February '21 Sunrises

'Too Much Space' - 28/02/21

It’s a funny old world. In recent years we have watched as we have been robbed of our space. I can remember when we first moved into our home, the number of cars in the road didn’t reach double figures. When we drove into Liverpool we could park anywhere because yellow lines and parking meters hadn’t been invented and traffic wardens hadn’t been born. I could walk straight into our chippy and out again in five minutes. I could get on a train without needing to book and still find a seat. Over the years everything has become crowded and in the days before Covid if I stopped my trolley in the supermarket for more than ten seconds, I created a traffic jam and finding a pair of socks in Primark was like a rugby scrum. We have all prayed for peace and space. Well I have news for you, our prayers have been answered. Last Friday I needed a blood test; I walked into the health centre where there are fifty seats which are always full, only to find myself in an empty room. I sat down for one minute, my name was called and two minutes later I was back outside. Then I drove into the city centre multi storey car park, went up two floors and parked in the middle of an empty floor. When I came back four hours later, my car was still all alone. I had a takeaway lunch in Lime Street station and could choose from about sixty empty seats. It was a wonderful day and the sun shone. Perfect! I revelled in the emptiness. 

There is of course the small matter of the plague that has caused massive fear, stress, illness, and sadly, death, and many people have been left with a great sense of emptiness. One answer to this distressing condition is to have people around who can travel with us on our journey. Mandy Hale said, “Always show kindness and love to others. Your words might be filling the empty places in someone’s heart.”

But we can go further and deeper; our friends are absolutely wonderful and necessary but they can’t get into our heads. We have read many times in Sunrise that God understands us better than we understand ourselves, so when the emptiness inside causes sadness and stress, let’s remember that God can fill the space and help us to rise above those emotions that threaten to drag us down. 

St. Paul wrote, ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’

'Too Much Space' - 27/02/21

Since the start of the year, I have been working with a new team in my job. Its been quite challenging having to do this working from home. I have met some of them before and know a little bit about them, but never really known them that well. Trying to get to know them and understand what they do and where I fit in has been tricky. There has been lots of research and reading to be done about their work. It would be great if I was in the office but I cant be there right now. So I am having to spend specific time with individuals or small groups getting to know them and what they do. My role is to help them improve how they deliver their services within the company, so having begun to understand where they are, I now have ideas about where we now should go.

I have been discussing ideas with a small number of people and in particular one of the bosses. After discussing some of my ideas with him , I asked him if he was OK with me to start planning and implementing some of the changes. He said “Go for it, that’s what you are here to do”. He gave me the support and authority to start doing. Its not as easy doing this work remote from each other and takes more specific effort to align our thinking.

Its like that in our relationship with God, we have to spend specific time with Him to understand Him and what He wants us to do. He is not physically here with us but we can read about His ways in the Bible, we can learn about His love for us, we can talk to Him through prayer, setting aside some time specifically, and listen for His guidance. And He has sent us His power in the Holy Spirit. He has told us what we are here to do and will give us the confidence and authority to do it. 

To love people, to be a witness for His love and to share of His sacrifice for us all.

When Saul first spoke with God and understood that God had chosen him, he was with a renowned and well thought of priest, Ananias, who told him, “You are to be a witness to everyone you meet of what you’ve seen and heard. So what are you waiting for? Get up and get yourself baptized, scrubbed clean of those sins and personally acquainted with God.” (Acts 22v15-16). 

He then began his work and writings as the Apostle Paul. We should all be personally acquainted with God, as we get to know Him and live our lives as He teaches us, with love, kindness and compassion, being a witness for all that we have learned.

What are you waiting for?

 
'Judgement' - 26/02/21

It is said that you should never meet your heroes, because they will always disappoint you. After all, they are just human beings like you and me. They have their faults like everybody else. They may be wonderfully skilled in one particular area of expertise that we admire, but they have complications and difficulties in their lives that can cause them to stumble and tarnish their public image.

​For years I marvelled at the achievements of American professional cyclist, Lance Armstrong. Every summer I would watch him battle the roads and mountain passes along the route of the Tour de France. For seven consecutive years he was ultimately victorious. For seven years he defied the odds and wore the famous yellow jersey. Nobody had ever won seven Tours. His was a story of legend. Not only did he win those seven Tours, but he did so having recovered from cancer.

Professional cycling is a sport blighted by performance enhancing drugs. There were rumours that Armstrong’s success was fuelled by such drugs. For seven years Armstrong was the most tested athlete in world sport. He never failed a drug test. Here was somebody that we could believe in; somebody who was simply better than everybody else. Somebody that could inspire others. He was the best cyclist in the world, he headed a charitable foundation that had raised 500 million dollars to help cancer sufferers, he gave motivational speeches, he married a rock star. Heroes didn’t come much bigger.

​And then the wheels came off. A fellow professional confessed to being part of the most comprehensive and systematic regime of doping that the sport had ever seen. His confession implicated Armstrong. The reason Armstrong had never failed a drug test was that the method of doping was so sophisticated that it was not detectable. He had won every one of his Tours by cheating. Heroes don’t fall much further.

What is interesting to me is that in 2009, when Lance Armstrong finally confessed to his part in the doping conspiracy, donations to his charitable foundation increased. Since he made the decision to stand down from the foundation in 2012, donations have steadily declined. The changes have occurred because people allow their personal judgement of Armstrong to affect their response to the needs of the charity. It’s a funny old world.

