July '21 Sunrises

'Do Your Best' - 31/07/21

There has been some great excitement watching the Olympics in our house. No matter what the sport, each person competing has been working so hard just to even get there. Some of the stories that you hear in the reports about the struggles that people have been through, the people around them supporting them. One of the unusual things about this Olympics is that there is no crowd giving encouragement and cheering people on.

 

I did hear one of the coaches describing how he works with his team and they aim to reach perfection. However, he also tells them that he knows that perfection is almost impossible to achieve but that in striving for perfection, they can then reach excellence and the best that they can do.

 

It is difficult sometimes when people expect things to be done in a certain way or to achieve a certain standard. However, all we should ask is that people do their best, it does not always matter how they do it or how well they do if they have done their best.

 

As a Christian, there are many things that we can learn from the Bible about how we should approach the things we do. In Philippians we are reminded that “we can do all things through Him who strengthens me” and in Colossians “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as if for the Lord, not for those around you”.

 

As we go about our lives, remember the reason why we do things and that in giving it our best, we are respecting those around us and the God who loves us.

'Hooton Crossroads' - 30/07/21

My Grandad had a saying; “If there is a right way to do it, do it the right way”. He didn't simply say it, he lived it. Being my Grandad, he would often take it to an extreme for his own amusement.

As a senior citizen he had a bus pass. This bus pass was issued by Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive and would take him from Liverpool as far as Hooton Crossroads. Now, my Grandad had a cousin who lived in Ruabon in North Wales. For the geographically challenged amongst you, Ruabon is beyond Hooton Crossroads. Not a problem for my Grandad. The cousin in question had been in poor health for many years and was wheelchair bound. He was therefore unable to use the tubes full of tokens that served as the equivalent of a bus pass, which Transport for Wales insisted on supplying every month; despite his repeated insistence that he didn't want them. These tokens were valid from Ruabon as far as Hooton Crossroads and were passed to my Grandad, so that he could make the entire journey using a combination of bus pass and bus tokens.

So, when the fancy took him, my Grandad would take a bus to the Pier Head (remember when you could take a bus to the Pier Head?). He would then hop on to the ferry to Woodside to catch the Crosville bus to Hooton Crossroads; all using his bus pass. As the bus approached this Checkpoint Charlie of concessionary travel, he would ring the bell to alert the driver that he wished to get off. Thanking the driver, as he always did, he would step off the bus, only to make a one hundred and eighty degree turn and step back on, where he would proffer the required number of tokens to complete the journey to Ruabon – return fare of course. When I asked him why he performed this amusing ritual every time he made the journey, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Because it's the right way to do it”.

We have all spent more than a year trying to do things the right way. The right way has changed as Covid regulations have altered to adjust to the changing effects of the virus. We now find ourselves in a position where there are no Covid regulations and we have been asked to make our own decision as to what the right way actually is. Everybody is entitled to do what makes them feel comfortable and this in itself makes some people feel uncomfortable.

It has always been my practice to consult the Bible when faced with a decision regarding what the right way might be. There is nothing in the Bible that expressly refers to Covid regulations, social distancing and the wearing of masks, but there is an overriding principle that has guided me whatever the issue, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Jesus gives His disciples this command just before He is taken from them to be crucified. He knew they would be adrift and unsure of what to do and how to behave. He tells them that they must love one another and in so doing they will not only demonstrate that they are His disciples, but will be able to support and care for each other in an uncertain time. It seems that we would be wise to follow the same command. Why? Because it's the right way to do it.

 

 

'Teapots' - 29/07/21

Remember, my darling, one man’s rubbish might be another man’s gold. ‘We keep seeking, hoping to find that elusive buried treasure that will enrich our lives, and when we pull up a teapot rather than a gleaming jewel, we must continue to search.’ 

Lucinda Riley, The Butterfly Room, 

The Butterfly Room is a story of the 70 year old Posy, who makes the difficult decision to sell her family home, despite the wonderful memories she has there. However, things don’t necessarily go to plan.

This quote is from when Posy remembers an important life lesson, taught to her by her father. The idea that we don’t always get what we are hoping for, but that we should never stop searching.

I have been really enjoying the Olympics over the past week. The effort and determination that the competitors have put in to reach the top of their chosen sport is amazing. When I see the medal ceremonies, I think of all the hard work that has gone in to reach that point. 

The UK has 373 athletes competing at the Olympics, and all of them will have put in years of hard work and sacrifice to get there. Not all of them will get a medal though. Some of them will have got a teapot rather than the treasure they were hoping for. I think particularly of Jade Jones, whose Olympic journey lasted only 6minutes, despite the years of hard work. 

So how do you deal with things when you were hoping for don’t work out?

In the bible, Paul describes how difficult things have been for him. He wrote these words in prison, arrested for telling people about Jesus. He should have been crushed, but instead he writes to encourage others not to give up, and explains that it is God who gives him the strength to keep going:

2 Corinthians 4:7-10

The real power comes from God and not from us. We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again. 

So today, whether you are given some treasure or, a teapot, know that you are loved by the most amazing God. And be encouraged that with Gods strength, you can keep going.

'Good-looking Thoughts' - 28/07/21

A couple of years ago I decided to join Instagram. This is a social media platform where you share a photo or image and add a caption or comment. I’ve got to confess I’m no fan of social media, but I’ve had an absolute ball with Instagram!! I don’t have many followers and I don’t follow many either!  Beyoncé has 150 million followers! Cristiano Ronaldo has 231 million! I have 99. Just 99. And I’m happy. If somebody likes my post they show it by clicking on the heart! Once, nearly 40 people liked my post! It took me all day to calm down from the excitement! The truth is, I don’t do this for the ‘likes’ I do this because it’s just a bit of fun. But for some, it’s not quite so much fun! In today’s world there’s more pressure than ever to look a certain way, dress a certain way, stand a certain way, pout in a certain way and then provide selfies of all the above! It’s easy to say, ‘don’t worry’, ‘who cares what people think?’ But when society says you’re too tall, too small, your nose is too long, your eyes aren’t big enough, your hips are too wide, your hairs too curly, you don’t suit that colour and you need to pout, there’s a temptation, at any age, to feel inadequate. To not feel great. A bit of a mistake, or misfit. 

