April '22 Sunrises

'Self-driving Cars' - 30/04/22

New cars today can be quite different to drive. When I learned to drive, most cars were a manual gearbox. The instrument panel had a few different switches for lights or wipers. A posh car had a heated rear window. You could lift the bonnet and actually see the engine. If it needed any work, you could try yourself. Changing oil or spark plugs, adjusting the fan belt or swapping an alternator. These days cars are quite different. You don’t need to use a key to unlock the door, when you sit inside and things start moving automatically. When driving, lots of cars are automatic, but then there is the “adaptive cruise control” which sets your speed and changes according to the speed limit. If a car slows down in front, the car slows down automatically. There are automatic lights and wipers, heated seats and air conditioning. The cars beep warnings at you if it thinks you are not driving safely. The cars are themselves making driving “easier” and hopefully safer.

But if you can find the right part of the manual, you can turn all that off. Then there are no warnings, there is no help, you have to drive the right way. It is great that all this help is being added to cars, as it could make road travel safer and easier.

In our lives, we can be in full control, decide how fast and safe our lives will be. A lot of us will do a great job, there will be some mistakes or accidents. But we can learn from that, hopefully repair and move on. But we also have Jesus available as our helper, if we choose to listen to his advice and allow Him into our lives to help us, we will then know that our lives are secure in Him. Of course, this does not mean there wont be any accidents or mistakes along the path, but if we live our lives being faithful to him and accepting his guidance, our lives will be fulfilled and we will have an eternal life with Him. Jesus was talking to His followers and said

“Because a loveless world, is a sightless world. If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him—we’ll move right into the neighbourhood! Not loving me means not keeping my words. The message you are hearing isn’t mine. It’s the message of the Father who sent me. I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace.”

So do we listen to the beeps, do we allow our speed to be managed, to be advised if we start to change direction? Do we choose to love Jesus and listen to his words?

'Looking Back' - 29/04/22

You may remember a previous Sunrise in which I commented that my garage had ceased to function as a garage and was now a glorified storage area. It is true to say that my loft serves a similar function. Whilst my garage once had a different purpose, I'm not sure that the same can be said of my loft. I'm not really sure what the function of a loft is. In my house, it has always been a dumping ground for anything that no longer had a place anywhere else, but which was potentially useful or collectible. I am, it has to be said, something of a collector. One of the collections is currently under review. My wife and I have been sorting through boxes of old vinyl. Yes, our record collection is being revisited. We even went to the trouble of buying a small record player so that we could listen again to the sounds of our youth, played as they were meant to be played... scratches and all. It's a varied and, some may say, eclectic collection; from Bach to the Beatles; Peggy Lee to Led Zeppelin - all captured on the wonder of a large black plastic disk.

Now, I realise that some of you have no idea of what I'm talking about. Those of you raised to listen to music on a CD or streaming service can have no idea of the joy of the record. Removing the flimsy plastic circle from its twelve inch cardboard cover, reading the sleeve notes and sitting back to listen to the entire album. That's right; sitting back and listening... no shuffling the order of the tracks... no studying our phone screens whilst the music plays in the background... no asking Alexa to skip to the next track; just sitting and listening to the whole thing from start to finish. We are having fun revisiting sounds we haven't heard for years. It has to be said that some of the records we have found have already been disposed of... I don't know what we were thinking buying them in the first place! Many others have brought a smile to my face along with a warm sense of nostalgia, but the point of course is that if these records were so good, why were they consigned to a dark and dusty loft for so many years? Well, the answer is simple. We move on. We move forward.

We can look back with rose tinted glasses to times gone by, but they are just that. We need to focus on today, "Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” for it is not wise to ask such questions". Every day God has something new for us, "Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing". So, let's move forward today towards what God has laid out for us and remember the words of the Apostle Paul, "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus". After all, nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

'Unmentionables!' - 28/04/22

I am fascinated in the way that different cultures and countries look at life. In the UK, if I was to talk about “unmentionables”, it brings back memories of my grandmother as it is the word that she used to describe underwear. However, what we may consider unmentionable in the UK, is often different around the world.