​We all make judgements and the reasons for those judgements are just as complicated as the people and the situations we choose to judge. The impact Lance Armstrong had on the world of cancer doesn’t excuse his cheating, but his cheating doesn’t erase the good he did for the millions of cancer victims his foundation has helped. All of us judge against a set of standards that we have deemed appropriate. Each set of standards is personal and ultimately different in some degree to the standards of others. In the end, none of us really has the wisdom to sit in judgement.

​​Instead of us judging others, the Bible urges us to be more thoughtful, because we too have made mistakes, we too have been subject to the judgement of others, “Speak evil of no one, be peaceable and considerate, and always be gentle toward everyone.  At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures”. It’s good advice. In future, I think I will leave the judgement to God, knowing that He is the only one able to, “judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity".

'The Wild World!' - 25/02/21

“Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wild World," said the Rat. "And that's something that doesn't matter, either to you or to me. I've never been there, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any sense at all.”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the willows is a classic children’s book detailing the adventurers of Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger, who live by the river bank, written by Kenneth Grahame.

I love the idea that from the point of view of the small animals in the wind and willows, that the world beyond their river bank is Wild and to be avoided at all costs. It almost sounds like the current covid advice that we are adhering to; we are all staying home or close to home at the moment, in order to stay safe.

However, change is on the way. We now know that if things go accordingly to plan, we will be allowed to venture beyond our four walls into shops, meeting other people, and even the potential to be able to go on holiday! This is wonderful news for some but concerning for others. We are all now used to a new way of living, and the idea of venturing out into the ‘wild world’ can be concerning and apprehensive for some. Just the thought of being able to go into a shop without a facemask seems very strange indeed!

When Jesus was leaving his followers to go to heaven (after he had risen from the dead), he knew they were concerned as to what would happen. They had been through such a lot in a few weeks. First their leader was arrested, tortured and killed, then he rose again and gave them the gift of the holy spirit to inspire them. Now he was leaving them again but telling them to go into all the world and tell everyone about him. They were scared or what might happen next. Jesus reminded them, as he reminds us now, that whatever situations we are in, we are not alone

In Matthew 28:20, Jesus says

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

So, whatever the ‘Wild World’ may throw at us in the next few months, let’s not be like Ratty, let’s get out and explore it (in accordance with the guidance of course). And let’s do this in the knowledge that God is always with us, wherever we are.

 
'Be Content' - 24/02/21

Celtic Prayer puts a lot of emphasis on being still, being quiet and enjoying the moments that God has given to us. A saint from way back wrote this:

“You must strive for a quiet mind. If the eyes are perpetually restless, they cannot appreciate a beautiful object set before them; they glance this way and that, and so fail to discern the subtlety of the objects form and colour. Equally, if the mind is perpetually restless, distracted by a thousand worldly concerns, it cannot apprehend he truth.” (St Basil of Turkey).

Let’s face it, if we are honest, in lockdown some of us have too many distractions and some of us crave anything to distract us from the groundhog nature of each day. It is tough to have too little to do or indeed, to have to live with the stress of juggling zoom calls, online school or caring demands. Being still and quiet might be something we crave but cannot do or it might be something we have too much of! With all of this, our mental health can be very fragile and practising contentment and stillness is not some hippy idea but a vital tool in keeping ourselves healthy. I miss my sea swims and as much as I miss the company, I also miss those moments in each swim where I would stop, float, gaze at the sky and rest, allowing the water to melt away my distractions, worries and anxiety .  Psalm 131 is a beautiful piece of scripture. It not only reminds us that with God we can just be ourselves, but it is also a gentle reminder that we can have hope as well as contentment.

Psalm 131

 My heart is not proud, Lord,

    my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters

    or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,

    I am like a weaned child with its mother;

    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord

    both now and forevermore.

Today can we try to revel in the gift of contentment despite all that we have on our plate? Can we prioritise just ten minutes to stop, to be still and rest with our Father God, like a weaned child?

 
'A Gift for Life' - 22/02/21

You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.  And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong – you only want what will give you pleasure.  James Ch4 v2  

So what’s the difference between Father Christmas and God?  That sounds a bit like the start of a really bad joke but if we think about it, we can often confuse God with a Santa Claus figure who we go to when we want something. 

In the mid 1800’s a young man called Dwight L Moody from Boston became a Christian.  Soon after that, he set off for Chicago where his plan was to sell shoes and make his fortune of $100,000 – a huge amount of money at that time.  Slowly but surely, he began to realise that his mission in life wasn’t to amass a fortune but rather help the poor.  Over the course of his life, his preaching and social work changed hundreds of thousands of people’s lives and I suspect he raised far more than his original goal of $100,000 – it just wasn’t for himself.

In the book of Philippians in the Bible we read these words: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.”  

The fact is that God wants to hear about every aspect of our lives; our anxieties; our health worries; our financial concerns as well as our joy and our thanks.  What God wants is for us to call him ‘friend’ – and it’s that relationship that makes him so different to Father Christmas.  Would you go to your best friend and say – “you can afford it, give me a new car”?  Rather, your closest friends are the ones who you share your deepest hopes and concerns with.  They are your friends, not because of what they give you, but because of the relationship you have with them.

