A Work in Progress- 31/7/20
I have been doing a lot of painting recently. Not the creating a masterpiece on canvas kind of painting, but the slapping emulsion on a ceiling kind of painting. Then the slapping emulsion on a wall kind of painting – and not just any old emulsion; this is New Plaster Emulsion, “specially formulated to cover newly plastered surfaces”. Anybody who has ever painted a newly plastered surface will know that new plaster is thirsty. It takes a few coats, even with my new wonder paint. It’s almost finished. I just need to do the odd bits that haven’t really taken properly, which only show up in bright sunlight… so I might have to wait a while for some bright sunlight to finish the job. Then, of course, I’ve still got to do the gloss paint. Then it will be finished. All the blemishes left behind by the plasterers and the tiler will be covered over and everything will look new. The mess will be gone. It’s still there underneath, but it looks as good as new.
I will stand back and be pleased that the job is done… and then I’ll realise that my newly sparkling, bright white kitchen walls and ceiling put the paintwork in the rest of the house to shame; “That back bedroom could do with brightening up a bit” – and the whole thing starts again. Owning a house is like that. There is always something to be done. It is a work in progress… constantly.
We are a little bit like that. There are things in our lives that we wish we could cover over. I don’t mean issues with the way we look, that’s merely cosmetic. I mean issues with the way we are. The things we do and say. Our behaviours, our attitudes, our way of living life. We are a work in progress. We are constantly having to adapt to the things life throws at us. We are constantly at work trying to respond to the people around us, to meet their needs and interact in a way that promotes harmony and goodwill. If you are anything like me, then you fail to meet the required standard on a regular basis. You will let people down. You will not always get it right. You are a work in progress.
How nice it would be if somebody could simply cover up my shortcomings with a paint brush - hide all the blemishes of character behind a layer of brilliant white emulsion.
Jesus does more than that. When we come to Him and tell Him of the things we have done wrong and the things we didn’t do, but wish we had, He forgives us. He doesn’t simply brush over the marks and smudges, He takes them away and presents us spotless before the throne of God. Our blemishes are not simply covered over, they are removed. We are a new creation. It is as though the things we got wrong have never happened. The Psalmist tells us that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”. So when we get things wrong, when our work in progress doesn’t go how we planned, we shouldn’t try and cover it over, we should come to Jesus and ask him to put it right. He will make it new. That’s a lot better than any interior decorator I know.
It's Good to Laugh- 30/7/20
A certain famous soft drinks company did a publicity stunt on a busy train in Antwerp, Belgium. They employed an actor to get on the packed train with a pair of headphones on, that were plugged in to his tablet. He found a corner to stand in, and the stunt began.....
As he stared at his phone, he started to laugh. Seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. At first, apart from a few puzzled glances from commuters, no one paid much attention. But as the guy laughed more and more, the laughter became infectious and started to spread!
Before long, the stoney-faced commuters couldn’t hold their stoney-faces, and smiles started to appear. Then the smiles turned in to giggles and chuckles and before long the entire carriage was filled with raucous laughter.
It’s a very funny video and just like the commuters I found myself at first looking puzzled, then smiling, and then laughing out loud. It felt good.
It didn’t matter that no one knew what he was laughing at, laughter is infectious, and laughter is good for us.
The Bible tells us that,
‘laughter is good medicine’.
And how true is that. During these very real times of loneliness, anxiety, ill health and worry, I’ve witnessed a whole community of the most incredible people come together in various ways, and despite it all, find reasons to laugh. Even the most ridiculous reasons!
When somebody is struggling and moods are low, the encouragement and support and laughter have been there.
Let’s continue to do good, to care, to support, and where possible, to laugh! It’s a gift from God and to many people it’s quite literally a lifesaver.
See for yourselves, maybe this will make you laughter too
Trust the Artist- 29/7/20
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 Art of Adulthood- 28/7/20
On Sunday my youngest child, my baby, turned 18! Not only does this make me realise that I must be older than I want to admit to myself but I also have to acknowledge that I no longer have any child-aged children who I can make decisions for. Both of my children are now adults in their own right; they can make their own decisions, they can drive a car if they wish, they can leave home, they can get married and have children of their own (making me a grandmother!!!!!!) or they can run away, join a cult and never speak to me again. Becoming an adult brings countless opportunities and decisions and we just hope we’ve done a good enough job in their first 18 years of life to prepare them and equip them to make good decisions and embrace the life-enhancing opportunities that come their way.
The reality of course is that not much changed over-night from Saturday to Sunday. He didn’t wake up with a mortgage, a beard or with any more common sense than that which he went to bed with.
Becoming an adult isn’t a sudden thing, it’s a process that starts at birth and continues to death. We don’t perfect it, we just learn stuff along the way sometimes getting it right and sometimes getting it wrong. I can’t promise my children that now that they are so called ‘adults’ they’ll have everything sorted, it just means that they have to take the responsibility for the decisions that they make. But even in taking responsibility, I hope they will always know that whatever happens and whatever mistakes they make they can always run back home for advice, support and love – even if it comes with a roll of the eyes and a “I told you so!” The point is, I’ve been ‘adulting’ for quite a long time now and I still haven’t perfected it. I keep getting things wrong and sometimes I even make the same mistake over and over - but thankfully however wrong I get things, I can always turn back to God who will never turn me away and will always welcome me with loving open arms – even if it does come with a roll of the eyes and a “I told you so!”
Mark chapter 10 says: “He [Jesus] said to them [the disciples], “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.”
We’re called to become more child-like, not lacking in maturity wanting jelly babies for breakfast and dressing as Spider-man to go to work (although if that’s your thing, who am I to judge?!) but to come to Jesus with child-like humility, knowing that we haven’t got it all sorted, and follow by faith in His steps as the only person who ever mastered being an ‘adult’.