 

In the bible, Paul wrote to one of the churches telling the people that they were, ‘God’s works of art’. Can you believe that? We’re a work of art. God doesn’t make mistakes, so who are we to tell others that ‘they don’t look right’? Who are we to tell ourselves that? Whatever our age! 

 

God told Samuel when the people of Israel were looking for a king, ‘...man looks on the outward appearance, the Lord looks on the heart’.

 

Ronald Dahl in his book The Twits put it like this, ‘If a person has ugly thoughts it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly that you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of you like sunbeams and you will always be lovely’. 

God looks on the heart, our beauty comes from within. So I guess I can stop pouting now!

'Trust the Artist' - 27/07/21

I’m looking at a painting that I’ve just hung on my wall. It’s a very striking image of a bird’s wings from the back, all you can see are wings. And they are very colourful, not like anything I’ve ever seen in my garden. It was painted by a teenage girl who is fed up, bored, and feeling a little lonely. She started with a blank white canvas which, if it could speak, would probably ask for a beautiful, colourful, and bright image to be applied to its empty and barren surface. Instead our teenage artist covered up all the white with black paint, maybe that’s how she felt. It didn’t look promising, I’m sure the canvas began worrying about its future. It was left for days to dry. It was black for too long. Then one day, I’m not sure if it was morning, afternoon, or evening, (this young painter lady has been known to paint all through the night while the family slept), anyway she picked up the doomed canvas and began to bring it, and herself, to life. I can imagine the canvas being excited as finally the black began to be covered with a range of wild colours and shapes. Now that it’s finished and on my wall, people look at it and comment on the colours and the artist’s skill in producing an image that we can all recognise and appreciate. And in its head the canvas is saying “Ah shucks, thank you, I do my best.”

 

 Sometimes we can feel like that black and despondent canvas as we look at our own condition and lifestyle. We wish things were different, brighter, more colourful, and worth looking at. In the Bible, Job was a healthy, wealthy, happy family man, but Satan said to God, ‘Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’ So God gave Satan freedom to do whatever he wished to Job. Satan removed Job’s wealth, houses, family, and health. He became the ugliest creature you can imagine. If the teenage artist painted a picture of Job, it wouldn’t go on my wall. The canvas would be too dark and depressing to look at.

 

 But then God took the brush and began, like our young painter, to cover up the darkness with light and colour, and produce a work of art. At the end of the story we read these words, ‘The Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.’ What a picture!

 

Job trusted God to transform the ugliness and darkness of the canvas of his life, and God can do the same for us if we trust Him like Job did.

 

 Remember, God hasn’t finished with you yet. Give Him time. Trust the artist.

 

'The Beauty of Nature' - 24/07/21

I have been fortunate to holiday in some beautiful places across the UK and often have some good weather, even for the UK ! It is sometimes easy to forget and sadly some people have not yet discovered some of the fantastic places in the UK that we can go to and enjoy. From beautiful beaches or glorious lakes and lochs or awesome mountainscapes ( and I don’t use that description lightly).

It is good to remember the beauty that is around us and that God created this wonderful environment, with all of its intricate details of plants and wildlife. The careful balance of nature where each part carefully fits in with those around it.

 

To be able to sit quietly, to look at the beautiful landscape around us, listen to the birds and insects as they go about their business. It brings a sense of calm and peace that is very distinct.

 

We should also remember the beautiful people around us, again made beautifully by God, who we should sometimes just sit and enjoy their company.

 

We are reminded in bible, in the book of Colossians

Christ himself is the Creator who made everything in heaven and earth, the things we can see and the things we can’t;; all were made by Christ for his own use and glory. 17 He was before all else began and it is his power that holds everything together. 

Take a few moments now, to remember how beautiful God made the world around us and the people in it whom he loves.

'Applause' - 23/07/21

I recently had the privilege and pleasure of spending a week in St Ives. The weather was beautiful, the scenery was a delight and a good time was had by all. For those of you unfamiliar with the town, it sits on a small peninsula in Cornwall and is blessed with seven beaches on its doorstep; all in turn visited by the type of blue/green waters normally associated with the cote d'Azur. Because these beaches are dotted around a peninsula, they all face in a different direction and have different characteristics. My favourite beach is Porthmeor; it has the best waves for surfing and faces west. Now, the waves are important, particularly if you have arrived fully clad in a wetsuit with a board under your arm. In that circumstance, the last thing you want to see is a perfectly calm sea, a few children fishing for crabs in a rock pool and a solitary ice cream van. No; what you want is a roaring tide and the sight of other boarders riding the surf for all they are worth.

However, the west facing aspect is equally special. I imagine that most people reading this missive live on the west coast and will be familiar with the joy of watching the sunset; particularly the joy of watching the sun set into the sea. Personally, I can't imagine living inland, or worse still living on the east coast, where the sun rises instead of sets... it just wouldn't seem right.

 

Given the hordes of people that collected every night on this beach to watch the sun go down, I must conclude that others share my delight in watching this daily spectacle. Whether sat quietly at a table at the bar on the beach, or on blankets on the sand, people gathered together and enjoyed this wondrous sight.

 

On one particular evening, just as the last crimson sliver disappeared over the horizon, a spontaneous round of applause broke out. People with no other way to express their wonder and gratitude at this beautiful sight, simply began to clap. It was as if the show was over and they needed to show their appreciation.