Moody once said ‘Some people think God does not like to be troubled with our constant coming and asking.  The way to trouble God is not to come at all’.  God wants to hear it all but the biggest difference between God and Father Christmas is that Santa may give you the Ferrari you asked for but God wants to come on the journey with you.

 
'What Are You Hiding?' - 21/02/21

‘Honesty is such a lonely word

Everyone is so untrue

Honesty is hardly ever heard

And mostly what I need from you’

‘Honesty’ - Billy Joel

Recently I read an article about someone I thought had been a good, honest character, full of integrity, with love for his family. I was devastated to hear that this person had been living a double life. Causing many, many people to believe he was someone great and good whilst all along sordid secrets were piling up on his phone and his victims were being silenced. He passed away, aged 74, and left behind a lot of brokenness. It was a heart-breaking read. More scandal. More lies. No honesty. Secrets. Secrets. Secrets.

Nowadays it would seem that nearly everybody has a mobile phone. Instant access to others through phone calls and texts. And then there’s the internet freely available wherever we are. Not to mention all the social media sites. Oh, and then there’s the photos and videos we take, or we receive. These phones are absolutely incredible! Where would we be without them?! But what’s on them? If someone got hold of our phones would they be shocked by our photos? Would our messages reveal ‘another side’? And what about our Search History? Billy Joel was right when he said that honesty is such a lonely word. There seems to be so many stories of scandal and lies and lack of integrity. But we can be different. 

Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’.

CS Lewis defined integrity as ‘doing the right thing, even when no one is watching’. 

Secret lives cause broken lives. Let’s all be careful to think right thoughts, say right words and have right actions. It’s so important that honesty, and integrity, are key to how we live. And we’d all love Billy Joel to write another song!

 

https://youtu.be/SuFScoO4tb0

 
'Not Talking?' - 20/02/21

This half term I was helping one of my daughters with some work where we had to sit and observe things. It was just the two of us, watching, observing and recording. The lovely thing was that during that time we just talked. 

During this lockdown, we have all been encouraged to get out and take some exercise. Its been great to force this time into a working day. I have been able to walk by myself, with the dog, with the kids, with my wife or many combinations. One of my daughters once asked me, when you and Mum go for a walk, what do you talk about because you’ve been together for so many years, how do you find things to talk about? It is a great question and we then chatted about what we do talk about, we talk to each other, talk about what's happening with each of us, about our family, about our friends. But there are also times when we don’t talk. And it feels fine to be with someone and not talk.

I remember when I was first seeing my then girlfriend, we chatted and chatted and chatted about all sorts of things. On long car journeys it was great to talk and the journey time passed really quickly.

But there came a point in our relationship when it did not feel awkward to be together and be silent.

Some people find silence awkward and in some cases it can be, “somebody needs to say something”. “Awkward” 

But actually, I find it reassuring that we can sit together quietly and it not be awkward.

Sometimes we are like that with God. We set aside a time to pray and we talk and talk and talk, we say our thing and then move onto our next task. But we should find the time to sit quietly with God, not talking. Its not awkward, God knows us better than we know ourselves and sometimes He just wants to be with us. We don’t have to say anything, just sit and feel God’s presence. 

There is a lovely gentle song that reminds us

'Be still, for the presence of the Lord,
The holy One, is here;
Come bow before him now
With reverence and fear
In him no sin is found
We stand on holy ground.
Be still, for the presence of the Lord,
The holy One, is here.'

Lets remember that sitting quietly is not awkward, it can be reassuring, its when people don’t have to say anything because we know. God knows, so sit quietly with Him and enjoy His company.

 
'Kindness' - 19/02/21

I am a big fan of Charlie Mackesy. Many of you will not have heard of him. Charlie is an artist who never went to art school, but spent three months in America with a portrait painter, where he learned about anatomy. He began as a cartoonist for The Spectator and a book illustrator for Oxford University Press, before being taken on by galleries. His work features in books, private collections and public spaces; including hospitals, prisons, churches and university colleges around the United Kingdom and also in women’s safe houses around the world.

He has recently had a book published that comprises a selection of his drawings. The book is called, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. It is one of the most uplifting books you will ever read. In it, we follow the boy and his friends as they travel through life. The mole is an amusing, greedy little character who believes that all of life's problems can be solved with cake; the fox is the silent, wary companion and the horse is the gentle, wise philosopher of the group.

Charlie never intended to produce a book. He simply created the characters as an outward expression of his feelings and his philosophy regarding life. He first presented his drawings to the world via his Instagram account. Many of the drawings were very basic and, in some cases, you could tell that he had merely adapted a coffee stain or an ink smudge into an image. It was these Instagram images that caught the attention of a publisher, who contacted Charlie and suggested the idea of a book. The rest, as they say, is history. It has became a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic and has been described as, "A book of hope for uncertain times".

Charlie consistently promotes a message of kindness. The horse is heard to say, "Nothing beats kindness. It sits quietly beyond all things”. When asked by the mole what he wants to be when he grows up, the boy replies, "Kind". It is a simple truth that kindness is a much needed commodity and something that you can never get enough of. But what is kindness?

The Bible tells us that kindness is both a fruit of the spirit and a characteristic of love; But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and Love is patient and kind. Kindness is also a choice. We can choose to be kind or we can choose not to be. Like all human characteristics we can practice kindness and through practice become better at it. It is something that I personally need to develop. It is not my instant reaction when faced with a problem, or a person, but that is no excuse. The Bible also tells us; "Let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth". I can't simply talk the talk, I need to walk the walk. I need to follow Jesus' example, as Paul explained to the church in Ephesus; "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you". I have some work to do

 
'A Beautiful Heart' - 17/02/21

“A person who has good thoughts can never 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 your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely”.