Can I Trust Mr Google?- 27/7/20
Our smart phones are incredible pieces of kit. My diary is on my phone. It has alI my activities for the last three years on it, and my future plans and meetings. In addition it has all sorts of personal information about medical history, hundreds of names and phone numbers, records of conversations and texts, some important, many trivial, and reminders to pay bills, etc. But like for most people, the content that brings me most pleasure (and sometimes sadness) is my colossal collection of photographs. In the good old days we would have taken our films to the chemist and gone back a week later to collect our prints and negatives. Many of us still have hundreds of packs of small prints, seen once, then confined to a drawer or a cupboard. But now we can fit literally thousands in the palm of one hand, and we carry them everywhere. The downside to this is that our phones get clogged up, slow down, and eventually complain to us that we need to do something or it will stop working. Now that’s serious, life will come to a standstill if our phones die. This happened to me this weekend, and I sat staring at the screen because nothing was happening. Then over the hill came the cavalry, it was a letter from that nice Mr Google who said he could bring my phone back to life by removing many pictures that were already safely stored off my phone. He didn’t say where they were but I could always have access to them whenever I wanted. That’s what he said. I didn’t think he would tell me lies so I gave him permission to remove all the pictures that are stored in another place. So that’s what he did; my phone went silent for a while, things whizzed on the screen, then Mr Google said that the job was done and he had removed 1,599 of my pictures. When I picked myself up off the floor and read the message again, I had a little personal minute of silent panic. But Mr Google said they were safe. That’s what he said. And then my phone woke up, said ‘Good Morning’, and went about its business. I don’t know where those pictures are and I haven’t had time to search for them, but Mr Google seems like a kind man and I trust him. I think I trust him.
Many times in life things are beyond us and we get to the stage when it’s necessary to trust someone. Even that exceedingly wise man King Solomon discovered that some things were beyond his understanding, and his advice to people was, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding; seek His will in all that you do, and He will show you which path to take.” Sometimes our path through life is totally confusing, but God knows the way to go. Let’s follow where He leads because we can trust Him.
Now Mr Google, what have you done with my pictures?
Oh No!! It's the Window Cleaner!!- 26/7/20
About three months ago, my lovely friend Frank, introduced me to his window cleaner. He’s called Graham, and he’s very lovely. I told him I really needed a window cleaner as my last one went to prison!! He said he’d walk down to mine in the next few days and do them once a month for me. I was very excited!! The same sort of excitement that I get walking in to B and Q! I must be growing up!!
Anyway, I was pottering about the following morning when one of my chicks shouted to me, ‘Mum, the window cleaner is here!!’ I froze!! He couldn’t be!! It was too soon!! I wasn’t prepared!! My curtains were open!!
In a very loud whisper I said, ‘Shut my curtains!!’ In an equally loud whisper came the reply, ‘I can’t, he’s doing your window now!’
My bedroom, at present, is home to a huge amount of ‘work stuff’. There’s boxes and lots of books (I love books!) and files and blow-up saxophones and Hawaiian grass skirts!....a lot of Hawaiian grass skirts, oh and coconut shells and music stands.....you get the picture? There is nowhere else to put them at the moment, so that’s where they live! But Graham didn’t know that!! And now, there he is, quick as lightening up that ladder!! And there was nothing I could do about it!
Now in the whole scheme of things I’m sure Graham couldn’t give a monkeys what was stored in my bedroom. I suspect he’s seen much more interesting sights!!! But I decided there and then, that until my bedroom looks like an image out of an interior design magazine, my curtains will be closed on ‘Window Cleaner Week!’ (I need to write a Sunrise about pride!)
But the stupid thing is, is that shutting the curtains doesn’t remove the mess. If I want to deal with the mess, well, I've got to deal with the mess!!
Sometimes, in life, I’ve found that I’ve got other messes to deal with. Wrong thoughts, careless words, mistakes, problems, worries, deadlines and demands. And sometimes it feels easier to ‘shut the curtains’ on the mess and not deal with it. It could be because I’m tired, or feel overwhelmed, or don’t want to admit that I got it wrong, or the task feels just too big.....but ‘shutting the curtains’ won’t make it go away! We can all become very good at hiding the messes in our lives, but we can never hide them from God. He sees it all. He knows it all.
David talking to God said, ‘You know my thoughts before I think them. You know where I go and where I lie down. You know everything I do’.
But the best bit of all is that He still loves us! Despite the mess! And because He loves us, He wants to help us deal with it. Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest’, again He said, ‘I have come that they (that’s us!) may have life to the full’.
I could ‘shut my curtains’ and pretend everything is good and fine all of the time, but I’ll not be kidding God. I really should take Him up on His offer of help and to give me rest. He must really love me!
But my window cleaner??...sorry, for now those curtains will remain shut!
Turn Your Eyes...- 25/7/20
At just seventy, with moderate heart failure, I settled down if not happily at least contentedly (though with some guilt) to the Lock-down experience: a sort of “Spain without the tapas” I told the Rev who kindly phoned to check up on me! I had retired twice by this time and was now being retired by the Government: so what I wondered was to be the ‘purpose’ of my seventy-plus years? I was faithful to chat rooms, corresponded with those who needed or gave support, produced a few bookmarks and birthday cards, finished knitting my ‘Teddy for Tragedies’, deposited a couple of egg-boxes on doorsteps, and gave to charities. I also cleaned once or twice (slightly more since!) and began making flapjacks and marmalade followed by one batch of chutney (needs adjustment!) But still wondered where my purpose was?
Outside my door a significant area of society was going through undisputed Hell on Earth. No real need to detail: tragic deaths, sustained organ failure, traumatised medical/key workers, frozen unexpressed grief, domestic abuse, unemployment, financial collapse, mental despair, relationship breakdown, overcrowding and political warfare. The media made sure we knew. There were huge dark areas in the country I had always called home. However, alongside these, there appeared sacrificial acts, devoted service, hilarious humour and unrelenting positivity, shining deeds of hope and love ….. human beings at their best, for example our Melling Community embracing each other and riding the storm under Jo and the Team. Such dramatic contrast, just like the black and white image someone (you know who you are!) posted on a chat.
So although at first I couldn’t find God in the pandemic, in the conflicted mixture of dark and light, I finally turned my head towards the light and saw the face of Jesus. Just as we do with the tantalising image above. If you have no access to the image, then you might get an even better result using your imagination! If you think of Jesus, and know his story, you will perceive in his face a contrast between compassion in his eyes, sorrow in his smile, strength in his spirit, wounds to his head, pain in the present and hope for the future. Because of him I accept the broken world in which we live, a world which intensely highlights the grace and goodness and glory of God. The Saviour’s face calls us to turn our heads, lift our gaze and transform our perception. He is still a safe place and a source of protection, but we need to seek him out. Globally there may be “no place to hide” but with Him we find our security again because ‘our lives are hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3). And we travel in hope that more people will ‘turn their heads’, understand and respond. We wish them to enter the experience described in the verse below:
‘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’.