 

It struck me that, whether they realised it or not, they were all giving thanks to God for His wonderful work of creation. It also struck me that we probably all take it for granted a little too often. If we stop to think about and admire the works of His hands and the staggering natural beauty that surrounds us, we might find that we too break into applause. “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good”. It seems that many people agree that it still is.

'Jellyfish' - 22/07/21

If you're holding someone close enough, you can be the shoulder and the crier.”
The Switch, Beth O'Leary. 

 

The switch is a book which describes what happens when Eileen, a pensioner from a small Yorkshire village swaps homes for two months with her granddaughter Leena who is a London executive. 

 

This quote is one description of how good friends should support each other. They are so close, they can be both supportive and supported when the need arises. 

 

There are many examples of how good friends should be. I recently was presented with a key ring from a really good friend with these words on it:

 

‘if you were stung by a Jelly fish I would totally pee on you!!’. 

I found this quite funny but really touching, as it was another example of how good friends should be, prepared to go the extra mile, even if it is a bit gross!

 

The bible describes how we should treat others, and how we should live in Christian community with those around us. Pauls letter to the Romans, chapter 12, gives a big list of how it should work. I have listed a few things here:

 

Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves……Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer……Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

 

Please take time to read the rest of the chapter, as it has many more great ideas.

 

Whoever we meet today, lets take time to develop the kind of friendships that God would want, the supportive and loving and going the extra mile kind of friendships, so that we can develop the wonderful loving community that demonstrates Gods love to all.

'Chicken Run' - 21/07/21

I’m on chicken duty this week! My sister’s family are all away so I’m the ‘responsible adult’ in charge of Winston, Hilda, Juanita, Deidre, Harley and Quinn. 

Over the last two days I’ve started to discover the different personalities of these birds. Each of them funny and quirky in their own way. And Winston, the enormous, amorous, rooster rules the roost. He’s funny. But I’m not sure the hens think that! Having a very large rooster land on you first thing in the morning is not what they find enjoyable! 

There’s more chickens in the world than there are people. There’s billions of these clever, funny, common birds. But every single one of them matter to God. And if God cares about the birds of the air, the fish in the sea and the animals on land, then how much more does He care for us? 

Jesus was teaching one day and said these words,

 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

As I write this Sunrise, the chickens are in bed. I’ll be back there early in the morning to let them out to spend the day pecking and strutting and doing what chickens do. And when I see them I’ll be reminded of the God who cares about chickens! And I’ll give thanks to Him all over again that He cares for me even more. Cares about my life, cares about my well-being, cares about my worries. Thankyou God. 

'Freedom' - 20/07/21

On Monday the government finally lifted all restrictions that had been put in place during the course of the pandemic and people began to refer to it as ‘freedom day’.  People had longed for this day to come when they could gather unrestricted by social distancing or face masks or sitting outdoors regardless of the weather.  There were reports of some gathering in nightclubs and venues at midnight, the very moment of the lifting of the restrictions, so that they could celebrate their new freedom together while others held parties and set off fireworks.  But I can’t help but wonder if these actions are the definition of real freedom?  

 

We have all lived under restrictions for the last 16 months and while it was supported by the law, obedience of those restrictions was actually an act of love and care for one another.  We showed we cared for one another by doing all we could to keep one another well.  We may have felt our freedom had been taken from us but the reality was that we continued to express our freedom through our actions towards one another.

 

The Bible tells us “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life.  Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.  Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.  For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.  That’s an act of true freedom.”

 

When I read these verses today I found them particularly appropriate for the situation we find ourselves in – we can use our new-found freedom to behave in any way we want and potentially end up losing it again, or we can use our freedom to continue to express our love, care and compassion for one another and hopefully see the fruit of that freedom grow over the coming weeks and months.  

Nelson Mandela had his freedom taken from him for 27 years but after finally being released from prison he had this to say about his freedom: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  Today may have been called ‘freedom day’ but we can experience freedom every day regardless of our circumstances when we live in the way that God intended us to – caring, serving and loving one another.

'New For Old' - 19/07/21

Have you seen that TV programme in which people turn up at a very posh workshop where very talented crafty people can repair anything that’s brought to them? If you have watched more than once you will realise that no matter how worn, disfigured, and frankly useless an item is, there will always be one of the repair team who will say, “Leave it with me and I’ll see what I can do.” People smile and walk away knowing that when they see their historic teddy bear, garden chair, telescope, Elizabethan lute, or running shoes, they will be as good as new. You then see this family heirloom passed from one repairer to another as they each demonstrate their particular skill whatever it is, mechanical, electrical, painting, fabric repair, etc. As the process continues the sad relic that has seen better days is transformed into a shiny, bright, polished version of its original self. Faded lettering is rescued and then covered up with fresh paint and gold leaf. After all of that, it is covered with a cloth until the proud but nervous owners arrive for the re-launch. Then the item which they haven’t used or seen for 63 years prior to finding it in the attic is uncovered. Sometimes tears flow, sometimes there is joy, and occasionally an almost total lack of recognition. There was a pair of running shoes that were used in the 1936 Olympics and they were polished and stitched back to perfection and the grandchild of the athlete was delighted with them and then shocked when the original and un-repairable soles were given back separately. So we see that not everything can be restored totally to its new condition. 

The Bible talks of people, not things, being transformed into new beings. For those who can call themselves ‘Christians’ because they have faith in Christ and genuinely follow Jesus, St. Paul tells us, ‘Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. This is not a patch-up job; it’s not a polish and re-paint process, It’s not about our appearance, it’s about our nature and character. Jesus said, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” This is the sign that we are new people. Has anyone noticed? 

