiday, so a few days without a mobile phone would be a welcome break.
I could learn to live without my email, without my WhatsApp chats, without being able to follow Everton's latest bid for relegation and even without being able to continue my five hundred and sixty five day streak of language learning... but the problem was that all the documentation that proved my vaccination status, my negative Covid tests and my permission from the Cypriot government to be in the country, were downloaded to the phone. Without them, I would be unable to enter a shop, restaurant, café or any other public establishment. Not to mention that without access to the internet, it would not be possible to complete and download the form that the UK government required to allow me back on the plane to return home. Everything I needed was sitting there staring at me from a little black lump of metal and plastic, but I was simply unable to get at it.
Now, on the basis that I had a thoroughly enjoyable holiday and am writing this missive from the comfort of my own living room, rather than the spartan confines of a Cypriot jail cell, it is obvious that I was able to find a way round my predicament. It even led me to experience a brief philosophical moment. I thought about an unopened Bible. Something that contains all the things we need to live our best life, something that provides wisdom, comfort, love and wonder, something that gives us the information we need to find our way through the maze that is modern life, but it's just sitting there... unopened, unused, unrealised.
Of course, the difference between my phone and the unopened Bible is that I desperately wanted access to the contents of my phone, but there are people who willingly ignore the contents of the Bible. It seems such a waste. I once read the comment, "The Holy Scriptures are to be read constantly, memorised, treated as more important than gold and silver. We should esteem the Scriptures more than our daily food. God's Words should be our delight and hope" and it stuck with me. There is a reason why the Bible is still the best selling book of all time, why it has been translated into more than seven hundred languages and why there are so many versions available - there is even one that can be downloaded to your mobile phone... oh, the irony.
"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness".
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ".
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path".
So, my shiny new mobile phone has now been delivered, but I think I will choose to put it down more often in favour of picking up my Bible.
"Pancakes" - 03/03/22
In the last week the world has watched in horror and deepening sadness as Ukraine has been invaded by Russia armed forces, on the orders of the Russian President Putin.
Whilst it is a horrendous situation, I have been so impressed by the fortitude and courage of the Ukrainian people, and their determination not to give in to the might of Russia.
It is particularly poignant, as this week in Ukraine, it’s the festival of Maslenitsa.
Maslenitsa is a festival which celebrates the end of winter, the start of spring, and the beginning of Lent. It lasts a week, and people celebrate by eating pancakes every night, a lot of pancakes!
Now I love pancake day, and we had lots of pancakes in our house on Tuesday night, but under normal circumstances Ukrainians take pancake celebrations to a whole new level. We might have sugar and lemon, but a favourite Ukrainian pancake filling is sour cream and red caviar!
Maslenitsa celebrates with pancakes in a different way each night. On the Monday, there’s a parade and the first pancakes would be given to the poor. Tuesday is when men would give pancakes to the one they love, Wednesday is for family parties, Thursdays is for outdoor sports and outdoor pancakes, Friday is another family party night, and Saturday is a girls only pancake party.
Sunday, however, is known as forgiveness Sunday. There is another parade and bonfire, and people ask for forgiveness from those they have hurt and give them small presents. It’s a wonderful way to end the week, and then Lent starts the following day.
This Sunday 6th March is forgiveness Sunday in Ukraine. On a day when they should be uniting to love and forgive each other, Ukrainians will be uniting against bombs and bullets from Russia. A sobering thought.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.
Lets stand the Ukrainian people and keep them in our prayers at this time. Lets eat lots of pancakes and celebrate with them, and lets forgive each other when needed, and pray for Ukraine and that they will be able to celebrate Maslenitsa properly next year.
'A Touch of Reality' - 02/03/22
The following is a message received on our art group chat yesterday, by our teacher, Pete.
“Mary and I have just returned from taking our grandaughters on a walk round Everton park. The park will never feature on Spring Watch or Countryfile and has more empty beer bottles than the last day at Glastonbury. It has an assortment of syringes and needles and tin cans shredded by the tractor mower. And yet we had two delightful human encounters.
The first was a man the same age as my youngest son. He came from Romania in 2014 with his wife. He was with his 3 year old son who shared the slide with the girls. The young man delivered newspapers all over the north west and followed world politics by reading the damaged papers. We all had a long discussion about the assault on Ukraine. Yesterday his brother was conscripted back into the army aged 55.
He lifted my spirits for some reason.
Our next brief encounter was with a young man possibly 20/21. He was carrying a huge rucksack and pulling a suitcase down Everton Brow. He was returning home to Lithuania to complete his national service in the marine force. Again we talked for a good while after he’d asked me to take a photo of him with the city in the background. He told me that on Thursday he’ll begin his assault training.
The litter in the park paled into insignificance”.
This is just one story that’s giving us a smack in the face with reality. There are many, many more, coming from Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, North Korea…..
The Bible tells us to, ‘go the extra mile’, ‘love others as we love ourselves’, ‘encourage one another’, ‘’be quick to forgive’, ‘do not bear grudges’…..
Maybe today we have someone to say sorry to, or someone to forgive, someone to go the extra mile for? Let us all make every day count. And may we give thanks for the many blessings we have.
"No Man (Or Woman!) is an Island"- 01/03/22
In 1965 Paul Simon released a song called I am a Rock, he later re-recorded it with Art Garfunkel and it quickly reached number 3 in the charts. The words say this:
“I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship friendship causes pains
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock I am an island”
It speaks of someone who has been hurt in love or in friendship and so has determined to shut themselves away, building walls around them so that no one can come close enough to be able to hurt them again. They search for safety in isolation. Such sad words and sentiments!
But the idea of being ‘an island’ was never intended to be used in such a way. It originated in the work of John Donne, a poet in the 1600’s who first used the phrase in one of his sermons:
“No man is an island entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
If a clod be washed away by sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
As well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”
The language might be old but it beautifully explains how none of us are intended to stand alone, instead we are all part of something much bigger than ourselves. Whenever a loss is felt by any one of our community, near or far, the loss will be felt by all of us and all of us share the burden together.
Time and time again King David called out to God, the God he called his ‘rock’. Sometimes he called out in joy and thanksgiving and sometimes in anguish and turmoil but one thing he always knew was that God was his dependable, immoveable and secure rock:
“I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my saviour; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies.”
In a world that seems uncertain and ever shifting, I am glad I am not an island; I am glad to say I am part of the Melling Community and that we stand stronger together – and the reason we stand stronger together is because we’re not an island lost in the vast oceans but we stand on God our rock, our fortress, our shield and our protector.