What Do You See?- 24/7/20
Most of us judge the world by what we see. There are many common sayings that demonstrate this; “What you see is what you get”, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, “Sold as seen”, “Seeing is believing” and so on…
We marvel at the beauty of nature; a vivid sunset, a majestic forest, or a raging ocean. We watch our children or grandchildren at play and take pleasure at the joy on their faces. We choose which colour our clothing, curtains, furniture, wallpaper, hair should be and it’s all based on our sense of vision. What we see shapes the way we behave towards people and situations; it causes us to react in certain ways. It can bring joy and despair in equal measure, depending upon what we are looking at. It is an important element of our very nature.
What happens then when we can’t see; either because our sight fails us, or because what we want to see can’t be seen? I was temporarily deprived of my sight in one eye following an operation. It was a strange few months. I found that, whilst I could still see out of my good eye, my perception had altered. Not only in terms of my actual visual acuity… my depth perception was disturbed and things weren’t quite where I thought they were, but because I perceived the world without seeing it properly. I realised that despite not being able to see it, the world was still there. I just needed to accept that fact and trust that what I had always known, still held true. The glass I was trying to pick up wasn’t further away, it was still in the same place, it just didn’t look that way.
Sometimes, the situations we find ourselves in distort our view of life. Things happen that make us question things we have always known and believed. There are days when God seems further away. When that happens, we should ask ourselves, “who moved?”. It wasn’t God. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is a faithful God. He is there for us… always. No matter what is happening to us, He is there.
The book of Hebrews speaks of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses, the Israelites, Joshua, Rahab and others who faced situations that would challenge their view of their world, but their faith didn’t waiver and, as a result, they overcame the problem, trusting that God was with them.
It is that faith that sees us through. Hebrews says this, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Simply because our view is distorted doesn’t mean that anything has changed. We can’t see God; we’ve never been able to see God, but we are conscious of His presence. Billy Graham once said, “I’ve never seen the wind, but I’ve seen the effects of the wind”.
So, our view of the world should not be based upon what we can see, but upon the promises of our God and our faith in His presence.
Not My Fault- 23/7/20
I was sitting in the garden reading and drinking tea. Birds were tweeting and there was a gentle wind rustling in the trees. Perfection reigned; for a while. Then it started; crash bang wallop; the lovely neighbours next door had decided to knock a shed down. You don’t need me to tell you that sheds don’t go quietly. My book required concentration so I kept going. My neighbours on the other side heard the shed demolition and thought that as the silence had been blown away, it wouldn’t be a problem if they chopped their tree down. Stereo destruction! Frustrated, I retreated indoors. My peace was wiped out and it wasn’t my fault.
I’d had a good day; the client was pleased, even promised to pay me. The M60 was busy with everyone homeward bound so it was normal occasionally to sit in stationary traffic four lanes wide. The radio was off, the windows closed and everything including me was calm. The driver in the huge lorry was reading his phone messages up to the time he wiped out six cars, one of them mine. We brought four lanes to a halt for two hours, we had six ambulances, five police cars and a fire engine. The violence of the crash was colossal and the noise was indescribable. Peace disappeared in a flash and it wasn’t my fault.
We all know people who have been asking for trouble for years, so when it turns up, the most common response is, “They should have known that would happen, it’s their own fault.” Now what about us, we don’t go looking for trouble do we? But it turns up anyway! And it’s not our fault. Life can be very unfair.
A man called Asaph who wrote some of the Psalms in the Bible struggled when he saw arrogant and nasty people succeeding in life when he found life tough. He complained to God about the unfairness he could see around him, “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else...These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! Look at these wicked people enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.” By the end of the Psalm he realised that what he had was so much better than wealth, health, or power. “My health may fail, and my spirit grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever...I still belong to You; You hold my right hand”
Many of our pains in life are not our fault and they are not reduced by envying people who are sailing along. But if can trust in God’s love He will walk with us and give us His peace. And nothing can wipe that out.
Good-looking Thoughts- 22/7/20
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!
The Antics of Edward- 21/7/20
A couple of weeks ago I bought a new bird feeder. We have a bird table in our garden already but it tends to be hogged by all of the bigger birds – the white collared doves, the magpies and the starlings who dominate it and bully the smaller birds. So I decided to buy a much smaller hanging feeder which can only be accessed by the smaller birds. We hung it on the tree and waited. And waited. Eventually after about a week the Gold Finches and the Blue Tits eventually found it and started to feed from it – success!! The big birds also found it but there was nothing they could do about it, they simply can’t get to the food inside.
But then a couple of days ago as I sat at my lock-down desk looking out over the garden I noticed Edward our friendly neighbourhood squirrel visiting our garden (remember him?) To my amusement, he climbed the tree where the new feeder was hanging and proceeded to try and reach it. He was reaching out trying to grab hold of the feeder to pull it closer to himself and retrieve the contents. He was quite persistent and at one point I did think he was going to fall out of the tree but eventually, in a very impressive, mission impossible style of movement he did manage to reach the seeds and help himself. While I admired his persistence and agility we did go out and move the feeder to a place even he can’t reach. For those of you concerned about him going hungry, no need, I went out and left some nuts for him on the shed roof which he duly collected!
Sometimes in life there are things that just don’t seem to be accessible by us. There might be physical restrictions, such as there are at the moment, which mean that some people can’t access shops, theatres or churches while on other occasions we may place our own mental restrictions on ourselves – I’m not clever enough/strong enough/good enough/young enough/old enough…the list is endless. But the Psalmist reminds us that wherever we find ourselves or whatever situation we find ourselves in, God will always be accessible, ready to hold us up when we are weak and show us the way when we are lost. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
We can’t lose God and he’ll never put himself out of our reach but on those occasions when life does throw a curve ball and we just don’t think we’ve got what it takes – God promises to be everything that we need. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength”. We don’t need to try and get through the day in our own strength because we’ll always find God beside us, just waiting for us to take his hand. Maybe even the acrobatics of Edward could be possible! You first!
Rain or Shine?
We are now one month beyond midsummer’s day, and sunrise is later and sunset is earlier than it was a month ago. I don’t want to irritate you, but I think I should point out that for the next 165 days, each one is shorter than the previous one. It’s early evening and I’m sitting in front of a bay window that allows me to see up and down the avenue. Already it looks a little darker than it did at this time last week. It doesn’t help that it’s cloudy tonight and it’s raining. We are at the mercy of the weather because we have no control over it, so we can’t put in our order and sit in our windows and watch the clouds lift and the sun emerge from behind the curtains in the sky. Anyway, if we could put in our order would we all order the same thing? No! No! No! We would probably start a fight. We had wonderful weather in the Spring, it didn’t rain for two months. Brilliant. But I had to follow orders and spend nearly an hour every night watering the garden plants. There was talk of a drought and farmers were preparing to do a national rain dance. But during the last month it has rained nearly every day which is very depressing, but I haven’t been ordered off my computer to water the garden, and farmers have replaced their dancing shoes with wellies so they can get back to work. Most kinds of weather have both positive and negative aspects.