'Shout To the Lord' - 18/07/21

In 1993 an Australian lady sat down by herself to pray. She wanted to know God’s peace. As she was praying she opened her Bible in Psalms and read the words, ‘shout to the Lord’. As she sat there reading and praying she began to create a tune on her old, out of tune piano. Over the following days this song continued to play in her head as she gradually put it down on paper.

Darlene Zschech was incredibly shy. When she went to her church friends who were all very musically talented, she made them turn their backs on her while she struggled to find the confidence to play her new song. 

Within days it was being sung in their church and within weeks other local churches were singing it also. 

Now, almost 30 years later, Shout to the Lord has been sung millions of times, in many different languages, right across the world. A beautiful, worshipful song of gratitude to Jesus, by a shy lady on an out of tune piano. 

Click the link below to listen to Darlene Zschech sing the song she wrote.

https://youtu.be/y78aKBa917I

'There's a Hole In My Bucket' - 17/07/21

Some of you may have seen the series on Amazon Prime TV about Jeremy Clarkson becoming a farmer. I think Mr Clarkson is something of a marmite type of person but this series definitely shows a different side to him. He genuinely works hard at trying to farm the land. He does also make some of his own interesting decisions about how to do it, but those around who really know farming do tell him very plainly what they think of his ideas! He does show concern for the countryside, his sheep, his chickens and his local community.

 

This week I heard a story about another farmer with a small farm. In the summer he had to carry water from a nearby river to keep his plants watered. He had 2 large buckets which he would fill and carry to his crop. The problem was that one of his buckets was cracked and was leaking water in the journey. As the weather was very hot, the little bucket became sad because he knew that he was leaking. The farmer saw he was sad and asked him what was wrong. When the farmer heard, he picked up the little bucket and walked down to the river. They did not collect any water but simply walked back on their usual route. As they did, the farmer pointed out all the plants and flowers that were growing on the path back to the field. The farmer explained that the leaky bucket was helping all those plants and made the walk from the river to the field a beautiful walk.

 

Sometimes, even when we think we may not feel like we can do a good job, we can still help those around us.

 

In our walk with God, sometimes we make mistakes or find that we cant do something by ourselves. But it is not what we do in our strength but what we do with Gods help and guidance. We may feel a bit like a leaky bucket and that we cannot do what we expect, but God will use our abilities and if we live our lives following God, the blessings we receive will leak to others around us.

 

The Bible encourages us in Ephesians “Be careful how you act, these are difficult days. Don’t be fools, be wise, make the most of every opportunity you have for doing good”.

 

Even a leaky bucket provides water on the journey.

'Shining Bright' - 16/07/21

We’ve just had a bit of a change around in our garden.  We needed a new shed so took the opportunity to move it to a new place and put decking in the area where the old shed sat.  Moving things around in our garden is a regular activity – partly because we have a low boredom threshold and want a change and partly because we get things wrong and need to start again.  In the corner of our new decked seating area we’ve hung a new outdoor light so that we can use that area of the garden at any time of day or night.  To be specific, we’ve hung a chandelier.  Now I realise that some of you may have read ‘chandelier’ and thought “really?!  In the garden?!” and you are probably thinking that it surely looks out of place.  Well, yes it kind of does look out of place and I love it!  The fact that tradition says it shouldn’t be there doesn’t make it any less of a functional or useful light, just different. 

 

The Bible tells us that as followers of Jesus we shouldn’t be afraid of being seen as different, in fact, we should strive to be seen as being different from those around us.  In the book of Romans we read these words: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognise what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

 

We live in a world where differences are viewed with great caution and often ridiculed but I think it would be fair to say that that is indeed simply the immaturity of those around us shining through and trying to drag us down.  As Maya Angelou once said “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be”.  God doesn’t ask for ‘normal’, whatever our culture may decide that means, He invites us to be amazing.  God calls us to bring light where there is darkness; peace to unrest; kindness to hardship; joy to sadness and love to the unloved.

 

Let’s never be afraid to stand out as different.  In a world that at times can appear to be filled with darkness, anger and hatred, let’s make a stand to fill our small corner with light, joy and love.  Let’s be more chandelier!

'Be Inspired' - 15/07/21

“In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Great Expectations tells the story of an orphan called Pip, and the situations he encounters as he grows up.
Like Pip in the novel, we all encounter injustice at times. Whether it happens to you, or to others, it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
Within hours of England’s European cup final, in Withington, Manchester, words of hate and racial discrimination were sprayed on a wall, defacing the previous mural there. That mural was of course, a piece of art celebrating Marcus Rashford and his contribution to ensuring that children did not go hungry in 2020 by raising the profile and pressuring politicians to continue the provision of free school meals throughout the school holidays.
It was an injustice. The local community had a choice. They could join in with the hate, they could have pretended it wasn’t happening and ignore it, or they could choose to act.
Hundreds of them chose to act. They covered the hate filled words with words of love and encouragement. Words that encouraged and supported both Marcus and all England players, and also words of love and empowerment that stood against racism and injustice. Over 700 people then came together at the site of the mural for an anti-racism demonstration.
The injustice that had occurred had inspired people to act. The acts of love and support from the community completely obliterated and transformed that hate that had been there. This demonstration and the loving and peaceful way that it was carried out not only inspired me, but reminded me of both this quote from great expectations, where injustice is felt so keenly by Pip, but also the Martin Luther King Quote:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”
The Withington community felt the injustice and they responded with Love. Love that transformed a horrible and unjust situation into a situation of hope and encouragement.
The Bible reminds us in Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
So today, how can you transform an unjust situation into a situation of hope and encouragement. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but let’s pray that we are all inspired to spread love through our communities.

'Don't Be a Skunk' - 14/07/21

You will all have heard of how bad skunk spray can smell, but have you ever smelt it? I have. 25 years ago in Texas. Driving along the road one night when suddenly my nose was attacked with quite possibly the worst smell I have ever encountered. In fact all these years later I can still smell it! Awful awful awful! My nose has never recovered! I can totally understand why other animals are seriously threatened when they encounter a skunk! Nothing and no one wants to experience that smell! 

