November '21 Sunrises
"Flooding Back" - 29/11/21
Last week I went where I had not been for almost two years. Like many millions of activity groups around the world, our photography club was starting again after 22 months of inactivity. So I picked up my case which holds the forms, registers, accounts, lecture notes, photographs, etc. and I explored. Everything was there just as I had left it before Covid arrived; that was not surprising, where else would it be? But it was the little things that I found that surprised me; there was a selection of photos that the members had produced that I had forgotten about, there was a torch that I had been looking for (no idea why it was there), two chocolate biscuits that were well passed their sell-by date, and an old notebook containing notes for talks I had intended to present. It was a welcome and warm reunion with old friends, and I was delighted to get back to business.
But there was one thing, actually one page; it was at the back of my vintage notebook, and it stopped me in my tracks. As I looked, I realized that it was a mind map, and it was a plan for the future. My future. It was dated 2007! This was my plan for my future set out fourteen years ago. As I looked at the various compartments of my life then, and considered my plans for the next ten years, which are now in the past, it all came flooding back. Mostly it was very optimistic, I had planned to escape from certain tedious activities and make way for more interesting ones, we were going to travel more, and I had plans and dreams for my wonderful family. I noticed that illness did not appear on my mind map, nor did the bank crash of 2007/8 that blew my business to smithereens.
As I view my life now, my emotions range from disappointment and regret, to satisfaction and gratitude. My guess is that you can all relate to this. Trying to predict the future is usually futile, but we all try it anyway. For the Christian, our future, despite life’s roller coaster ride, is in God’s hands. To make plans for our tomorrows is a perfectly responsible activity as long as we add the words, ‘God willing’. There are many Bible passages that encourage us to trust the God who knows the future. Solomon provides us with a taste of his great wisdom; let’s benefit from his knowledge and experience of the God who leads, ‘Trust in 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.’
"Hope" - 28/11/21
In a week where lives have been lost and homes have been battered due to Storm Arwen; where a new covid variant has renewed fears in many; and knife crime increases with the latest devastation of a 12 year old girl stabbed to death in Liverpool City Centre, it’s understandable that people are weary, angry, sad and feeling defeated.
It’s especially important that in times like these we hold on to hope. Hope that there is still good in our world, hope that we can see communities gather together to support one another, hope that there’s a loving, all powerful, all knowing God who holds the future.
Let’s look after one another. Let’s offer kind words, encouragement and friendship. Let’s meet hatred with love (that’s not easy!!) sadness with support and loneliness with a phone call or knock on the door. Who knows the difference it could make to somebody.
Martin Luther King, whilst experiencing the horrors of racism and hatred that would eventually take his life, said these words,
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Jesus himself taught us to be light in the darkness.
May you all experience ‘light’ today, and in turn, go and be light to others. One person at a time. Praying for a hope-filled Sunday for you all.
Click the link below to hear the beautiful song, ‘Death Was Arrested’.
"Light" - 27/11/21
Last night I went to watch the switch on of our local Christmas lights. It was a nice evening; the village was quite full - something I haven't seen since before the days of Covid. There were fairground attractions, stalls selling mulled wine, mince pies and various sweet treats and a stage where local schoolchildren performed seasonal songs. A fine time was had by all; particularly the children. The excitement on their faces was a joy to behold and I'm sure that when they all came down from their sugar rush, they slept soundly in their beds.
The odd thing was that the lights themselves were a little underwhelming. Don't get me wrong; I like them - they look colourful and brighten the street very nicely. The two Christmas trees are tastefully decorated and beautifully lit. The problem is that when you think of why we have Christmas lights in the first place; when you remember what it is that we are celebrating, then no amount of lights is enough. We can never hope to create any kind of display fit enough to do justice to the occasion.
Christmas celebrates the time that God came to earth in the person of Jesus. The light of the world walked among us. "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life". He told us that we too can be light in the world, "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven". He not only told us that we could be light, but He showed us how. He lived a life of love, kindness and sacrifice that is an example to us all.