It’s just like life; you’re off work for a month but only because you have backache. Your football team won’t put their prices up next season but only because they were relegated. You’re working online now so you don’t have to face that traffic jam, but you miss your mates and the jokes. The truth is that so often we are not satisfied whatever our situation is like.
King Solomon understood our tendency to always want something better or different, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never content with their income”....Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied.” When Jesus taught the world to pray, He included the words, “Give us today our daily bread.” No mention of a new car, or a decent pension, or even a holiday in the sun. Hmmm. During the last three months in this country we have been wonderfully protected and provided for. More than half of the world’s population think we are living fantasy lives. So let’s be content with our daily blessings, and remember where they come from.
Now where’s my brolly?
All You Need Is Love- 19/7/20
A few days ago a Kentucky bin man noticed that a rubbish bin hadn't been put outside an elderly lady's house for two weeks. He was concerned enough to share the address with his supervisor. She found the name of the lady and phoned her. "Are you ok Ms Smith only you haven't put your bin out for two weeks". Ms Smith replied "I am ok but my cleaner was too afraid of the virus so has stopped coming to me. I can't get to the store and I don't have any trash to put out as I have run out of food. Unfortunately I don't have any family to help me" . After a long pause the supervisor said "You do now. We are your family". She let the garbage man know the sad situation. On his day off he knocked on the lady's door and asked her to make a grocery list. "This list is too short Ms Smith". She added a few more items . He then asked could he take a look in her fridge . She relented- it was empty! The man walked out of the house of the woman who was physically immobile. An hour later he returned with bags of groceries for a lady he hardly knew.A bin man decided he would reach out to someone and Church broke out.I miss our services of worship but what about Church? Church is happening all around us. It's a phone call, a bag of groceries. It happens any time someone tells another person "We are your family now". Real Church is not defined by a service of worship but by servants of God. Keep being Church! That's all we have to do.Mark 12 : 3 Love your neighbour as yourself
My Roots Are Showing- 18/7/20
I decided to stop colouring my hair quite a long time before Lock-down. Now I can guarantee that it’s all roots! My hairdresser confirms it. Gradually, I am happier to be who I am with ‘hair by God’. When I Googled the title “My Roots Are Showing” I found a song by Crystal Shawanda which is interesting to listen to….once? It more or less echoes the same sentiment, a reality check perhaps? Natalie Macmaster has a Celtic album by the same name.
However, I seem to be finding the real me in other ways too, just what makes me tick, where I’m rooted. Can anybody identify with how Lock-down brings out the worst and the best? I am a thinker rather than a do-er. In fact, sometimes when I’ve thought something strongly enough I then fail to execute the idea, even if it’s good. It’s almost as if I’ve done it in my head already! I’m lazy by nature, easily distracted and if anything serious needs to be done I had best do it by lunchtime. After that it’s downhill all the way. I can be touchy, avoid challenges and I may take too long to forgive. (That includes forgiving myself). Fortunately, I’ve also got a sunny side and I look for positives. But our sunny outlook can be in a battle against the elements, especially in Lock-down. I’ve become less patient and I need more grace and mercy to get things right. In Melling Community we sing about ‘letting it shine’ and we are definitely helping each other through the chats and virtual meetings!!
Back to the theme of roots. In matters of faith I am totally ecumenical and I love that, although others might not. I am blessed with friends in various denominations. It keeps me too busy really and Lock-down has provided a rest. But my family roots are Celtic and these are also beginning to show. We are all doing this aren’t we? Finding God in the everyday, showing up in the least expected ways, not restricted to a building, blessing us in the little things, lending us His Grace? [NATURAL BREAK HERE].
However, what does the Bible teach us about roots? Many things but for example St. Paul writing to the Church at Ephesus said:
‘I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts by faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love.’ (Eph 3:17)
Where I wrote ‘[NATURAL BREAK]’ that was when my husband asked me to come and cut his hair. (His trust is actually terrifying). I made him wait two minutes till I could find a stop in my writing ‘flow’. Sadly, in my natural self I would have normally flipped at the interruption: there would have been a good rant! But I’m trying to be rooted in Christ, I’m trying to let grace enter, I’m trying to let the sunshine in (and win!) ….. on this occasion I was ‘sunny side up’. Please God that my roots in Christ will show more often.
Why Not?- 17/7/20
In 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy gave a speech in which he said, “Some men see things as they are and ask, why? I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”.
At the time of his speech, the world was in turmoil. The Vietnam war was raging and young Americans and Vietnamese alike were dying needlessly in the hot, steamy jungles of Asia. Students protested and marched for peace on campuses across America and, in some cases, were savagely beaten by overzealous policemen and National Guard officers. Similar protests in France brought about more violence and repression and ended with a national strike and a general election. In Prague, demonstrations against the repressive communist regime ended with Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia to crush the protest. There was unrest in black communities in major cities in America and the civil rights movement was at its height, with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. leading peaceful demonstrations and marches across the country. Dr King had given a speech too. One in which he stated that he had a dream, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.
Both Kennedy and King were united in the hope that one day they would live to see a better world. For both men, that hope was extinguished by an assassin’s bullet. For many people that had shared their hope, that hope died with the men who had so boldly dared to articulate it.
Look around, we too live in tumultuous times. In fact, you can choose any time in history and it can be said that the people of that day lived through difficulties and dangers. The nature of the turmoil may have changed down the ages, but it has always been there. It seems Churchill was right when he said that, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”.
Jesus lived in a time of persecution and repression. He lived in a country under the occupation of the Roman empire. He was aware of rebellion amongst the Jewish people and even had a zealot amongst His disciples. Jesus was a man of hope. He was, to many, the hope of the Jewish nation. They believed that He was the one who would end the tyranny of occupation and lead them to a new freedom. They were right, but not in the way they expected. People followed Him for three years, until the authorities, frightened of the freedom He spoke of, decided that enough was enough and put Him to death.
But, the hope that Jesus offered didn’t die with Him. His death seemed to have brought an end to the possibility of freedom for the Jews, but His resurrection confirmed the hope that is alive for us all. He demonstrated how it was possible to be a better human being; to love people, to care for them, to put their needs before our own, to treat everybody with dignity and respect and, in so doing, to build a better world. His hope is alive today. We just need to grasp that truth and act upon it. Why not?
“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”.