The Twits, Roald Dahl

The Twits, written by Roald Dahl, is a children’s book. It tells the tale of the retired circus trainers, Mr and Mrs Twit (who are not very pleasant), and the tricks that they like to play on each other.

Our culture can be very often dominated by how we look and present ourselves. How do we look to those around us? For those who are on social media, are the photos we post of ourselves on Instagram or Facebook worthy? What will the photos we post, or the clothes we wear, or the way we have our hair say about us? Can we manipulate our photos to ensure that its always the best side of us that people see? 

How we present ourselves can indeed be very important. How smartly we may turn up to an interview can make a big difference. We are unlikely to get the job if we turn up in our pyjamas, even if it’s a zoom interview!

This quote really reminds us that outward appearance doesn’t matter as much as character. How we look, even if we are wearing the latest fashions and the most amazing hairstyle, does not matter as much as how we behave.

In I Samuel 16:7, God reminds us of the same thing, and also reminds us of how countercultural his thinking is:

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’

Whilst we all have different ideas of what beauty may mean, one of the most beautiful people to me was my grandmother. She was not beautiful in the conventional sense at all. She was little and wrinkly and a bit round. However, she had the most beautiful smile, and she was truly lovely. You see, she had spent a lifetime loving Jesus and loving people. And that love radiated out from her to whomever she was with.

So today, lets think about how we can truly love others with Gods love, and them more we do, the more truly beautiful we will become.

 
'Give It Up' - 16/02/21

In Celtic worship, some of the readings come from a bloke called Samuel Moor Shoemaker. I imagine that his name was his job?  If only I could make my own shoes; how useful that would be at a time when the shops are shut . However, as we approach Lent we probably ought to be thinking about giving up stuff not getting more hadn’t we? Actually, if I am honest, what is needed is a clear out good and proper. Not only might I consider giving up stuff but I really ought to clear out the wardrobe or cupboards and give stuff away. 

Except, God does not demand that we give anything up for Lent. A clear out of wrong attitudes might be more helpful and pleasing to Him. Samuel Shoe maker described a time in church when he was told to offer up prayers for those that he loved. That was easy. Then he was asked to pray for those whom he did not love. Straight away he could think of 3 individuals who had opposed his work and his writing. They had treated him badly and he resented them for it.  He admitted that to pray for them was very tough. They thought badly of him and , as he put it,”… nine tenths of our suffering is caused by others not thinking so much of us as we think they ought”. Read that quote again and maybe bring to mind someone who does not think much of you; who winds you up; who opposes you; who is just plain difficult.

When Jesus said : “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”, He is asking us not just to pray for those who we do not love but He is telling us to love them. Love is a verb, it is an action. This Lent how can we show love to those who we need to learn to love more?

 
'Be the Lifeboat' - 16/02/21

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterised by getting along with others.  It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.  You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.  

James Ch3 v17-18  

On 15 April 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg and began taking on water.  It became apparent that the so-called impossible was indeed possible and the Titanic began to sink.  Only 20 lifeboats made it into the water, many of which were less than half full as they rowed away.  As people jumped from the sinking ship into the icy waters, they cried out for the lifeboats to come back and save them but most were too afraid of being overwhelmed to return leaving around 1,500 people to die.  There was, however, one exception - there was an officer in Lifeboat number 14 who managed to persuade some of the other lifeboats to take his passengers and then he returned to where the ship had sunk to pick up survivors.  He couldn’t possibly save everyone, but he could save some.

Harold Lowe was that officer and the wisdom, courage and mercy he displayed that day couldn’t change the horrors that were unfolding but made every bit of difference to those few individuals that he managed to reach.

No community can be built on selfish acts and argument.  To build what today’s verse calls ‘a healthy, robust community’ takes effort.  It is the effort of getting to know one another and the effort of learning to live with one another’s quirks; treating one another as equals and respecting each other even in the face of differences.  God intends us to live in community together and to work alongside one another but he also understands that this sometimes requires a gentle tolerance and graciousness.

When we live with God at the heart of our community we can transform our small corner of this world.  Like Harold Lowe, we may not be able to change all of the circumstances around us, but we can make a huge difference to the person that stands in front of us.  We can start by inviting them into the safety of the boat and assure them of a warm welcome that comes with a gracious acceptance of all that they are.  As we go about our week this week during these turbulent times, let’s actively look out for those that might need a little help – you might just be someone’s lifeboat this week and that will make all of the difference to them.

 
'Still Can't See The Leaves' - 15/02/21

I live in a road with large trees down both sides; to me they are very beautiful and impressive. Typing this I can see them through my window every time I look up from the keyboard. The last time the Beast from the East visited some years ago the whole avenue was transformed into a white wonderland. I have a photograph somewhere (I’m not very good at filing) that shows these wonderful trees proudly showing off their winter plumage. Last autumn when everybody was depressed because of lockdown and rising fatality numbers, these amazing creations of our creator God were magnificent in yellow, orange, brown and red. And they lifted our spirits. Not long after that the colours were on the floor and the trees were showing their naked leafless forms; also beautiful. 