But interestingly, when skunks are born they can’t produce the bad smell. They have to ‘grow in to it’, learn how to produce it. 

On the contrary, when our babies are born they don’t need any practice in producing numerous stinky nappies every day. They don’t need to learn that.

But there is a different kind of ‘bad smell’ that humans do learn to produce. It’s called prejudice and as one journalist wrote recently, 

‘…it’s one of the worst smells in the world…’

Nelson Mandela wrote these powerful words, 

‘No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.’

As I see news reports and read more and more about the torrent of racial abuse that three of our England footballers have been faced with since Sunday night, I am mindful of Mandela’s quote. How vile, how cruel us humans can learn to be to one another. The smell of prejudice is indeed disgusting.

The Bible says, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’. 

With God there’s no room for prejudice, racism, cruelty, hatred. There’s no room for superiority. 

Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength, AND love your neighbour as you love yourself’. 

Our neighbour is anybody, regardless of skin colour, language, status, religion. No ifs, no buts. 

May our thoughts and words and actions towards ALL people create a beautiful sweet smelling atmosphere, and may we leave it to the skunk to create the foul smell!

'Questions, Questions' - 13/07/21

I have just bought a new laptop because the old one was, well, old. Really ancient by today’s standards of throw-away technology. It has served me well for at least twelve years; I have used it for business, family issues, legal and financial matters, personal photography as well as all the activities for Shoot (our camera club), and all my ‘Sunrises’. It’s amazing how much information it contains, so when it started to get irritable and clumsy I started to get nervous. Just stop for a moment and think what’s on yours; if it died tomorrow, what would you lose and how shocked would you be? Just imagine if you lost ten years of family photos! I know a man who keeps five copies of his computer data in five different locations all of them away from his home, and they are up-dated every day. Now that’s serious business. When I got my shiny new model home and turned it on, I smiled as I looked at the pristine screen and the pretty image on it. Then reality struck; it started asking me questions that I don’t remember being asked all those years ago when my ancient model came to stay. However I could answer them so everything was fine. For a while. Then the questions moved from ‘O’ level to ‘A’ level and the smile faded. Not only could I not answer some, I didn’t even understand what the questions meant. I need to find a eight year old. 

It’s like reading our Bibles, we understand a lot of what we read, but there are some bits that are more difficult to come to terms with and frankly there are passages that are beyond most of us. The great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon was asked how we should deal with these parts of the Bible and he said it’s like eating fish! So there, now you know, it’s simple isn’t it? He explained that when you eat fish there are parts which we cannot digest, like bones, heads, and eyes, so we leave them on the plate and enjoy what we can digest. Most of the really important parts of the Bible are understandable to most people, so let’s read and respond to them and put the rest to one side. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” And He said, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” He also said, “Love one another like I have loved you.” These are not hard to understand, so let’s digest them and leave the difficult bits to Spurgeon.

'A Special Day' - 12/07/21

OK OK settle down now, it’s all over, you can relax. Wimbledon will be back next year (maybe), and the Euro Cup should arrive in 2024 (maybe) but we have all learned that almost nothing is guaranteed. So here we are, it’s Monday and there appears to be nothing particular to look forward to. Boring. Boring. But looking back in history there were many 12th Julys that turned out to be quite significant. It was on 12th July a long time ago that a little boy came into the world and grew up to be Julius Caesar. Mum and Dad couldn’t have predicted that! One of my favourites was 12th July 1854 when George Eastman arrived on the scene and became the man who introduced the first Kodak camera to the world making photography available to everyone. In later years, Amedeo Modigliani and Bill Cosby launched themselves on us on this day in the year. You may have various reactions to some of these. Sadly in 1794 Nelson was careless enough to lose his right eye in battle but his mum was still proud of him. Here’s a question for you; who was born on 12th July 1997 and became a world famous figure? No Googling! I’ll tell you, it was Malala Yousafzai. Think about that, this young lady has startled the world with her courage and determination to stand up for justice and fairness and she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the tender age of 17, the youngest ever. On her first day (Saturday) she was just another child born in Pakistan, nobody could have imagined the journey she would take.
Let’s never de-value a day, whatever our circumstances or feelings. St. Peter said, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.” Just imagine the potential. Today may live long in your memory for all the right reasons; you may look back and agree with Jesus as He said, “With God all things are possible.” So let’s move on, day by day, believing that God can achieve great things when we least expect it.

'What a Wonderful World' - 11/07/21

It’s been an exciting and tense week for many watching Wimbledon and Euro 2020. Today we have the Wimbledon Men’s Final and England playing Italy in the Euro final. Wherever we are from and whoever we’re supporting, today is a great day for sport! But tomorrow it’s all over. No more Wimbledon and no more Euro until next time. It may be tempting to think that there’s nothing special about our days without those ‘special events’ but we’d be so wrong. Even in our struggles and fears there are things for us to be thankful for. Our safe homes, our gardens, our friends and families, shops down the road selling food that’s ready to eat, the wonders of nature, our healthcare system…..you can surely add more to this list.

The Bible says, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”.

Whether we win the match tonight or not, let’s remember that we have so much more to be thankful for. Let’s look around and be thankful.