 

In Myanmar, the unmentionable part of the body is in fact the feet! Feet are considered the lesser part of the body. The people of Myanmar wash their feet in a different way to the rest of their body and use a different towel. Putting your feet up on a chair is considered extremely rude and using your feet to point at anything is considered outrageous! In Myanmar, feet are truly unmentionable. They are so strict about this that you are not allowed to walk over a bridge or on the upper level of a bus when someone is walking or sitting underneath, as the sight of feet are so offensive!

 

Whether you think that feet are truly unmentionable, or if it’s another part of the body, every part of the body works together so that we can function properly as humans. The Bible uses the analogy of the human body to describe Christians. It explains that like the body, every Christians has different gifts and talents, and those all work together to show God’s love to the world.

 

I Corinthians 12

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…… If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose…. As it is, there are many members, yet one body.…. God has so arranged the body, so the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

 

So, whether you think of yourself as a foot, a hand, a voice, or something completely different, you are an indispensable part of our wonderful melling church community. Let’s be thankful to God for each other today, and how our differences make us stronger as a team

'It's the Way I Tell 'Em!' - 27/04/22

When was the last time you really laughed? Where you watching TV? Chatting to a friend? At home witnessing someone do something funny? Can you remember the last time you really laughed? Or was it too long ago?

 

Life can sometimes be really tough can’t it? Stress and upset, illness and worry. It can become overwhelming. Laughter may feel like a distant memory. 

 

It’s a well-known fact that people who have particularly difficult and stressful jobs can often find humour to be a great help. In fact they would go as far as to say that laughter is essential!! I found this to be particularly true in some of the relief and development roles that I had overseas. When circumstances can feel desperate, overwhelming and quite hopeless, laughter can be the greatest of medicine. 

 

So do you have a favourite comedian? How about Ken Dodd?...

 

‘ I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law for 18 months, I don’t like to interrupt her!’

 

Or maybe Eric Morecombe?....

 

‘My neighbour asked if he could borrow my lawnmower, I told him of course he could, so long as he didn’t take it out of my garden’.

 

Ronnie Corbett?...

 

‘ I wasn’t a very athletic boy. I was once lapped in the long jump!’

 

Tim Vine?...

 

‘So I said to the gym instructor, “Can you teach me to do the splits?” He said, “How flexible are you?” I said, “I can’t make Tuesdays”. ‘ 

 

The bible says, ‘A cheerful heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit makes one sick’. 

 

This isn’t about ignoring the struggles and pain that we ourselves, or those around us may face. Nor are we to dismiss the daily news and ignore the tragedies that are happening internationally. But it’s about finding a moment of relief. A moment of lightheartedness. A moment where mental and physical batteries can be recharged. A moment to release a whole lot of stress with one big laugh.

 

If you’re needing to laugh, find that person or those people who can bring a big smile to your face. And if you are somebody who is able to laugh and encourage, pick up the phone and pass that gift on to somebody today.

 

The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.

Proverbs 11:25 

'Room for One More' - 26/04/22

Isn’t our world incredible!!  Nature, art and science can regularly blow our minds, but also the differences in cultural practices from one region to another and one country to another. Cultures are simply fascinating.

 

In Japan, I have been reading about the ‘subway pushers’. These are people employed to do one particular job....during rush hour, they are paid to push more and more people onto the already crowded trains. Just when you thought that someone was already invading your personal space, another three turn up as well!! These subway pushers must have been trained to know when to stop, atleast I hope they have, but the idea intrigued me! Room for one more!!

 

One of my absolute pet hates is cliques! I’m not talking friendship groups that form easily and openly with common interests, but the friendship groups that form in a tight knit, exclusive way. If you’re ‘not the right kind’ then you don’t get in. Cliques are often found in schools and can cause much hurt and isolation. But sadly we also find them in the workplace, in social settings and even in the church! Maybe your look isn’t right, or your lifestyle isn’t picture perfect, maybe you don’t sound the same, or you’re simply ‘not good enough’ to be part of the group! People get left out, just because.