We’ve all been through a difficult winter and it’s still freezing outside, but I notice that the days are getting longer so my mind is already in Spring mode, and the sun is shining but my trees are still just twiggy. I’m looking forward to the day when I see for the first time in 2021 that amazing green mist that creeps over the trees, providing hiding places for the birds and shelter for the humans when the sun gets too hot. It will happen! We can’t predict the future, I think we can all agree on that after the events of 2020, but we seem to be very confident that Spring is on its way. It’s not fact until it happens, so for now it’s just hope, but we are certain that our hope is not fanciful. We read that God’s promise to the world after the flood was this, ‘As long as the Earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.’ This comes from God who never lies and even though mankind has damaged the system, it still works and will continue. So while Spring is a hope it is a certain hope. Watch this space! 

But thinking of the future, we have another promise from God; Paul writing to the followers of Jesus 2000 years ago and to today’s followers also, talked of, ‘the hope of eternal life that God promised long ago. And God never tells a lie.’ That’s another hope, but it’s certain, just like Spring. Roll on both hopes. I assume that Spring will come first, but it’s not certain

 
'Back to the Bridges' - 14/02/21

Back in January at one of our Melling services, we were introduced the idea of being a bridge . One of the Celtic saints, Reinfrid was bridge builder. Reinfrid began his adult life as a violent and ruthless mercenary but was so disturbed by the scenes that he saw, that he ended up in a monastery, desperately searching for peace. To become truly at peace we need to become peace makers. It means rolling up our sleeves and building bridges. This is precisely what Reinfrid did in the monastery and surrounding area. He became a repairer of walls, dwellings and bridges where once he had burned them and pillaged them.

Isaiah 58 says this:

 “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

    and your night will become like the noonday.

 The Lord will guide you always;

    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

    and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

    like a spring whose waters never fail.

 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

    and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,

    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."

Where today do we need to be a builder? Where is there brokenness that needs repairing , disheartened folks that need some building up, or bridges that need building to people who  are feeling a little bit forgotten about?

 
'Calming Words' - 13/02/21

I am sure many of us have had times where things get on top of us and we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it can be a slow build up and we don’t realise what's happening. Or it may be a single incident that suddenly occurs and the emotion then hits us, to others it may seem like an over reaction, but to us it is very real.

Emotions can often be overpowering, we are an emotional people, that’s how we were made. We each have our fears and concerns, some of which people know about. But we also have hidden fears that others don’t know or understand. Sometimes we “put on a brave face” for others to see when inside we are hurting.

There is a scene in Harry Potter films when the students have to confront a “Boggart” which assumes the shape of your deepest fear. The students have to confront it and deal with it by making it into something funny or ridiculous. But they also do this in front of the whole class. As a scene in the film, it is quite revealing about each character to see what they fear. It made me wonder what would be my deepest fear, but also how would I feel about others around me knowing my deepest fear.

Emotion is powerful, but not only negative emotions but also positive emotions. Tears and laughter can be for so many reasons, both positive and negative. We may be crying with laughter as we find something so funny, but then it may be hysterical laughter and tears from fear.

There are times when we need someone to calm us down, to bring us back from an overwhelming emotion. Sometimes children will get so excited about something their whole behaviour changes, it seems like you cant get through. They need some calming words.

The disciples, who were experienced fisherman, were once out at sea with Jesus when a storm came that was so strong that these fisherman were afraid for their lives. Jesus was fast asleep. They were panicking and shouted to Jesus to wake him up. Jesus calmly woke up and saw what was going on, then told the wind and rain to stop and the sea to stop rolling the boat all over the place. As He spoke, the storm went away. The disciples were amazed. (You can read about this in Luke Chapter 8)

Lets remember that Jesus can bring a calm to us, maybe physically or emotionally, that will bring us peace and an assurance that He is watching over us, He loves us and He will care for us.

 

'It All Depends On How You Look At It' - 11/02/21

Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. In fact, a moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.

Bill Bryson, Notes from a Big Country

Bill Bryson is a travel writer who injects no small sense of humour into his travel writings. An American who has lived in Britain for many years, His book, Notes from a Big Country are the results of him travelling round the USA, and looking at things from a unique and often funny point of view.

This may seem a very strange quote to start sunrise, but it really got me thinking. The same animal, yet seen entirely differently by two different people.

We have all seen those very clever pictures which can show different images, depending on how we look at it. is it a duck or a lady, is it a man or a dog? The answer is that the picture is both images, its just how you look at it.

It’s the same with situations, we can all be presented with the same situation, but see it in very different ways. For example, if we were all told we were going camping this evening, some of us would react with delight, where as others would see it as some sort of torture!

The wonderful thing is that God made us all different so that we can help and support each other. 

In Hebrews 10:24, it says

Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, spurring each other on.

So, as Bill Bryson put it, if you are looking at the day ahead and are fearful, thinking of it as a wild and ferocious beast, know that there are people in the Melling community that will come alongside you and help you through, you only have to ask. And if this is a good day today, take time to encourage someone else and help them through, for we all need a hand sometimes, and to see things from a different point of view.