So, let's enjoy the lights we have, whether those in the local streets, or the ones adorning our own homes and let's remember that they point us towards the one true light that will be with us long after the bulbs and baubles are packed away.
"Re-Invention" - 25/11/21
“Christmas ought to be brought up to date,” Maria said. “It ought to have gangsters, and aeroplanes and a lot of automatic pistols.”
John Masefield, The Box of Delights
The Box of Delights is a children's fantasy novel. Kay Harker finds himself mixed up in a battle to possess a magical box which allows people to go into the past and to experience the magical wonders contained within the box.
Well, it’s the time of year when suddenly adverts become interesting. I don’t know if your house is anything like mine, but we love the Christmas adverts. We love looking at them all and deciding which one is the ‘best’! This year we have aliens from John Lewis, Percy Pig from Marks and Spencer, and an alternative fruit and vegetable version of Christmas Carol from Aldi!
I wonder if you can remember any favourite Christmas adverts from previous years? I remember the advert with the man on the moon, the 1914 first world war advert from Sainsburys, and the iconic yellow pages ad with the little boy and the mistletoe. I think my favourite recent advent was the Bear and the Hare John Lewis advert.
Each year the shops and websites try and re-invent Christmas for us. They try and produce the most compelling advert, which makes Christmas seem newer, better, or more impressive than last year, so that we will spend our money with them.
Like the quote from the box of delights, they feel the need to bring Christmas up to date, new and improved.
However impressive these adverts are, I am always struck with how powerful the very first Christmas was and still is today. Every year I am astounded with how God sent his son into the world as a helpless baby, because he loved us. Its simplicity makes it even more powerful somehow
The time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.
Whatever your favourite Christmas advert is, and however Christmas is reinvented this year, lets keep that very first most important Christmas at the heart of everything we do.
"A Gift For Life" - 24/11/21
You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong – you only want what will give you pleasure. James Ch4 v2
So what’s the difference between Father Christmas and God? That sounds a bit like the start of a really bad joke but if we think about it, we can often confuse God with a Santa Claus figure who we go to when we want something.
In the mid 1800’s a young man called Dwight L Moody from Boston became a Christian. Soon after that, he set off for Chicago where his plan was to sell shoes and make his fortune of $100,000 – a huge amount of money at that time. Slowly but surely, he began to realise that his mission in life wasn’t to amass a fortune but rather help the poor. Over the course of his life, his preaching and social work changed hundreds of thousands of people’s lives and I suspect he raised far more than his original goal of $100,000 – it just wasn’t for himself.
In the book of Philippians in the Bible we read these words: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.”
The fact is that God wants to hear about every aspect of our lives; our anxieties; our health worries; our financial concerns as well as our joy and our thanks. What God wants is for us to call him ‘friend’ – and it’s that relationship that makes him so different to Father Christmas. Would you go to your best friend and say – “you can afford it, give me a new car”? Rather, your closest friends are the ones who you share your deepest hopes and concerns with. They are your friends, not because of what they give you, but because of the relationship you have with them.
Moody once said ‘Some people think God does not like to be troubled with our constant coming and asking. The way to trouble God is not to come at all’. God wants to hear it all but the biggest difference between God and Father Christmas is that Santa may give you the Ferrari you asked for but God wants to come on the journey with you.
"What Are You Hiding?" - 23/11/21
Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you’
‘Honesty’ - Billy Joel
Recently I read an article about someone I thought had been a good, honest character, full of integrity, with love for his family. I was devastated to hear that this person had been living a double life. Causing many, many people to believe he was someone great and good whilst all along sordid secrets were piling up on his phone and his victims were being silenced. He passed away, aged 74, and left behind a lot of brokenness. It was a heart-breaking read. More scandal. More lies. No honesty. Secrets. Secrets. Secrets.
Nowadays it would seem that nearly everybody has a mobile phone. Instant access to others through phone calls and texts. And then there’s the internet freely available wherever we are. Not to mention all the social media sites. Oh, and then there’s the photos and videos we take, or we receive. These phones are absolutely incredible! Where would we be without them?! But what’s on them? If someone got hold of our phones would they be shocked by our photos? Would our messages reveal ‘another side’? And what about our Search History? Billy Joel was right when he said that honesty is such a lonely word. There seems to be so many stories of scandal and lies and lack of integrity. But we can be different.
Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’.
CS Lewis defined integrity as ‘doing the right thing, even when no one is watching’.
Secret lives cause broken lives. Let’s all be careful to think right thoughts, say right words and have right actions. It’s so important that honesty, and integrity, are key to how we live. And we’d all love Billy Joel to write another song!
"Get A Brand New Sense Of Wonder" - 22/11/21
The ancient monastic communities in Northumbria spent a lot of time just sitting and praying. There was a focus on creativity and worshipping God in the beauty of the natural created world. Today we will wake up to another set of charts on the news, listen to yet more experts on politics, science , economics and business and we will be bombarded with information . Celtic Christianity stresses that wisdom is more important than knowledge. Wonder is more important than information. Can you find some space and time today to get outside and look around. In times such as we are living now, our mental health really needs protecting. Can you find time today to create some head space? Can you find time to stop and wonder at the God created beauty in the world around you?
Psalm 8 has David( who incidentally, also had a lot of bad mental health days) writing these words:
“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!"
Try to recapture a sense of wonder today and as you do so, know that God thinks you are wonderful too
"Bolted On" - 21/11/21
When you are looking for a new car, the way we search does not always relate to what we actually want to do. You are buying a car to move people and luggage from A to B, that’s the main thing we want to do. So the number of seats will be an important part of what we look for. But many of the decisions we make on which car to buy will not be based on that information.
Is it comfortable? Does it look nice? How good does the radio sound? What extra gadgets does it come with? There are things we take for granted that will come with the car, like seats and seatbelts or opening windows, or lights or wheels. Often, what takes time to choose are the extras. We take certain things for granted. A car is made safe not by adding pillows to the outside afterwards but by building in air bags into the structure of the car.
The designers need to build into things important details to make things work, to make them usable and to make them safe. They cant just be added on at the last minute.
Being a Christian is not something that is just an add on, it becomes a part of our lives. Its not something which we just do on a Sunday or its not just that is added on to the outside. Being a Christian is a part of us and our relationship with God is a fundamental part of our “being”. Often Christians will describe the time in their lives before they knew God as if there was a part of their life that was missing.
A Christian is someone whose behaviour and heart shows Jesus in their life. They accept the love of God and this love is reflected back both to God and then out to others.
Jesus said, "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Being a Christian is not just a bolt-on, it is actually a fundamental part of us that was intended by the designer.
"A Work In Progress" - 19/11/21
As some of you already know, I am decorating at the moment. I was reminded of the Sunrise I wrote the last time I was decorating, so I thought I would remind you. If the BBC can get away with repeats, then so can I... pretty soon you will be able to download the full boxset. This was first published on 31st July 2020, but its message is still applicable. So, while you read this, possibly for the second time, I will get on with the ceiling. Enjoy.
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 too. 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.
"Planning" - 18/11/21
“The phrase 'Someone ought to do something' was not, by itself, a helpful one. People who used it never added the rider 'and that someone is me'.”
Terry Pratchett, Hogfather
The Hogfather is a book which takes a satirical look at the power of belief through an alternative world called Discworld. The Hogfather is the Discworld’s version of Santa, and the book explores what might happen if he disappeared!
Well today it’s 37 days till Christmas. As I am writing this, I am attempting to work out what I might get people for Christmas. This may seem early for some, but so much about Christmas is about planning nowadays isn’t it!
Planning for the presents, the entertaining, the Christmas meals and parties. Its all wonderful, but its often a lot of work for people.
I am reassured to know that the first Christmas also had a lot of planning behind the scenes. Our phrase from the Hogfather today reminds me that God always had a plan. Someone needed to do something about the state of the world and its people, and unlike the quote, God stepped in with a plan. His plan was brave and unorthodox, but it was the most amazing rescue plan for all people.
Gods plan to send his son down to earth, to be born, live and grow up as a human, and give himself as a sacrifice for all was in place hundreds of years before it came to pass.