Not In the Bag- 15/7/20
Some years ago I had a very good friend who had a very large handbag. This handbag went everywhere with her! And wherever we went and whatever we needed while we were there...it was in the handbag! Need a tissue!...got one! Need a pen!...got one! Need a cough sweet!...got one! Nothing too strange about any of that. But on occasions it got a little bit weird. Like the time we were in a restaurant and the staff were having trouble keeping a door open. ‘Hold on, bear with...do you want to borrow my doorstop?’ Or the other time when someone forgot their reading glasses...but it was ok, my friend had ‘a selection’ of glasses of varying strengths to offer, out of her handbag! And when she was faced with us all just staring at her, ever so slightly puzzled, her response was always, ‘y’know, just in case.’ Needless to say, my friend and her handbag solved many a problem and met many a need!
I’m the opposite, I’m a very light traveller. Wherever I go, I can’t stand ‘unnecessary baggage’. It’s probably part of the reason I hate camping. All that effort, all that packing, to sleep in a field! But I have found myself on numerous occasions wishing I was just a little bit more like my friend with the bag!
If only all of life’s problems could be fixed by the contents of a handbag. We could have a slogan saying something like, ‘Life will always be great, if you just find a mate...with a handbag!’ Sadly, it’s not that straightforward. When I was very ill as a teenager, no contents of a handbag could get me better. When I lost my daughter, there wasn’t a handbag in the world that could help. On the loneliest of nights and the most stressful of days, the handbag was redundant.
The thing is, none of my friends or family, fit in to a handbag. When I’ve needed friendship, support, an encouraging word or that essential listening ear, it’s not come out of a handbag! Being there for somebody, either in person, or nowadays more likely on the end of a phone, is vital. Just to hear a kind voice, to speak out your thoughts and worries without fearing judgement, to find something funny together and get a much-needed moment of light relief, to know you’re not alone. Good friends and family are invaluable. They walk through the darkest of times with us and celebrate the best of times with us.
But my best friend, without a doubt, is Jesus. He doesn’t fit in a handbag either! But I know that during the absolute best times in my life, He has been there, the wonderful days with my chicks, the hilarious Monday evenings with choir friends, and the countless great days where nothing dramatic happened, but still it was good. And He has been there in the absolute darkest of days too, when grief and fear and despair have never felt closer. Paul in the bible knew what it felt like to have everything and he knew what it felt like to have nothing. He wrote, ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, principalities or powers, nor things that are now, nor things that are to come, can separate us from the love of God’.
I need to get myself a handbag for important things like tissues, pens, cough sweets and doorstops. But more importantly I need to be that loyal friend who’s there to laugh with and cry with.
Thank you to all my loyal friends, You’re worth more than any handbag, and thank you Jesus, the most loyal of all.
Contagious Kindness- 14/7/20
Has someone ever done something that has really irritated you? Tell the truth! It might be something quite small but you’ve dwelt on it and pondered on it until it’s become something much bigger. The bigger that irritation becomes, the more things you find to be irritated by. You start off being irritated because they haven’t washed the dishes and end up falling out over the fact that they NEVER wash the dishes, they NEVER answer the phone when you call and they were late picking you up that time back in 1998! The problem is that, instead of simply dealing with the issue when it became an issue, we’ve fed it by giving it our time and attention – and like anything else, when you feed it, it grows!
But someone shared a poem with me this week which turns lock-down and Covid-19 on its head. ‘Kindness’ by Brian Bilston (https://brianbilston.com/tag/kindness/) considers the ‘virus’ of kindness which has grown during this time of uncertainty. The neighbours checking in on one another; the shopping being delivered to those who can’t go out; the phone calls made to someone feeling lonely. We are, quite rightly, concerned about containing and reducing the spread of Covid-19 but imagine what the world could look like if the R value of the ‘virus of kindness’ grew? Imagine if for every single act of kindness that we received we gave 2 away!
The Bible calls us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3). And the really good news is that in just the same way that we can feed our irritations and see them grow, we can feed our inner kindness and see it grow. By actively choosing to dress ourselves each day in the clothes of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, we choose to look for those opportunities when we can display those traits to others.
In Luke Ch 6 it says, “Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Imagine a world in which every kind act is received back many times over – and the more we get back, the more we want to give out and so it grows. The more time and attention we give to the kindnesses, the more we share them, or to put it another way the more we feed them, the more they will grow.
Let’s go out into the week actively looking for opportunities to show kindness and not only will we find that we have the ability to make others feel good, but it can make us feel good too. And in the midst of all of this, the irritations will begin to shrink away because we’re just not feeding them any more.
Fed Up Yet?- 13/7/20
OK it’s time to be honest and own up. Hands up all those of you who are getting fed up with government rules and regulations. Wow, that many! But it’s all for our protection. Yes I know you want to go shopping without looking like a bandit, and you need to get back to the gym to recover your streamlined aerodynamic shape. I understand how frustrated you are standing in a long line outside The Range before you get permission to enter from someone who looks like they should be in school. And all you wanted was a 2B pencil! We have been told daily by our leaders that it’s all for our good (which we know is true but we don’t like admitting it), but it’s gone on too long and we British people deserve better than this. We are aware that many remote countries are still sadly struggling, but this is England and we like to think we are in charge. The sooner we can get back to traffic jams and polluting the atmosphere, the better. Do you think it’s possible that we are being unreasonable by demanding heaven on earth? Almost all of the admirable characters in the Bible, male and female, faced exceedingly difficult times and lived lives that would shock us. There’s a lesson here for us that we may not wish to hear; normal life on earth is a mix of easy and tough days. But you know that because you’ve had your share of nasty days, and for many of us the nasty days are still with us.
There’s a temptation to believe that Christians are protected from harsh experiences, despite the fact that most of Jesus’ disciples were executed. Jesus said some shocking things to His followers, He said, “If the world hates you, remember it hated me first.” That’s not a very good recruitment slogan is it? Jesus was clearly spelling out the fact that Christians are not to expect an easy ride on their way through life. So does that mean that we are in for a miserable and difficult existence down here? No it doesn’t, but it does mean that we are not to measure God’s love for us by how easy life is.
St Paul lived a life of extreme challenges and suffered enormously but could still say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” All of us have had or are having tough times; no one escapes! But God promises His presence to those who trust in His Son and follow Him. Paul’s life was not easy but it was worth living. He knew that satisfaction did not come via his circumstances, but from knowing that God walked with him. That was his choice. What’s yours?