Click the link below to enjoy Louis Armstrong’s beautiful song:

https://youtu.be/rBrd_3VMC3c

'Who Are You?' - 10/07/21

So with The England football team now in the Euro 2020 final, there have been some reports that Gareth Southgate, the England manager, is more determined than ever. This is due to his unfortunate missed penalty in a similar semi final when he was an England player. Some of his former team mates have also commented saying that Gareth has nothing to prove, no one blames him, it was a team that lost not a person.
Sometimes, we hold on to things when actually we don’t have to. It’s us clinging on to it and others have let it go.
There is a children’s story about a group of carved wooden characters, made by a wood carver. For these wooden people, they mark each other with either a gold star or a grey dot. The gold star for good things and the grey dot for things they don’t like. One of the people is very sad because he has lots of grey dots and no stars. He learns from the wood carver that the dots only stick if you let them. If you think others opinions make you who you are, then the stickers remain. If you believe in how you were made, then the stickers are meaningless and will fall off.
We should remember who is our maker, in the Bible we are told

 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. 
We are made in the image of God, others opinions cannot redefine us. If we believe in how we were made and who made us, then we will know His comfort and strength.

'The Lion's Tongue' - 09/07/21

I don’t suppose you’ve ever gotten close to a lion’s tongue? I didn’t think so. Neither have I. But I have been reading about them. These beautiful big cats have tongues that could literally rip you to shreds. The surface of them is completely covered in tiny spines called papillae that are used to scrape the flesh off the bones of their prey. Nice! Gruesome really. And fascinating. Isn’t nature just fascinating?!

When I read that fact I couldn’t help but smile at the realisation that humans have tongues just like that too!! Ok, so they’re not covered in tiny spines, but they are still capable of ripping someone to shreds. 

What happens when we get angry? Frustrated? Overtired? Overworked? Jealous? What about if we’re bearing grudges? Not getting our own way? Chances are we let our tongue loose and it becomes a killing machine. Think of the damage our words can do. The lies, gossip and venom, the bitterness, criticism, mockery and plain old mean talk! All capable of killing relationships, hopes, dreams and opportunities. Of course we can always say sorry for the words we’ve wrongly spoken, and hopefully forgiveness is given. But why say them in the first place?

The Bible has much to say about our words,

“A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell”.

Those are really strong words about this tiny part of the body. But we only have to look around to see how true it is.

I have no idea who wrote the following quote but there’s a lot of wisdom in it…‘Be sure to taste your words, before you spit them out’. Such great advice!! May we all stop, breathe, think about the words we would want to have spoken to us, and then do likewise. May we all learn to speak life into situations and leave the killer tongues to the lions. 

'Comfort Zones' - 08/07/21

“Scared is what you're feeling. Brave is what you're doing.”
Emma Donoghue, Room

Room is a story is told through the eyes of Jack, whom is five. He is being held captive in a small room along with his mother. The room is all he has known. Thankfully, they are rescued and both mother and son begin their rehabilitation and integration back into the world, but this is very difficult and scary for Jack. He sees the ‘Room’ as safe, even though he was a prisoner there, and it takes a great deal of courage to take part in ‘normal’ life.

Whilst a fictional story, the idea of being ‘trapped’ in a limited environment and finding going out into the freedoms of ‘normal’ life very strange and a bit scary seems all too familiar at the moment.

I went out to a restaurant last week. It was a Friday night, and the restaurant, whilst complying with all social distancing measures, was full. There was music playing, people talking and laughing, and it was noisy! It was probably the noisiest environment I had been in for 18months and whilst I had a lovely evening, it was an equally strange experience. I realised that there were a lot of things to get used to again and it was going to take some time.

In the bible there a several accounts of God taking people out of their comfortable lives that they are used to, to do something amazing. One such example is that of Moses. He had run away from Egypt, but had then settled in Midian with a wife and family. He was happy, settled and comfortable. But God knew he was meant for more. He appeared to Moses in the most extraordinary way, and told him that he had a plan for his life, and that plan was to free the slaves from Egypt. Moses did not want to do this. He tried every excuse not to leave his comfortable life. God had to remind him of something really important 

Exodus 3:12

Then God told Moses, “I will certainly be with you”. 

Moses was eventually persuaded, and with Gods help, led the Jewish nation out of slavery. As promised, wherever he went, God was with him.

As social distancing rules end in the next few weeks, the idea of stepping out of our comfort zones may seem daunting for some, and exhilarating for others. However you feel, just as God was with Moses, he will be with you, and will lead you through whatever you face, with or without a mask!

'You've Got a Friend In Me' - 07/07/21

So the announcement has been made! On 19th July we no longer have to wear masks, wash hands and socially distance. It’s business as usual! Just like that! After 15 months of compulsory mask-wearing and no hugging…we’re free!!!!!! Hooraaaayyyyy!!! I can just see it now, we’ll all be dancing in the streets, hugging our neighbours, breathing on each other and giving each other celebratory high-fives without first using hand sanitizer!! Ahh freedom!! How wonderful!! Or is it?? 

For some people the 19th July will indeed feel like the day they get their freedom back, and I’m delighted for them. But they’re not everybody. For many people, this date that is drawing close doesn’t signify freedom so much as fear. The last 15 months have taken their toll on just about everybody. There’s been loss of family members and friends, financial struggles, loneliness and huge uncertainty and fear, alongside others who have experienced increased happy family times, less stress and rushing, having time for walks and conversations on the phone. 

We are all different. We only have to look at our own families to see how different we all are. And our responses to ‘freedom’ on 19th July are all going to be different too. There may be the temptation to judge someone whose response is different to your own. While you’re swinging from the lamp post they may be cowering in a corner of a shop unable to cope with the lack of masks and social distancing. 

Jesus gave us such wise and simple advice, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’. 

So how does this look for us? 

You want to be respected? Then show respect. You want to be heard? Then listen. 

You want to be understood? Then seek to understand. 

You want to be accepted for who you are? Then accept others for who they are. 

We’ve come this far together as friends, let’s all be mindful of one another’s feelings and help to make this next stage as easy as possible.