The bible tells us that God promised this in a book called Isaiah, written several hundreds of years before the first Christmas.
So God is going to give you a sign. Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us).
God took great care planning the first Christmas, and nothing was left to chance. Whether we are great planners, or last minute panickers, or somewhere in-between, lets give thanks for the most amazing rescue plan of all.
"Back In The Saddle"- 17/11/21
Some years ago, not long after I had arrived in Guatemala to work, I was asked by a local doctor to go and visit a remote village a few hours away on a mountainside. We were travelling in a small jeep until the journey became too difficult. The doctor parked his jeep and announced that we were to walk the rest of the journey. We had only been walking a few minutes, when a couple of men appeared out of nowhere. They lived in a tiny community on the side of the mountain. They asked us where we were going and immediately offered us horses to ride for the rest of the journey. ‘Oh goody!’ I thought to myself sarcastically. ‘A horse!’ A horse WITHOUT a saddle! I was not excited! That day I was wearing a T-shirt and a long very flowy skirt. Two men offered to help me up. They bent down and both clasped their hands for me to place my foot on. I’m guessing that my large, flowy skirt made me look a bit heavier than I was..... With a big heave from my 2 amigos, all 7 stone of me flew into the air, over the top of the horse, and landed back down on the ground, with my large flowy skirt now over my head. The place erupted with laughter as more and more villagers appeared from nowhere to see the unplanned comedy. So we tried again. I had nothing to lose. I had lost my dignity the moment I landed on the ground. Take 2! And this time I landed safely on the horse. People cheered. My legs dangled pathetically either side. This was not going to be comfortable! The man who owned the horse spoke in Spanish to my translator who told me, “you just have to nudge the horse with your heals and say ‘yah!’ “ I braced myself! So did everyone else! ‘Yah!’ I shouted and swung my legs into the horse‘s sides. We took off, a bit faster than everybody expected, straight through the open door of a small, simple, one-roomed home. The horse stopped in front of a completely stunned family of four who were sitting at the table eating. I got the feeling they’d not had a horse in the house before. At that point in time I don’t know who was more shocked, the family we had just invaded, me, the horse, or the crowd of onlookers outside. For a moment, there was silence. This was broken by me speaking the only Spanish I knew at that time, ‘¡hola!’ (That’s hello!) There wasn’t a dry eye in the place as my horse was backed out of the house and we were sent on our way, riding up the mountainside. At the end of that day, when we eventually returned the horses to the ‘still laughing’ villagers, I ache from head to toe. There wasn’t a bit of me that didn’t hurt. But inside I felt great. We had laughed and laughed while I tried to learn a new skill and ‘somewhat’ succeed! People were gracious, patient, good natured and full of encouragement. I was grateful! Very grateful! Over the past few days and weeks we have all had to adapt to a different way of living and socialising. It’s not been easy. And many of us have had an enormously steep learning curve concerning new ways to communicate with each other. The ‘how to’s’ and the ‘do’s and the don’t’s’, have been really difficult to work our way through. And when it becomes too difficult, the stress levels rise and there’s the temptation to feel stupid or useless or left out. Those people in Guatemala taught me a great lesson that day. They taught me a lot about patience, good humour and encouragement....all I had to do was get back on the horse. 1 Corinthians 13, tells us all about what love is. I encourage you to read it. But one verse says, “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant”. Can I make a suggestion today, that we all learn from those Guatemalan villagers and help each other face our ‘horse-sized’ stumbling blocks with grace, patience, good humour and much encouragement. When we fall, let’s help each other back up. Happy Wednesday everybody.
"Let Your Little Lights Shine" - 16/11/21
As we were reminded in Sunrise over the weekend – Christmas is coming! If I’m honest, I was a little surprised when I read that, where has the year gone?! I’m pretty certain it is a sign of old age but the years really do seem to be passing quicker!