 'Are You Listening To Me' - 10/02/21

How many times have you heard this? Often the person asking the question is frustrated by your lack of response, and the fact that you’re in a different room apparently doesn’t excuse you from hearing every word. There can be many reasons why messages don’t get through; you’re too far away or the TV is too loud; you’re on the phone or lost in your own thoughts. Often when the message is eventually received, it is not welcome because it means you have to do something or go somewhere, or stop doing something or answer questions. Occasionally it’s a reminder that you haven’t done what you promised. It could of course be a message that makes you smile a “Thank you” or the message we all love to hear, “Dinner’s ready.” The way we listen and react to people can demonstrate respect or lack of it, and if we are the speaker, the way people respond to our words will probably determine our opinion of them.  Conversation can make or break a relationship. In our attempt to survive lockdown, one of the most powerful and frequent activities is talking to each other. And listening to each other. In the Bible stories we are constantly reminded that one way or another, God spoke and individuals listened. God said, “Build a boat” and Noah did; God said, “Leave your home” and Abraham did; Jesus said, “Walk on the water with me” and Peter did (but not for long). They all had the freedom to ignore God if they wanted to, just like we can. The Bible says, ’If you hear God speak today, don’t be stubborn.’ When friends call us on the phone, usually they don’t need to introduce themselves because you recognise their voices. How good are we at recognising the voice of God? Jesus said, “My sheep respond to my voice, and I know who they are. They follow me.” In our conversations with our friends, let’s listen with patience and concern and when we are speaking let’s do it with compassion and humility. In these difficult days, one of the few things we can do legally is talking, so why not pick up the phone and start a conversation that could transform someone’s day, and maybe yours. We need our friends and they need us. Make a call or take a call. 

 

'A Building Project' - 09/02/21

 “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” CS Lewis.

In the not too distant future, we will be getting some work done on our house. An extension will be put on and significant changes made to upstairs. Me and the chicks are really looking forward to this. It’s going to be great when it’s all done. But actually I have to confess, it’s going to be an absolute nightmare while it’s getting done. The dust, the noise, the complete mess and disruption it’s going to be a test of our patience to say the least. And there will quite likely be times when I will ask myself ‘is this worth it!?’ Of course it will be worth it, but significant change and improvement can sometimes come at a cost.

We’ve  all made mistakes in life. Some of us have made huge big ones, others have got away with less painful ones. Realising our mistakes and doing something positive about them is good, but sometimes changing habits and admitting we are wrong or needing help doesn’t come easy to us. Psalm 139 finds David saying these brave words,

‘Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life’. 

     David knew he’d made mistakes and wanted to make it right, even if that meant going through painful lessons. If you’re anything like me, then you’ve made some wrong choices and haven’t always been wise!! God is only a God of love. He wants us to learn from our mistakes and make better life choices, because He desires the best for us. It can be just like a messy building project, but it will definitely be worth it. 

 

 'Seize The Day' - 08/02/21

‘Now is the time to seize the day’ 

Broadway Musical ‘Newsies’ (Jack Feldman/Alan Menkin)

One of my chicks is a walking encyclopaedia on all things Broadway. About 18 months ago she introduced us to the musical ‘Newsies’. This musical is based on the 1899 newsboys strike in New York. They were fighting for fair pay and better conditions for the children in New York. It’s quite simply a brilliant musical and as they all sing, ‘Now is the time to seize the day’, you can’t help but feel the sense of achievement and triumph as they take control and bring about positive change. 

Mental health has become a huge concern in our nation over recent years. Thankfully there’s far more understanding of mental health conditions than there’s ever been, and far more help available. This time of lockdown has affected people in different ways. While some people have sailed through, relatively unscathed. For others, stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression have taken hold. While we are all looking forward to ‘that day’ when we can all be back together again, what about now? What about today? The song continues,

‘... Minute by minute that's how you win it

We will find a way
But let us seize the day...’
Today may be a great day for you. But maybe it’s not? Maybe today is a day of struggle? If that’s the case, then how about being kind to yourself? How about taking things minute by minute? Taking time to stop and notice the good that is around you. The ‘glimmers of hope’ in the midst of your struggle. Congratulate yourself on what you’ve achieved. Some days that may simply be that you got dressed! And let’s not forget to look out for each other! A quick text or phone call can quite literally turn somebody’s day around! 

Jesus knew all about difficult times. He was known as, ‘the man of sorrows’. That’s why He said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest’.

So maybe, instead of dreading each day we can choose in some small way to welcome Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...taking time to smell the coffee, go for a walk, admire the flowers breaking through the ground, or simply getting dressed, knowing that the God who loves you, understands your struggles and wants to help you through them, and to help you ‘seize the day’

https://youtu.be/Q5wvimJFi9s

 

'Alive and Kicking' - 07/02/21

I have recently been asked to teach a student an A level in  Sociology in just 16 months , on probably no more than an hour a week. That student is going to have to work so hard between lessons just to keep up and yet, she wants that qualification and is willing to work for it. We live in a world where mental ability is regarded so highly, revered, and rewarded. Each day we are bombarded with information from experts in their fields and yes, it is good to learn, to study and we need experts. However, we also need hearts, and these are less easily trained. You cannot complete a degree in compassion; you cannot study a GCSE in love; you are unlikely to be consulted as being an expert in kindness. In Celtic prayer, stress is put on these words: “Thou and thou only the first in my heart”, from the hymn, ‘Be thou my vision’. Love of God is our first priority, and God should be first in our hearts; but out of that should flow love for our neighbour. Love & compassion are not dependent on learning. The good Samaritan only needs to know where the sore is, so that it can be anointed with oil; but the choice has to be made to cross the road to where the hurting soul is. Just like my student, effort and commitment may be required. Sometimes, often perhaps, love is a choice that we make. However, if we can only respond just a little then our hearts are still alive and kicking and even in a pandemic there is hope. 