The wonderful film Toy Story offers us some very wise words. Click the link below to listen to this wonderful and a positive song.

https://youtu.be/XHFy3YWpRx8

'Sustained By Love' - 06/07/21

I’m sure you will have read on occasions stories of pets that have rescued their owners from situations that would otherwise have likely lead to death.  I read of one were an elderly man woke up late one night to find himself on the kitchen floor with his arm in the jaws of his German Shepherd and blood everywhere.  At first he thought that the dog had turned on him, it was only when the police and paramedics arrived that they were able to work out that the dog had realised that his owner had passed out in his bedroom from carbon monoxide poisoning – his dog had tried to wake him and when he couldn’t, had dragged him by the arm to safety.  Another story from New Jersey told of a Yorkshire Terrier who realised that a black bear had entered the house; not only did it bark to warn its owner of the danger but then the tiny dog proceeded to growl and nip fearlessly at the huge bear until it receded.  

 

We often speak of the loyalty and unconditional love of pets but that love is nothing in comparison with the love we have been shown by God.  You could be forgiven for thinking that we had come to the end of our series on the 10 commandments when we got to number 10, but not quite…  In the book of John we read these words from Jesus: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  Strictly speaking, this isn’t a new commandment but rather a summary of all of the commandments put together – when we act in love, we can’t fail to abide by the laws God gave us for good living.  But it isn’t just any love that is required of us, Jesus asks us to love as he did, that sets the standard high!  God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to submit to torture, pain, cruelty and death – this isn’t the fluffy love of hearts and kisses, this is the fierce, brave and relentless love that puts others before ourselves; a love that fights and wins a battle that we don’t have the strength to do alone.

 

Love is not always the easiest option but when we act in love we will never stand alone and if you find you don’t have the strength to stand, then rest in the assurance of God’s love sustaining and surrounding you.  

 

As I prepared to write this reflection today I received a package in the post, it was a letter and a slim book of poems written by an old friend who had lost his wife.  He ended one of his poems with these words:

 

The speed of light I know

But who can guess the speed of love

That issues from God’s heart

To those below

And sustains us in a way we cannot prove

 

May you know God’s love sustaining you this week and be the expression of love that we are called to be. 

'Will You Jump?' - 05/07/21

How many people do you trust? This is a serious question for all of us and it has many facets. Do teenagers trust their teachers? Or their parents? Do parents trust their teenagers? When a young couple decide to get married, it is necessary that they love each other, but they also have to trust each other. This kind of trust is two-way and from the divorce figures we read about, in many cases the trust doesn’t survive the years. When we pass on a piece of very personal information to a friend because we trust them, do we wake up in the middle of the night wondering if our secret is safe? We spend our entire lives trusting more than individuals, but also organizations, and systems. For instance you trust your bank to keep your savings safe; you trust your gas central heating not to do something stupid; and you trust your car brakes to work as well today as they did yesterday. Imagine if you and I trusted each other and we took a walk along the prom in Blackpool on a very windy day at high tide and a twenty foot high wave washed me over the railings, could I trust you to jump in to save me? Although I may trust you for many things, I don’t think you will jump into the wild water. The important thing about trust is that the person, organisation, or system needs to be up to the job.

The Bible is full of stories of people trusting God against all the odds, and God demonstrating that He can be trusted. Joseph trusted that God had a plan for his life and he ended up at the highest level in Egypt. Daniel trusted God to keep him safe and he survived a night in a cage full of lions. Mary trusted that her son was God and the Resurrection proved her to be right. God does not change and His power and nature are constant. They all had dreadful experiences in life, just like some of you reading Sunrise this morning, but they each discovered that God could be trusted to love them. When David was in serious danger he could still say, “I trust in your unfailing love.” 

As we move out of the restrictions caused by Covid, and begin to come to terms with the spiritual, mental, physical, financial and social after-effects, let us remember that the God who David trusted has not changed. As we decide on priorities and direction for the rest of our lives, Solomon has words for us, “Trust the Lord with all your heart, do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take."

'Think Big, Act Small' - 04/07/21

The writer of Hebrews has a great passage about praising God for our salvation through Jesus, about seeking Heaven and later about obeying our leaders who are there to guide us! But slap bang in the middle is a little reminder about our day to day business: 

To do good and to communicate (share)forget not (Hebrews 13:16)……. 

We use the word share nowadays to mean to communicate, the sharing of information, maybe of our life experiences, but of course alongside that comes the sharing of our ‘stuff’’, our talents, our time, our emotional journey or our emotional energy. HOW WELL AM I DOING? I think the jury is still out on that one.

 

The passage as a whole gives us a very Big Picture. So THINK BIG. There is God creating the heavens and the earth, making people who mess up, then executing a rescue plan through the person of Jesus, reminding us that praise as well as prayer changes everything, and telling us how to work in the community within the rules of our leaders. I know some of our Community (NHS workers for example)have big things to do, crucial to our survival. Yet others do slightly smaller things which also sustain our health (retail workers, teachers maybe) and then in a more unseen way are the small cogs like most of us, minding grandchildren, working from home, sharing and caring, cooking, staying positive or in fact just ‘being there when needed’. We are all heroes.

 

So in many ways, although we THINK BIG we have to ACT SMALL (act small)! It can be irritating if the phone rings when we’re organising to go out: our errand can seem very important to us. And phone calls let’s face it take a lot longer than messages! We may want to ration certain people who are more frequently in touch. Or just have time for people who give our spirits a lift, who even think like we do. So when we’re asked to act small, it’s not in the selfish, petty, irritable way which can be an almost ‘automatic response’ on a bad day anyway. It’s small in the sense of attention to detail, the small cogs in the bigger wheels of life, the greater machinery of this grand production. I’m reminded here of the wheels and cogs in the ‘Chicken Run’ film, all very comical of course but interconnected. A big production with a real purpose.