I’m never an early Christmas shopper but this year I haven’t even given it a thought yet and the realisation of the impending advent season is a little bit stressful. But the one thing that never stresses me out about Christmas are the lights. The presents may not be bought, the turkey may not be ordered but I’m ready with my lights! As soon as December arrives I will be ready to decorate my tree, hang my baubles and turn the fairy lights on. There is something so pretty and exciting when the dark December streets become lit up with the colourful, twinkling lights of Christmas. For a while the world looks happy and welcoming, joyous and bright. But the reality is that January will come and the lights will go away for another year while the streets become dark and gloomy again.
But the Bible tells us that Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus came into the world to bring a new light, a light that would outlast the seasons, a light that can’t be put away in a box or unplugged until next year. To walk with Jesus each day offers a light that will never fade or go out but will remain with us through the good times as well as the bad. As we approach advent this year and begin to turn our twinkly lights on, let’s remember that Jesus ‘the light of the world’ was so much more than just a baby – he came to bring us the light of life that can never be taken from us. He wants to shine through us brighter than any light we have stored away; he wants to light up our lives and the lives of everyone we come into contact with. As we begin to light up our streets let’s remember that while the fairy lights may offer some seasonal joy, the light of Jesus offers us a deep and lasting joy that will still be with us when we get to January and beyond.
"Some Things Never Change" - 15/11/21
I went to a church this morning that I had not been to for three years. Before I arrived, I wondered how it had changed during that time. After all, the last few years have been eventful to put it mildly. That church like every other church in the entire world has been closed totally for almost a year and then opened and closed several times as well. Some people are just beginning to feel comfortable meeting together without using masks, but some are still cautious and prefer to continue wearing one, while other people have decided to keep away for a little longer. As soon as I opened the door and walked in, I was greeted like a family member who had been away for decades. I was hugged and kissed by people who would normally shake hands, and I loved that change. We spent a lot of time before and after the service catching up on each other’s recent history with all its ups and downs. Some had retired since I saw them last, some had been seriously ill but recovered, a few had changed their jobs, one family had moved house, I talked to a teenager who had been shockingly bullied during the lock-down, several people had died and one man who was always there was now too ill to attend. And really really sadly, most of the young people had disappeared.
Happily some things had not changed, they still believed in the power of prayer; they continued to serve their community and provide a warm welcome to everyone who came through the door. But there was something else that almost took my breath away; for the first time in two years, we stood together and sang,
‘Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art.’
As we sang these wonderful words, our minds were taken away from the realities and sadnesses of our recent past and we were able to look forward to our glorious future and sing,
‘When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then shall I bow in humble adoration, and there proclaim, my God how great Thou art.’ As we begin to rebuild our church and family life, we can take great comfort from the fact that whatever happens in our world and community, our great God says, “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you” and as we view the many changes in our society and culture, we can hear God say, “I the Lord do not change.”
"Abide With Me" - 14/11/21
Father, we come to you on this Remembrance Day, to remember all those who have lost their lives as a result of war. Young soldiers, dispatched to far off places, never to return. Civilians, young and old, caught in the crossfire of conflict.
Lord, we pray for those living with the psychological horrors of war, traumatised by what they’ve experienced.
And for those Lord who are experiencing war right now in their own nations.
Father, you see it all and we know it devastates you.
Today Father, bring peace to broken families, broken lives, tormented minds and hurting nations.
Thankyou God, that as people have prayed the words of ‘Abide With Me’ over the years and throughout the wars, we can have confidence today that you did abide with them, and continue to abide with us, each and every day.
Father, help us to remember, and give thanks.
Please click on the link to hear this beautiful hymn, sung by Emeli Sandé.
"It's Coming” - 13/11/21
Bonfire night has now been and gone, no matter how much I might try to fight it, Christmas is coming.
The regular Amazon parcels are now adorned with Christmas tape. Preparations are starting for putting up Christmas lights, children asking when can the tree go up, people asking “what do you want for Christmas”.
No matter how much I would try to hide from it, Christmas will soon be here and if I don’t start planning to do my 5% of the shopping, it will be a personal disaster.
Christmas means many things to many people, for some it’s a time for family, or it’s a time for presents, or it’s a time for a decent break from work. The Christmas movies have been playing on the TV, the mince pies have been in the shops for weeks. What will this Christmas be like as we slowly edge out of Covid?