Jesus told us to: "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.” (Matthew 22 :37 & 38)

 

 'Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day' - 06/02/21

We do seem to spend a fair amount of time looking forward in hope, hope that we wont get Covid, hope that we will be able to see people face to face, hope for our friends and family.

Hope is known to be a powerful thing which we cling to. The absence of hope is a powerful thing too and is used to oppress people and make them submissive.

This week saw the sad passing of Captain Sir Tom Moore, I did like his positive attitude with his saying “Tomorrow will be a good day”. He was not discounting how good or bad today had been, but always remembered that tomorrow will be a good day. Each of us may be hoping for many different things for today or at some point in the future.

In Christian teaching, we talk about Faith, Hope and Love, Jesus’ love for us and his sacrifice gave us a way to back to God. Our faith in this sacrifice gives us a hope for an eternal life, for a God who will comfort us and provide for our needs. This is a message we can read in the Bible when Paul was writing encouragements to Timothy:

"Put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."

1 TIMOTHY 6:17 (NIV)

Through the good times and the bad times, whilst we hope for things in the future for us or for others, lets also remember that we can have a bigger hope in God.

 

 'Seeing' - 05/02/21

Earlier this week I stumbled upon a book that I haven’t looked at for many years. It’s one of those, “Magic Eye” books. Does anybody remember them? They were very popular about thirty years ago. The idea behind them was that you looked at the picture displayed on the page, which was usually nothing more than a pretty pattern, but when you looked at in just the right way, another, three dimensional, picture would reveal itself…as if by magic.

Some people could do it and some people couldn’t. It all depended upon whether you could allow your brain to see beyond the surface and decipher the real image beneath.

For a very long time, I could not make it work. I remember being asked to leave a book shop because I had been staring at a Magic Eye book for about half an hour, desperately trying to unravel the mystery. The assistant politely pointed out that the book shop was not a library and that if I wanted to read the book, I should buy it. My explanation that I would buy the book once I could actually read it, fell on deaf ears.

Apparently, the hidden image is made by creating a depth map, which is overlaid by a two dimensional repeating pattern; produced using a computer algorithm. When the viewer looks at the two dimensional image, the repeating pattern feeds the brain the depth information encoded into it and the brain perceives the hidden three dimensional image. Get the picture? No, nor did I for a long time… until one day, in another book shop, “Eureka!”. I actually saw the three dimensional dolphin leaping from the water. True to my word, I bought the book… Waterstones’ gain, WH Smith’s loss.

We all view things differently. To some of us, there are mysteries that we simply don’t see. They are there, but we just can’t see them. In some cases, it’s because we believe that if we can’t see it with our own eyes it isn’t actually there. We rebel against the notion that we simply can’t see the full spectrum of all that there is. In scientific terms, we say that we can see light, but we can’t see ultra-violet and infrared light, yet we still claim to be able to see. Similarly, we can see the physical world, but we can’t see the spiritual.  So, we claim to understand the world in which we live, without being able to actually see an important part of it.

Just like the Magic Eye pictures, perhaps we need to look at things in a different way. Maybe we need to stop viewing things the way we have always done; the way the world would have us look, and look at things through a different lens. The lens of Jesus. As the song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim; In the light of His glory and grace”.

 'Home' - 04/02/21

“When I speak of home, I speak of the place where in default of a better--those I love are gathered together; and if that place where a gypsy's tent, or a barn, I should call it by the same good name notwithstanding.”

Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens

Nicholas Nickleby is the story of a man called Nicholas Nickleby, who has to leave his home in Devon and go to London to work and provide for his mother and sister after his father dies. He has many adventurers, despite his uncle attempting to thwart him at every turn.

In this book, Nicholas has a very clear grasp of what is ‘home’. Despite having to move several hundred miles from the country to the city, it doesn’t matter to him where he lives. Home is where the people he loves are.

Many of us have moved to a new house more than once, some of us have moved cities and even countries, and it can certainly take some getting used to. Different area, different shops, different people, even a different accent or phrases can all take time to adjust to

I remember when I first moved to Liverpool, I couldn’t understand why people were telling me about their make up all the time. I then realised that being ‘made up’ was nothing to do with eyeshadow, but about how happy they were!!

It can take time to feel at home somewhere, but I do believe that like Nicholas Nickleby, it doesn’t matter where you live, to be with those whom you love is to be home. To know that you can be yourself with people, and that you are loved and cared for and accepted.

In the bible, when Paul writes to the Romans, he explains in chapter 12 verse 10, 15 and 16 that the church should be that kind of community

"Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another."

In other words, church should be home. It should be a community that people feel at home. A place where everyone is loved and accepted. This is exactly what Melling community aims to be. A wonderful, caring, funny, thoughtful, kind, a little bit bonkers, amazing home for anyone who wants to be a part of it. A place where people can wear Pyjamas to church and that’s fine! Let’s pray and continue to love one another so that this wonderful family continues to grow and be home for people.