So we must refuse to lose our sense of purpose. If I’m only a cog, then I’ll be a good cog. I won’t be a broken cog which stops the wheel, which breaks the system and loses the plot, making us unproductive. Or if I do break at any point, I will call for help and let people mend me, through God’s Grace.  And I’ll know that I’m part of something bigger, more inter-connected, more meaningful and quite important, that is God’s family. I’m part of God’s plan. If I’m a child of God then the Bible tells me: 

It is God who works in … (me) … to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose. 

Can’t get more meaningful than that?!

'Here's One I Prepared Earlier' - 03/07/21

The TV show classic, you’re watching a kids program showing you how to make something live on air. They start by showing you a finished model that took an expert days to complete and paint, it looks beautiful, it looks like a shop bought version. So you think “I could do that”, then the presenter starts to make a version live on the show, after a few minutes you’re thinking “how is this going to work”. You see all the steps with glue and sticky tape everywhere, wondering how is this going to end up looking? Then the presenter gets part way through and drops their own feeble attempt and brings on “one I made earlier”. I look around and I don’t have one I prepared earlier that looks amazing, so what do I do now? I feel deflated as this model is really going to take me hours not 2 minutes and 20 seconds from the show.

But it’s a great feeling when you can provide someone with the “one made earlier”. We had been discussing a particular topic in a meeting about how our customers engage with us. We did not finish the topic in the first meeting so needed to find more time. I carried on thinking about it and came up with a picture that I thought explained the options. My boss then got in touch and said I need something from that first meeting to show to his boss. I showed him my picture and he was really pleased to have something so quickly. I was pleased that the time I spent after the meeting thinking about it and devising a picture had suddenly solved a problem.

 

In our lives, we sometimes don’t realise how God is helping us prepare ourselves for the things He has planned for us. Then a moment arrives and you realise that I can help, I can do that, I have been through that same thing and I can help. It may be that you can do something for someone or that you have been in the same situation before so you can share your experience. 

 

One of Jesus’ disciples, Paul, encouraged others saying “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians Ch2 v10.

 

Someone may see the rough, sticky, messy attempt at something and be wondering what is happening in their lives. Then you stand beside them to care for them and help them through the tough times, because you are the one that God prepared earlier.

Lets recognise the gifts and abilities that God has given us, give thanks to Him for them and use them to bless others.

'Chalk and Cheese' - 02/07/21

Two of my four delightful grandchildren live in Yorkshire. A boy and a girl. Brother and sister. Chalk and cheese. What makes them different is not simply the expected gender stereotype, although he is obsessed with dinosaurs and she is besotted with the Disney film, Frozen – so the obvious boy/girl dynamic is definitely present. No, what makes them different is the speed and volume with which they approach life.

Both of them wring every possible morsel of excitement from every minute of every day, but they do it very differently. He will do so slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully, quietly (well, quietly for a three year-old anyway). I once walked in to a room to be greeted with, “Hello, Grandad... we're just talking about balloons”, delivered in a wistful, full on Bradford accent, as if spoken by an elderly, cloth capped denizen of a public house somewhere on Ilkley Moor.

 

His big sister, on the other hand, experiences life from the fast lane, rushing headlong from one moment to the next and doing so at full volume (she goes up to eleven). We once went to a wildlife centre and had to go round twice, because she had finished “looking” at all the animals before her brother had completed his examination of the workings of a drainage grid in the entrance foyer and was not yet aware that the visitor attraction even contained animals.

 

Now whilst I am usually guilty of the writers prerogative regarding embellishment for entertainment, the above is a correct representation of the facts. These children are a joy to behold and I wonder where along life's journey I lost my capacity for enjoying it the way they do. To change them in any way would be to deny them their chance at seeing the world from their unique perspective. To hurry him along, or ask her to curb her boisterous enthusiasm would be to deny who they are. Childhood is brief enough in today's society; let them enjoy it to the full. I wouldn't change them for the world.

 

 

It is our differences that make us special. Jesus had many followers; some He chose Himself, others simply joined along the way. Still more continue to join today. Jesus welcomed and still welcomes everybody. He makes no demands of us to be a particular type of person. There is no requirement to belong to a particular social class, or have a certain job, or income level. We can be loud, quiet, contemplative or spontaneous. Jesus doesn't want us to conform to a set pattern. He loves us just as we are. So much so that He was prepared to give His life for us. All He asks is that we love Him back. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”

'Planning' - 01/07/21

“One of the greatest mistakes a traveller can make, is to believe a journey can be controlled”.

Monisha Rajesh, Around the World in 80 Trains.

 

This book details the journey around the world that Monisha and her fiancé take on many of the railways of the world, and the fun and mayhem that they have.

 

Very quickly on her travels, Monisha learns that how she thought things would plan out, is not what actually happens. There are train delays and breakdowns, unexpected meetings, and happenings, and this all means that very often, her plans disappear out of the train window in which she was travelling at the time!

 

Whilst some of us are very comfortable with a laisse faire ‘see how it goes’ approach to things, some of us love to plan ahead. You might be a person who loves lists and have your week and weekly meals planned well in advance. You might even have colour coded diaries, so you know what type of activities you have on each day. 

 

Whether you are a detailed planner to perfection, or a never quite sure where you are meant to be kind of person, we will all have had the experience of having something unexpected turn up and all our ideas that we have made for the day or week go out of the window.

In our western world we have become increasing dependant on plans and lists, and whilst they can help enormously with life, its important to remember that our lives and the events that happen in our world don’t always stick to the script!

 

However, God has plans for us that do not change and are never thrown out of the window.

 

Jeremiah 11:29

'For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'

We may not know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know who is in control.

God loves us and he knows what we need. Lets take time to rest today, safe in the knowledge that God is in control, and he will take us through. Even if life doesn’t follow our ideas and plans, God is in it with us, and he can be trusted.