 

The bible has such a lot to say about this! Paul writes these words, “Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody”.

 

Can I suggest that here in Melling we adopt a gentler form of ‘Japanese subway pushing’?? Wherever we are, whoever we’re with, as church, we get alongside others, tell them that we’re in this journey of life together, hold the doors wide open and ALWAYS make room for one more.

'Out of Tune?' - 25/04/22

If you go to buy a guitar you really need to do your homework before going to a store, you must know what you’re looking for. You should never buy a guitar online; it is necessary to hold a variety of guitars before parting with your hard-earned savings. It’s very personal; you must fall in love with the instrument, its size and weight, its style and quality of build, but mostly you need to be thrilled with the sound it produces. It’s difficult enough to practice until perfect, without having to deal with the huge frustration of knowing you have brought home, and spent your money on, the wrong beast. I’m thinking of two particular instruments; both guitars, but the similarity ends there. One is fifty years old, was very cheap, not well made, has a worn-out look, and needs repairing. The other one is only five years old, was very expensive, is beautifully made, and is a work of art. There are other differences; the old tired one sounds like a cat fight, and the new work of art makes no noise at all; it has no strings. Clearly somebody needs to take charge and repair one guitar and complete the other; then in the right hands the result could be beautiful music.

 

Our relationships with other people and our ability to communicate can often be compared to music. Maybe we feel like the old guitar; we struggle with ill-health; feel worn out and neglected and this leads to comments and conversations which could never be described as ‘musical’. Some people are like the other guitar so well catered but with no strings, that they have neither the desire or ability to provide the helpful sounds people around them would welcome. Some of us went to hear our gospel choir last night performing for the first time in more than two years. The result was moving and inspirational; soloists thrilled us, and the whole choir singing together in harmony was memorable. Everyone went home uplifted and refreshed; that’s how our speech to those around us is meant to be.   

 

Solomon who was wise enough to understand the power of words said this, “Kind words are like honey, they cheer you up and make you feel strong.” Fortunately, we don’t need to carry our guitars everywhere and we certainly don’t need to inflict our singing voice on others, lets just talk in a way that cheers people up and brings strength to those who need it.

'Twix O'clock' - 23/04/22

One of my colleagues will regularly eat a Twix bar as part of his lunch and always at 1 o’clock.  Its become known as Twix o’clock. If he is ever invited into meetings starting at 1pm, you can always hear the wrapper in the background as he completes this ritual. But then we found out that it was not actually a Twix, it was a supermarket alternative which he thinks is better than a Twix. It did start a conversation about sweets and alternatives.

There is of course the Tunnock caramel wafer, which some have tried to copy but its never quite as good as the original, in my opinion. I also then found that they make a dark chocolate version of the wafer which is even more delicious.

Some of you may have seen a TV show where chefs are asked to make a popular snack, and they have to replicate the snack as closely as possible. They cannot try to improve it or change it, just make an exact copy. Now many of the recipes are protected so that the brand of the snack is unique, so whilst the ingredients are on the packet, quantities and methods of making are not. Watching the chefs try to mimic tiny mesh of Shreddies or the curl of a quaver, they really have to think about how the ingredients are cooked and brought together very carefully, experimenting until they think they can duplicate the original. So often, whilst the replicas do taste ok and may look similar, there is only 1 way to do it and you cannot beat the original.

So, how do this reflect on being a Christian? Well, there is only 1 way to be a Christian and that is through Jesus. Some early Christians were confused what they needed to do to be a Christian. Jesus told them, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” One of Jesus’ disciples explained it like this “Jesus’ life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him.”

We cannot make ourselves Christians, it is simply through accepting Jesus love and living our lives as he guides us and helps us, that we will be a Christian.

'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.