Christmas does mean so many things but we should remember it is about the ultimate gift and also the ultimate sacrifice. It is based on God’s wholehearted love for each one of us, sending Jesus to be our example, our teacher and knowing He will be our Saviour.
As our preparations continue (or begin, maybe, soon-ish) lets remember the heart of Christmas is the heart of God. As we are warmed by the fire, the mulled wine, the warm mince pies, the giving of presents, dwell for a moment on the gift from God, the love shared with us that we can share with others. As the Christmas marketing juggernaut starts to build up, tell them about the love from God that is really behind it.
In 1 John 4, we are reminded
“This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”
''Confetti” - 12/11/21
I have many happy memories of my wedding day. Two of them involve confetti. The first was a comment made by the vicar, who assured us that we were welcome to use the church grounds for our photographs, but requested that any use of confetti be restricted to areas beyond the lychgate. He concluded his announcement by explaining with a wry smile that, "whilst the confetti may look nice, it is very difficult to brush up; as you will discover, should you choose to ignore my request".
The second was advice given by our photographer, who told everybody assembled on the correct side of the lychgate that sprinkling a little handful of confetti didn't make for a good photograph and that those intending to throw it should in fact empty an entire box at a time. The resulting photograph is my favourite of the whole day. It is a riot of colour and you can see that everybody is having fun. The photographer was pleased with it as well; so much so that he sold it to the Pronuptia store in Liverpool, where a six foot by four foot enlargement stood in the window for months. I'm just glad it wasn't in Lewis's window, or it would have proved my Mum right.
The attitude of our photographer towards confetti, should be our attitude towards kindness. Don't just sprinkle it... make sure everybody is covered in it. In showering kindness like confetti, we should ignore the words of the vicar and spread it everywhere. Yes, it's hard to get rid of, but that's the point. Once kindness is out there, it's hard to ignore. People notice it and tend to respond in kind... so to speak. Kindness can come in many shapes and sizes. It may be a wise word, a listening ear, or a helping hand. Whatever the act of kindness, it does what the confetti does; it brings colour and joy into people's lives. It speaks of a celebration, because knowing that somebody cares enough to show kindness is a cause for celebration.
Confetti is used at weddings, which are a celebration of love - and, of course, kindness is an act of love. Jesus demonstrated His kindness over and over again and He did so because He loves us. He wants us to love each other; in fact He commands it, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you". If we are to follow that command, we need to be like Him; to love like Him. We need to demonstrate kindness as Jesus did. Jesus didn't just sprinkle kindness, He showered it abundantly. So, let's open the box and get started.
''We Will Remember” - 11/11/21
Today is set aside to take time to give thanks for the men and women throughout history who gave their lives so that we could live in freedom.
Please take time to read the wonderful modern day remembrance poem below by Damian Robin.
We fight in many ways, some stay at home apart,
And wear no uniform except soft flesh.
Some train, stand ready, are not called. They have their part.
We have a single mind – keep freedom fresh.
Some marshal paperwork, sort buildings, gear, and stocks,
Supply from a distance, metal parts and food.
Some of us fight with just debate and ballot box,
Risk argument turned treacherous and crude
But those who stood in bullets’ way, in sleepless trench,
Or armoured strategies hard blown apart,
May see their names carved, deep and clear, on garden bench
Or marble wall or loved one’s solid heart.
Yet all of us must play our standing, righteous parts.
For fragile Liberty has need of our true hearts.
Let’s take time today to both remember and give thanks for all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Let’s also ask God how we can protect and stand up for freedom today. The hard-won, hard-fought freedom that we should never take for granted.
Jesus said, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.
''The Touch Of The Master's Hand” - 10/11/21
I first heard this beautiful poem when I was very young. You may have heard it before, but it’s worth being reminded that every person, of every country, language, status, background….whoever they are, have amazing gifts and value. Gifts given by God, who looks at us and desires to walk with us each and every day. We are worth so much to God that He considered us worth dying for. Have a beautiful day knowing you are gifted and valued.