My Forever Friend- 12/7/20
My granddaughter when she was 13 , had a bad year in school. She didn't say anything to anyone, but it was obvious to her mum and dad after a while that something was wrong. In the end thankfully ,things were sorted.She is now eighteen and very recently was asked to do two 'one minute motivation' videos for her youth group at Church. This is what she said on one of them-"Isaiah 41:10 'So do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you with my righteous right hand'.God is always here for us no matter what the situation is.Do not worry because God is right by your side helping, guiding and protecting you. If you are worried or feel you can't do something, don't get distressed because God will give you the strength to conquer everything. God is always there for us and will never let us down. If something is on your mind give it to God. He will hold you up and care for you. Isn't that amazing.This really encourages me when times are hard... (big smile) "Needless to say I was a very proud and emotional grandparent watching the video, especially as I know this sort of thing does not come naturally to her.I think this is a great encouragement to us all. God will never leave us or forsake us. He is with us every step we take. He is our forever friend. Let us cling onto His promises !
Look Down to Look Up- 11/7/20
I love skies, all skies, blue ones with little fleecy white clouds, thunder clouds that look so threatening, totally grey skies that remove all shadows, red skies at night and in the morning (despite the weather implications), and starry skies on the darkest of nights. If you’re imaginative or slightly crazy, you might start seeing animals or people in the clouds. Don’t tell anyone! On a breezy day skies can change every minute and on a still day they can hang around for ever. I remember a photographer who photographed the same patch of sky at the same time every day for a year and the results were amazingly varied. If you want to look at the sky without getting a stiff neck you can often look down and still see it; just find some water. As well as skies, I love reflections. You can photograph a lake and see the sky reflected in it. If the water is rippled you will see a beautifully disturbed, almost abstract, image of the sky above. If the water is still, the reflection of the sky will be a perfect mirror image.
If we want to understand what God is like, we can read statements in the Bible that help us, God is love / God is patient / God is just / God is wise, etc. But maybe the words are not enough. We would gain more information about God if He lived down here where we are and had to deal with the kind of people and situations that we deal with every day. Instead of looking up to see God, let’s look down to where Jesus walked. He is like the still lake because when we look at Him we see a reflection of His Father.
When He faced temptation, we see God’s holiness; when we see Jesus faced with spiritual darkness, we see God’s authority; when people presented Him with their problems, we see God’s wisdom; when desperate men and women cried out for help, we see God’s compassion; when we see a man on a cross, we see the love of God. The Bible tells us that, ‘God’s Son has all the brightness of God’s own glory, and is like Him in every way.’
If, for you, seeing is believing, then look at Jesus.
Where's the Instructions?- 10/7/20
I’m somebody who likes to read the instructions. I like to know what it is I’m supposed to do and how I’m supposed to do it. I operate on the basis that somebody else already knows how to do this and has gone to the trouble of writing it down for my benefit. If I cooked, I would definitely use a recipe, rather than just throwing things into a pan and hoping for the best.
That’s why I like Ikea furniture. I often hear people complain about the instructions, but I have never found them to be a problem. Much of it is in pictures, so you can see what it is you’re supposed to do without having to read complicated text.
I know some people that just dive straight in and start hammering and banging; assuming that their intuition will prove enough. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have colleagues that work in IT, who despair of people who, when faced with a problem, adopt a similar approach. They just press every button they can find because they believe that eventually one of them will do the job. In so doing, they end up making things ten times worse for the poor helpdesk technician who has to fix the mess. Oh well, different people approach problems in different ways.
Of course, certain problems don’t come with instructions. After all, life doesn’t come with a handbook. We sometimes feel like we’ll just have to figure it out all by ourselves, but we are not on our own. We can turn to God. Now, I know some people who accept that, but still get frustrated that God has not spoken to them to give them a clear instruction of how to solve their problem. They have not received a lightning bolt of revelation.
The songwriter, Carolyn Arends puts it like this in one of her songs, “I was hoping you would write for me a message in the stars – as if the stars themselves were not enough”. She realised that this is the God that created the heavens and the earth; His hands threw stars in to space; do we really need to wait for Him to send us a personalised message before we accept that He is on the case? No, we simply need to trust.
So, when we face problems and difficulties we should not be discouraged. Our focus should never be on how big our problem is, it should be on how big our God is.
The book of Ephesians talks of a God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine”. It is this God that we can trust to help in our difficulty. It is this God “who made the earth and created mankind on it”. It is this God who has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.
We might not have a set of instructions, but we can leave the problem in His hands; safe in the knowledge that He will seek the right outcome according to the master plan He has for us.
Walk On the Wild Side- 09/7/20
What’s the riskiest, most stupid thing that you have ever done? That is a truly brilliant conversation starter, isn’t it? I mean, we all remember Theresa May being asked something like this and her talking about running through a field of wheat! I could not ever imagine my answer to this being “A hug”, can you? A few weeks ago, I went back to the midlands (down south for you lot) for a funeral. The funeral was being streamed so I watched it whilst at my best friend’s house. It was a bittersweet day. The funeral was tough but being able to watch it whilst spending time with my friend was pure therapy. We were so careful. We had a lovely lunch in her big back garden and kept 2 meters away from each other. There were tears and laughter as we shared memories and watched the funeral. Then it was time to go. On the doorstep I turned around and gave her a big hug. I had missed her, and it was instinctive. It was stupid. It was dangerous. It was risky because we were living through the most dangerous pandemic in our lifetimes. It is, however, not the riskiest thing that I have ever done. That was standing up in a church, telling people that I loved Jesus and wanted to follow him and getting baptised.
Following Christ is not a safe, cosy thing to do. It means being willing to submit to His authority, go where He wants you to go and live in a sacrificial way. In some parts of the world, it can cost you your life. It is the riskiest thing that I have ever done and the best. Following Christ in this world means, to me, peace, hope, a future, and life. In the gospel of John are these words: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”
So, what’s the riskiest thing that you have ever done?
Oh Happy Day!- 09/7/20
Before lock-down, one of my favourite times in the week was Monday evening at choir practice. For those of you who don’t know, Melling Community Gospel Choir will be 9 years old this coming October. Woohoo!! And I hope I can celebrate our birthday with all the choir members.