'Sabai Sabai' - 20/04/22

I don’t know how your week has been, but I seem to be meeting myself coming back at the moment. Everywhere I go I am in a rush, with an endless list of things to do. I have even been known to forget what I have agreed to do, and double or even triple book myself!!

Busyness and rushing around seems to be the state of play for lots of people at the moment.

However, if you live in the country of Laos, busyness is unheard of. People simply do not rush. One well known saying in Laos is ‘Sabai Sabai’, or ‘Take it Easy’!

This is because Laos culture places far more emphasis on spending time with family and friends than power or success. Stress is almost unheard of as taking whatever time you need to complete tasks, is absolutely fine!

Of course, this lack of rushing can have its downside. When you arrange to meet a friend in Laos, be prepared to wait, as a meeting time is seen more of a guide than a fixed point. And timely customer service may be according to the timing of the people serving you, rather than the time you actually need something. However, there is no point getting exasperated, as in Laos, you are encouraged to ‘Sabai Sabai’ and chill out!

 

In the bible, we are reminded that Gods timing is just right, but it may not be our timing. We may be rushing to get things done or being impatient that something isn’t happening as quickly as we want, but we are reassured that God knows what he is doing.

God also encouraged us to tell him how we feel, and he will come alongside us and help us.

 

Philippians 4 explains it in more detail

Let petitions and praises shape into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. Fill your minds and meditate on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

 

The idea of being woven into the harmonies of Gods plan sounds wonderful to me. lets try today, to make a conscious effort not to rush, but Sabai sabai and enjoy being part of Gods harmonies as he weaves his wonderful plan together in his time.

'What's Next?...' - 16/04/22

There are some times when you just wonder, what is going to happen next? This can be in a good sense and when fortune favours you in some way, someway may say you need to get a lottery ticket a “your luck is in”. Other times, it may be in a bad sense and someone will remind us “it always comes in 3’s”.

But in reality, we are never quite sure what may happen next.

How often do we have plans to do something that are then changed because of other things happening? You’re about to go out to do something and someone appears at the door, you start talking, then they end up coming for coffee. Before you know it, your day has changed.

I remember a story of a Christian writer who understood that God would have a plan for him always. One day he was going about his business and ended up missing his train. It was frustrating but he stopped and prayed, asking God what He had planned instead. He sat on a bench near another passenger waiting for his alternate train. That nearby passenger was upset and he was then able to talk to them and offer support and pray with them. Sometimes, our plans are not actually what God wants us to do and He will intervene so that we can fulfil a need for someone else. We can never be certain of our plans.

At Easter time, we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made in his death on a cross. We remember it knowing that we can look forward to Sunday when we celebrate that Jesus rose from his grave to rejoin his Father. But can you imagine how the people at the time felt, they did not know that Sunday was coming, what Gods plan was. Jesus followers thought he was gone, what was next? I recall a story of an African minister whose talk was simply “Its Friday, but Sunday is coming”, the same phrase repeated over and over. We have a hope in Jesus, He died for us and he rose again to give us the opportunity of life with Him. The bible verse John 3 v 16 , from a version called The Message, says it like this

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again “

God has a plan and if we choose to follow Him, he will guide us, love us, support us, bless us and in doing so, we can also bless others.

Its Friday but Sunday is coming, our hope is Jesus.

'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.

 

John 13 

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. 

Jesus. 

King Jesus. 

Riding on a donkey. This was a far cry from the pomp and circumstance of other kings processions. But Jesus wasn’t ‘just another king’. 

He was God’s son. 

The Miracle Worker. 

The Servant King. 

The King of all Kings. 

Jesus brought a message of love, forgiveness, grace and hope.  

As the people cried ‘Hosanna!’ Jesus knew that their cries, just a few days later, would be ‘Crucify him!’ Jesus wept. 

He wept for every person who had missed ‘Emmanuel, God with Us’. 

He loved them and He wept.

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.