 

  'Be My Shelter' - 03/02/21

On Social media, after reading her book, I follow an amazing woman called Ursula Martin. Her posts are called ‘One Woman Walks’. That is all she does, raising awareness for ovarian cancer as she walks. I hate camping. I do not like the faff of setting up and taking down a tent, nor do I like sleeping in the cold. This woman does this most nights. However, occasionally she will find a shelter in rocks or a rundown mountain hut. She is usually over the moon at this ready-made shelter. In Celtic Daily Prayer, as we go through some of the verses of ‘Be Thou My Vision’, we come across this line:

 ‘Thou my souls shelter

And Thou my high tower.’

In a shelter you are passive, and the shelter does the job of ‘sheltering’. You have to stay in the shelter and not venture out until you are rested, refreshed and ready to go on again. In the shelter you can rest, you can be quiet, you can be safe. We have been given these verses before but maybe this week, we need to find time seek out Gods shelter. We could even put it into our diary and give ourselves permission to just stop, be still and rest, for half an hour, a morning or even a whole day.  Then, when rested, we can venture out again and continue walking with Him.

Matthew 11:28-30

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Home

On Social media, after reading her book, I follow an amazing woman called Ursula Martin. Her posts are called ‘One Woman Walks’. That is all she does, raising awareness for ovarian cancer as she walks. I hate camping. I do not like the faff of setting up and taking down a tent, nor do I like sleeping in the cold. This woman does this most nights. However, occasionally she will find a shelter in rocks or a rundown mountain hut. She is usually over the moon at this ready-made shelter. In Celtic Daily Prayer, as we go through some of the verses of ‘Be Thou My Vision’, we come across this line:

 ‘Thou my souls shelter

And Thou my high tower.’

In a shelter you are passive, and the shelter does the job of ‘sheltering’. You have to stay in the shelter and not venture out until you are rested, refreshed and ready to go on again. In the shelter you can rest, you can be quiet, you can be safe. We have been given these verses before but maybe this week, we need to find time seek out Gods shelter. We could even put it into our diary and give ourselves permission to just stop, be still and rest, for half an hour, a morning or even a whole day.  Then, when rested, we can venture out again and continue walking with Him.

Matthew 11:28-30

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 

 'Take a Seat' - 02/02/21

'What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?... faith by itself isn’t enough.  Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.'

James Ch2 v14

A couple of years ago we had a house full of family – probably celebrating a birthday or some other event.  As is the custom, our guests expected to be able to sit down – there’s nothing strange so far, except that as my mum sat down in one of the chairs, one of the legs gave way and she ended in a heap on the floor!  I should stress at this point that it was a very old chair and in no way does this incident reflect on my mum, however, it did naturally cause a great deal of laughter amongst children and adults alike.  My mum had approached the chair with confidence, it was a confidence founded on faith that the chair was good and solid with all 4 legs intact – the chair (not me!) let her down.

Sometimes I’ve heard people say that they’re not a person of faith – I beg to differ, because without faith we wouldn’t ever sit on a chair expecting it to hold us; breathe in expecting there to be air around us or take a step forward expecting gravity to hold us.

We all express our faith by our actions, the question is – what, or who, do you have faith in?   To have faith in God is more than simply saying that you believe in his existence, it has to change your behaviour.  The Bible is filled with great characters, men and women of enormous faith but what sets them apart is how they allowed their faith to determine their actions.  “It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood… It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance… It way by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for 3 months when he was born… It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger.  He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.”  The list goes on but all expressed their faith by their actions; their actions were the evidence of their faith.

A modern translation of the Bible puts it like this: “Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” 

We still have the chair, complete with a new leg and remarkably my mum sits in it with all of the confidence of someone who has every faith that it won’t collapse again.  Perhaps that’s an expression of faith in the chair or perhaps it’s an expression of faith in us?  But what is far more remarkable is that every day her faith in God is expressed through the love and care she shows to those around her.  How will you express your faith today?

 'I'll Tell You The Truth' - 01/01/21

When photography was invented in 1826 it only took a decade for it to sweep around the world. People instantly realised that it was different to painting because painters could use their imagination, even when painting a landscape or a city scene. They could add extra trees in a field or remove dead dogs in the street. But photography only told the truth. It took some decades before newspapers were able to reproduce photographs and that transformed peoples understanding of the world. They could see what Buffalo Bill really looked like, or man’s first powered flight three feet up in the air; they could share the emotion of the night when Toscanini conducted his last concert in floods of tears. They knew where they were with photos because they never told lies. You may have noticed that things have changed a little; even children can change reality to fantasy in a moment on their phones at the same time as they are studying history in school on Zoom. It’s good to know however that newspaper photographers get sacked if they submit retouched images for publication, they are after all news photographers. There have been many issues in the last four years concerning ‘fake news’ but maybe that will die down now. 

Do you know what was Jesus’ most frequent expression? It was, “I tell you the truth.” He used it on many occasions as He taught His disciples and followers facts that they needed to know. He talked about relationships and faith, our future destination and our need to trust Him; He talked about the religious leaders errors and the worlds’ future. He demonstrated His right to speak Gods’ truth by performing miracles and showing compassion on the weak, sick, and lowly who everybody else ignored or walked past. Jesus described Himself like this, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Like me, you must be fed up with fake news and misinformation spread all over social media, not to mention the varying statements from political parties, it’s difficult to know who we can trust. We constantly have to make choices between truth and lies. Maybe we could start by looking at the claims of Jesus who said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I’m weary of being tied up by doubt and confusion, I’d rather be free.