We are people from all walks of life, a million different likes and dislikes, skills and experiences. Not one of us is more important than the other. We all need each other. We started as just a choir. We’ve become a family. And, well, Zoom choir just isn’t the same! First of all, we can’t sing together! Secondly, have you ever tried hugging someone on Zoom? Zoom is wonderful, but the choir need to be together. The music we perform finds its roots in the devastating experiences of the African slaves in the United States. The physical and mental pain and suffering that they were put through by other humans was indescribable. They cried out to God, and found their strength and security in Him, and in each other. They weren’t professionally trained musicians and singers but the words they sang together, and the tunes they created together, were so beautiful and so powerful, they have been passed down from one generation to another. None of us in our choir are professionally trained musicians or singers either! We’ve had many a Monday night where we have laughed and laughed trying to get our parts right. But when we do get it right...wow! Between the message of the words, the beautiful music and the sense of unity.....well, let’s just say, I miss our choir so much! Each one of us joined because we wanted to sing. But I think it’s fair of me to say that through singing we’ve gotten so much more!! During this time of forced separation, many of us will be realising all over again just how important others are to us. We need each other. When I’ve been thinking about the choir and my other friends I’ve been reminded of this verse in the bible,
‘I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy’.
Maybe there’s people who you feel that way about too? Let them know. It’s important because they’re important. They’re a gift from God.
In the Hands of the Master- 07/7/20
Have you ever wondered what makes a masterpiece a masterpiece?
There is a story that one day the artist Pablo Picasso was in a park when a woman asked him if he would do a portrait of her. He agreed and set about drawing the woman. When he had finished and handed over the artwork, the women was stunned and delighted with the resemblance that he had captured. She asked him how much she owed him for the drawing, to which he replied “$5,000”. She was horrified and said “but it only took you 5 minutes!” his reply was simple – “No, mam. It took me all my life.”
Picasso showed talent from a very early age and his father, a painter and professor of art, recognised this and began to formally train him from the age of 7. By the age of 13 he was accepted as a student at the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona and continued his studies in Madrid at the age of 16 where he spent a great deal of his time in art galleries carefully studying masterpieces and developing his own style of art. The portrait that he produced for the woman may have only taken 5 minutes of pen on paper time, but the image created was an accumulation of a lifetime’s work.
In Ephesians ch 2 v 10 it says “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago”.
None of us are the same as we were when we were children, we have grown and changed physically but we’ve also grown and changed in character, abilities and knowledge – we are, and ultimately will be, the accumulation of a lifetime’s work.
I looked up the definition of ‘masterpiece’ and it said that it is a work of outstanding artistry; the work of an acknowledged master. Masterpieces don’t come from nowhere, they are carefully crafted and created; they are the product of skill, devotion and love. The master commits to the subject and the canvas submits itself to the skilled hand of the master. The question is, which master do you submit to?
Way back at the beginning of time Genesis tells us that when God had finished creating the world, the birds, the trees, the animals and humanity, he paused and “looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” I may not seem very special and I’m definitely a work in progress – it’s a work that will take all of my life, but when I submit to the hands of God the Master I have the potential to become one of His masterpieces. They say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ – well, when God looks at us, does he see the beauty of his creation? Does he recognise the work of his hands?
I choose to submit to the hands of God the Master. Who will you choose to be your master?
Have You Seen My- 06/7/20
“Have you seen my (take your pick) phone/keys/glasses/bag?” How many times in the last week have you got into your car, turned the engine on, then remembered that you didn’t have some essential item. Your passengers roll their eyes and think ‘here we go again.’ Turn the engine off, take the keys, go back into the house to get your whatever. But your whatever isn’t where you knew it would be, ‘Why don’t they leave my things alone’ you say to yourself. It’s never your fault that things disappear of course, you’re so tidy. It’s strange though that this happens twice a week. A ‘quick’ search around the entire house follows before you find the item in an odd place, and you just know that you would never have left it there. Back out to the car to meet one of your passengers coming back in to go to the loo. ‘Why are people so disorganised?’
Losing something can be very irritating, especially if it’s important, like a letter from the hospital or an envelope with banknotes inside. The strange thing is that if the item is lost in the house, it’s probably safe even though it’s lost. In the odd days of Lock-down during the last three months, many people have felt lost in their own homes. Not allowed out, couldn’t go shopping, Hub, Choir, and Shoot out of reach, forbidden to touch our family and friends; life was put on hold. It was easy to feel invisible and unreachable, just like a lost coin, even though we have been kept safe. Imagine how much worse it would have been without phones, group chats, and Zoom. And gnome deliveries. We have a lot to thank God for!
Jesus told a story about a woman who lost a coin, and He described her reaction, “She lights a lamp, sweeps her house, and looks carefully everywhere until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together, and says to them, “I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let’s celebrate.” We are beginning slowly to come out of Lock-down, and hopefully we will be able to celebrate with family and friends just like the lady who found her coin. Let’s be grateful to God for our safety which will make celebration possible. Speaking about the lady celebrating, Jesus said, “In the same way, I tell you, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.” God is interested in anyone who needs to be found and made safe.
Taking or Giving?- 05/7/20
During the pandemic there has been a lot of talk about giving. There has quite possibly been a miraculous outpouring of generosity, a true spirit of helping and outreach. We are all so grateful for this response, most have been a part of it within their own sphere and ability: giving and where necessary taking.
More recently, with acute awareness of racial injustice, domination and abuse, there are many who also require us to take…..that is to “take the knee”. And if by this we mean making a peaceful stand for racial equality then we empathise and support.
However, not everyone realises that ‘taking the knee’ is borrowed from the action of Martin Luther King, the well-known black human rights activist, who publicly bowed the knee, or gave the knee to his Heavenly Father, on 1st February 1965 as he prayed for fellow-protesters outside a courthouse in Alabama. It demonstrated a prayerful surrender to Jesus. Herein lay his power.
So perhaps we would do well to look below the surface of cultural gestures to find a true and effective and deeper demonstration of commitment to justice. The Bible says in Philippians 2:10-11 and Romans 14:11 that at the name of Jesus one day every knee will bow. How much more effective would we be if we did that now? A life surrendered to Christ becomes a focal point, a channel perhaps, for the creative power of the Holy Spirit. The individual becomes a ‘thin place’ where Heaven can ‘squeeze through’ into a particular point on earth. When people do that they establish here a part of God’s Kingdom where there is no difference between various groups (Galatians 3:28), where all are equal in value….. and that makes all the difference!! So it’s worth considering: do you want to simply take the knee in the human challenge …… or will you go further and give the knee to our Saviour’s invitation?
Home Sweet Home...Maybe- 04/7/20
I love my home. It’s not just a house. Not just a place to sleep. Nor, by any stretch, is it perfect! My girls are noisy and untidy and, well, noisy and untidy. And Louis, my black lab, collects slippers and shoes and deposits them around the house. Our home isn’t a ‘show home’, and it’s not filled with perfect people, but it is filled with love and acceptance and safety and forgiveness. And good coffee! We can all argue and disagree, but home is still where we all run to when we’re tired, sad, lonely, hungry, needing encouragement and love.