'All Change' - 11/04/22

It’s interesting to see how people react to change; some love it but some hate it. If you watch The Big Bang Theory, you will know how Sheldon behaves when change is suggested or necessary. He wants life to continue exactly the way he has organised it; change terrifies him. He believes that change invites failure and will be disastrous. We have been living in the same house for years and years. We know where everything is, and we understand our neighbours; but some of our family are now suggesting that it’s time to move. Can you imagine the upheaval? I can, and I feel like Sheldon. Change can of course go either way, we may look back and see how wise our family is; or we may not.

The disciples had been walking with Jesus for three years and had seen and heard everything  

you can imagine, and some things you couldn’t imagine. Each week brought such joy to many individuals whose lives were changed beyond their imagination, even Sheldon would be impressed; Jesus was welcomed everywhere, but in the background, threatening opposition was gaining ground. This week, long ago, saw such incredible changes that nobody could predict the outcome, but despite appearances God was always in charge. Jesus knew why He was there, and what would be done to Him, but still His love for us overcame His fear. Even as the crowds in Jerusalem celebrated His arrival, the smallest verse in the Bible states, 'Jesus wept.’ The shocking events of Good Friday changed His followers joy and confidence into the deepest, blackest, saddest nightmare. How could The Lamb of God be dead? Two days later, everything was stunningly changed again as Mary Magdalene announced to the shocked Disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

Years later in a vision, Jesus appeared to St. John and said, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever.” We should never consider that the extraordinary changes that took place during that week are confined to that time. All those events were intended to make huge changes to our lives now. The Bible tells us, ‘God loved the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him, will have eternal life and never really die.’  St. Paul explains the biggest change of all, ‘Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person, The old life has gone; a new life has begun!’

Fancy a change?

"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.

'Dancing Shoes' - 07/04/22

I have had the honour to attend two funerals this week. Both funerals were quite different, but in both cases, it was a real celebration of the persons life, although surrounded by great sadness and grief as both people concerned will be missed greatly.

How we celebrate the life and mourn the passing of people differs from culture to culture, and some seem very different to our own experience here in the UK.

In Madagascar they don’t just have one funeral, they have lots! It’s a tradition called Famadihana. They believe in celebrating the life lived by the deceased to the extent that every few years, they open up the funeral tomb, and bring out their loved ones to re-wrap them in fresh cloths and write their names on the cloths again so that the person will always be remembered. It may sound gruesome to us, but it’s accompanied by lots of singing and dancing, and they parade the wrapped corpses around the tomb whilst dancing and singing before putting them back in the tombs. The Madagascan people believe firmly that life extends beyond death, and therefore those who have moved on to the next life should continue to be celebrated.

This is a very different experience to one I am familiar with, and in fact I would get arrested if I tried it here in the UK. However, the idea that life is to be celebrated and that it does not end when we die is central to the Christian faith.

Jesus, God in human form, came to earth as a man. He lived for around 30years, and spent his time teaching people about how much God loves them. In John 11, he made an extraordinary promise to his followers:

I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.

But Jesus was arrested and killed as the authorities thought he was a threat. But just as he promised, death was not the end of the story. Jesus beat death and came back to life to make the way clear for us to have a relationship with God again.

So today, lets celebrate life in all its fullness, with dancing if you want, and lets celebrate Jesus, who gave up everything and beat death, so that for us, death is not the end of the story.

'Sticks and Stones' - 06/04/22

Aren’t blue whales incredible?! Measuring approx 30 metres in length, 5 metres in height and weighing around 200 tons these beautiful, gentle creatures are a sight to behold. They can reach speeds of around 31 miles per hour…I don’t fancy getting in its way! But wait, there’s more…they eat tiny shrimp-like creatures, about 40 million a day, their heart is the size of a car, and their tongue is the size of an elephant! Wait! What? Their tongue is the size of an elephant?? That’s ridiculous! But true. The blue whales tongue carries A LOT of weight! Actually, isn’t that the same with us humans? While we may only be tiny-bodied individuals, let’s not be fooled. Our tongues carry A LOT of weight too! Remember the school playground rhyme?…’Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. What an absolute load of twoddle!! Our words matter. Our words carry power. 