I’ve lived in many different places over the years. In many different houses. But they’ve not all been home. Home should be special. And it can be any flat, house, apartment, tent(!!!!)....as long as there is much love and safety and care. Home is not dependent on the amount of possessions owned.
But for some people, ‘home’ is not defined like that at all. Home for them may be scary, lonely, abusive, freezing cold with no food, no peace. For these people, ‘Home Sweet Home’ just doesn’t ring true.
Jesus was big into social justice. He cared. He got angry about injustices. Peoples lives mattered to Him. ALL peoples lives. And He made the point over and over again that we are to care for others. Even when it gets messy and inconvenient and requires sacrifice. When He said, ‘Love God and love your neighbour’, He wasn’t talking just about the people next door.
Maya Angelou knew what it was like to go through many abuses and tragedies, she said, ‘As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others’.
For those whose home life is suffering because of neglect, abuse, illness, poverty, addiction, loneliness....if we can help, then let’s do our bit. Let’s put away all judgement, and treat others as we’d want to be treated. What a difference it would make to our world if more homes were sweet.
What's In A Name?- 03/7/20
When I was born I was given a name. Strictly speaking, I was given two, but the first one had been decided months before I was born; although, as you are about to read, it changed at the register office. The second one was decided following my birth, but that one too is not what it should have been.My Mum was determined that I would have a name that could not be shortened. She toyed with the idea of Mark for a while, but on checking the births in the Liverpool Echo she decided that there were too many Marks already, so she decided on Ian. Of course, she didn't count upon the determination of the average Scouser to shorten even the shortest of names, so I am often referred to simply as, E. Thanks Mum!My middle name was something my Mum and Dad could not agree upon. The one thing they did agree was that I would not be named after my father or either of my grandfathers. They eventually agreed that I would be named after the doctor that delivered me. This was a decision they were very pleased they had made as I was three weeks late and was a very difficult delivery. I was so starved of oxygen that I was black when I was born. It seemed a nice tribute to the skills of the doctor who ensured my safe passage into this world to give me his name. So my Dad asked after the name of the doctor and was told it was Andrew; which just happened to be the name of my late paternal grandfather, but despite the original agreement regarding familial names, Andrew became my middle name. It was only after my name had been registered that they discovered that Andrew was the other doctor on duty that night... the doctor who delivered me was actually called Colin. To this day my Dad maintains it was an honest mistake, but my Mum never believed him. Oh, and my other name was registered by my Dad as Ian instead of Iain. Another mistake for which he was never forgiven. Personally, I'm happy with both the names and their spelling, so no harm done.In the Bible we find names have a great significance. The meaning of the actual name is important in itself, but often people were given other monikers that described their character or what their role would be.God himself never revealed His name. When asked by Moses, He simply said that His name was, “I am”. That was enough. This was, after all, the God who had created everything, so it was enough to know that He was.Jesus went by many names. His given name was obviously Jesus, but in Isaiah 9:6 we read, “He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. These titles speak of His divinity, His power, His faithfulness, His nature and purpose. It is Jesus that provides us with our salvation; Jesus who gives us life in all its fullness; Jesus who loves us and watches over us. So, the next time you hear His name spoken, remember that the simple name Jesus is not enough to encompass all that He is or does. He has so many more names... and none of them are a mistake.
Wardrobe Dilemmas- 02/7/20
When our children were younger (not that little either), getting 4 of them up, fed, dressed and out onto buses for school etc was a daily struggle. They also all went to the school that I worked in but chose to get the bus cos being taught by your Mum was bad enough but sharing a car with her was much worse! However, the youngest would often get a lift if she could, along with her maths teacher who lived around the corner. Picture the scene I am late for work and she cannot find her black regulation school socks. Eventually, I gave up waiting and we drove off, leaving her on the pavement screaming and crying.
Clothes matter, the regulation school socks, and uniform told folks to which school she belonged. They were part of her identity. On Saturday, I am attending a virtual wedding. I will dress up in my fancy outfit to watch it on my laptop…because it feels tight and symbolic to do so. Wearing that outfit will remind me that I am witnessing a special occasion and that I am part of it.
In Galatians chapter 3 verse 27 it says this: “for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” When we belong to Jesus, we should be clothing ourselves with Him. Putting on Christ means putting on His characteristics or it could mean that we put on His armour and protection. Either way, folks should be able to look at us and know that we belong to Jesus by the way that we are. Our identity, our very being should be recognisable as Christian or of Christ. No ironing needed, and yes, there will be times when we mess up and go out with the wrong clothing on; when we don’t put on Christ. When that happens, we need to turn to him and say sorry and He always comes back for us.
The Girl With The Dragonfly Tattoo- 01/7/20
That’s me! It was about 8 years ago when I found myself in a tattoo studio in Liverpool, at the mercy of the loveliest hairy biker I’ve ever met! We chatted and laughed as he carefully created an everlasting dragonfly on my back!
Dragonflies are such beautiful creatures! Their colours and delicate shape are just amazing! But they weren’t always like that. In the ‘baby’ phase they are wingless bugs. Living under the water, wallowing in the mud, and eating most things that come their way! Hardly beautiful! And that phase can go on for up to 2 years! In the mud!! And then, one day, DA-DAAAAH!...
Wings! Colours! Flight! That’s SUCH a good day!! And everything about them seems excited and happy!
Dragonflies can fly at speeds of nearly 60 miles an hour! They can hover like a helicopter, fly forwards, backwards, up and down, they catch their food in mid flight and mate in mid flight! Now there’s a talent!!!
But they’re not without their struggles and threats. Global warming is threatening their existence, and birds, spiders and frogs love to snack on them! Life isn’t easy for the dragonfly but when I look at one I can’t help but believe that it’s loving life and living life.
Our days can be fraught with problems and worries and difficulties, all very real, that in some way or other, threaten us, distract us, drain us. David, in the Bible, was no stranger to struggles and worries and real life threatening situations, and it was during such a time that he wrote these words, ‘This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it’. He wasn’t ignoring his problems but he was choosing to get the best out of his day. Recognising each day as a gift from God, and choosing to be thankful. If dragonflies had a favourite Bible verse, I think they’d choose that one! And if David has to be an insect, I think he’d opt for a dragonfly! I love my tattoo, and whatever is going on in my world, my dragonfly is a constant reminder to be real and to be thankful and to seek the best out of my day. I’m SO glad I didn’t pick a dung beetle!