Years ago, somebody I know was bullied. Outrageously! People talked about them. Openly mocked them and insulted them. Spoke awful untruths about them. The pain and the memory is still there today. Words matter. 

The Bible is outspoken about the words we speak…

…Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose….

…Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise…

…Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift…

Our tongues are tiny and yet the damage they can cause is catastrophic. Let’s all pause before we speak. Ask ourselves, are the words I want to say uplifting, kind, forgiving, gracious? Or are they going to destroy, hurt, bully, add fuel to the fire? 

The very same tongue that has the potential to destroy, was created to utter words of love, encouragement and praise. 

The psalmist wrote…May the words of my mouth and the thoughts in my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer…

So we have a choice, every day, on how we use our words…

Encourage or discourage

Truth or lie

Gossip or silence

Love or hate…

It’s up to us.

'Thank You John' - 05/04/22

Today I am attending the funeral of John, a neighbour of mine who became a very dear friend. From the first time I met John, and Elaine his wife, I knew that I was going to get on with them. I liked them! A lot! John was the neighbour who always knew what colour bin to put out on Monday night. If ever we were in doubt, we would wait for John’s bin to appear. He took great pride in his plants in the front garden and when I bought him a gnome, or two, he laughed and then displayed them for all to see!! When it snowed, we threw snowballs at him when he wasn’t looking…needless to say, he got his own back. When the builders where working on our house, John became our honorary project manager, wandering over to check they were doing their job. And so it went on. We laughed a lot. We would see eachother coming and going most days and always wave. And his greeting was always the same, ‘Hi kid’. I miss John. And wish we all had more days, weeks, months, years with him tending his garden, putting his bins out and shouting, ‘Hi kid’. Putting it simply, John was a wonderful neighbour.

Isn’t life fragile? None of us knows what tomorrow may bring. Or today! The Bible has much to say about living well, forgiving well, not bearing grudges, not destroying someone with our words and actions, going the extra mile, encouraging, caring, loving, and thanking God for each new day. Life is precious. If there’s someone you need to forgive, don’t waste another moment, forgive. If you need to talk to someone and clear the air, talk to them. Help the person in need, encourage the discouraged and love the unloveable. For life is indeed fragile.

The psalmist wrote, ‘This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it’. Today John, we thank God for you and celebrate you, our great neighbour and friend. And for all your kindness, friendship and ‘going the extra mile’, this ‘kid’ says Thankyou.

'It's Fading' - 04/04/22

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.

'Keep on Going...' - 02/04/22

Recently there have been quite significant changes in our living. The impact of Brexit and Covid is still building into the cost of everyday life. Sadly, the war in Ukraine is also having a wider impact on our lives, though this is nothing compared to the impact on the people of Ukraine themselves. It is devastating what is still going on, our hearts go out to those people who have lost everything and their courage in standing up for their country. And yet, we still try to continue with our own day to day lives. I fill the car with petrol and watch in amazement as the pounds clicked up so much faster than the litres!

Whilst my world is being changed around me, watching our 2 young kittens growing up and seeing them venture into the big outside world in recent weeks is lovely. The wonder on their faces as they explore new spaces, chase each other round the garden, up trees, over the summer house roof, all over the place. They are having a wonderful time doing what comes naturally.

We go about our own lives and are getting back to a “natural” way of living. But some things wont go back entirely the way it was 2+ years ago. ( I still think of things which happened in 2019 and have to remind myself it was 2 ½ years ago, its like a time warp ) Things have changed and will continue to change, we will find a new “natural” way of living, we can follow our instincts to explore and be a part of this new world.

As we approach Easter, we are reminded that there is a constant and some things don’t change. Our God is still the same, he still loves us, he still cares about us and he is still wanting us to follow him. He sacrificed his son so that we might live. That will never change.

In the Bible, in the book of Hebrews, the Christians were encouraged…

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”