'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.
"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,"
From the room far back a grey bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its' bow.
"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.
The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The Touch of the Masters Hand."
"And many a man with life out of tune
All battered and bruised with sin
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.
- Myra Brooks Welch
‘This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God’.
1 John 4: 9-10
''How Cold My Toes, Tiddly Pom” - 09/11/21
Don’t you just love Winnie the Pooh?! I grew up listening to the stories. Always feeling sorry for Eeyore, always identifying with Tigger. They went on many adventures together with the rest of their friends, often involving honey bees, Heffalumps, Woozles and the wisdom of Pooh Bear! Yes, this, ‘Silly old bear’, seemed to speak such wonderful common sense! How about, ‘Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your hearts’? Every grandparent will be nodding now! Or what about, ‘We didn’t realise we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun’? And then there’s, ‘Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them’? Wow! Straightforward, simple, easy language! Winnie the Pooh had such a simple and humble take on life and he’s been teaching us ever since! If only we didn’t complicate things quite so much. Maybe you’re a bit like me and you want to figure everything out, find answers to life’s big questions, fathom God out??? Do you want to understand exactly what He’s up to? Me too!! But, in the Bible God is talking to Isaiah and He explains to him,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways....As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”.
I can look at the world and stress and fret and see all the injustices and question and question and question where God is in it all. And when I don’t get the answers I can become angry or bitter or blame God. Or, I can accept that I don’t understand everything (most things!) that is going on in the world, and I never will. But, like Pooh Bear, I can do my part to make this world a better place, trust the One who does know what’s going on, take a deep breath and thank Him that He holds the future.
''Squash Your Enemies” - 08/11/21
When I was a bit younger than I am today, my family moved house to a new town. I had to go to a new school where I was duly picked on and bullied because of; my haircut (my mum cut my hair, those days may well be returning!), my shoes (they were not the platforms that everyone else seemed to be wearing) and my accent (black country twang was definitely weird in posher Bromsgrove).
One day I was in the playground when ‘Bob’ (not his real name) the bully, started on me again. Something inside me must have popped because this quiet, shy retiring 10 year old, turned round and promptly bashed him and his mate in with more punches than Mohammed Ali on a good day. Overnight, I became top dog in the school and was now hanging around with the ‘cool’ kids, including ‘Bob’ and his gang. I do remember, in the inevitable detention that followed the fight, being stuck in the English classroom singing Showaddywaddy songs with the rest of the gang and a poor teacher not being able to control us.
Today, my enemies are more likely to be the things that rob me of my peace. Worry, anxiety, stress, hurts, anger.
In Psalm 110 verse 1, it says this: “…Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
In these weird times, we will face enemies that rob us of our peace and bully our minds. God invites us to take time out, to be still, to sit alongside Him. He will then deal with the enemies for us, if we let Him. It is not always easy to hand over our battles to God as it means we have to let Him be in control, not us. It might require repeated attempts to force ourselves to sit and hand them over, but those bullies can be squashed under our feet without us raising a finger.
''Through It All” - 07/11/21
André Crouch was born in to a poor African American family. He grew up with his dad travelling around local churches preaching when he has asked. André was asked one day by his dad if he would be happy to play the piano in the churches if God blessed him with the ability to play. The young André agreed. Some weeks later he sat down at a piano and began to play. He went on to be one of the greatest gospel singers, musicians and songwriters.
André went through great times and the toughest of times and passed away in 2015 after a long battle with cancer and heart problems. During a difficult time he wrote the words of this beautiful song. Written from a place of experience and persistent faith. Click the link below to hear.
''Parent Hood” - 06/11/21
It’s a simple word that is exciting, challenging, scary, desired, feared and probably many other mixed emotions.
Its also a great film from 1989, when comedic actor Steve Martin was at his best. In fact, looking back, its got a great cast. The film includes so many different aspects of family life, as parents struggle with being a parent and coming to terms with what that means.
Being a parent can be tough, can be enjoyable, can be rewarding, can be heart-warming, but there is no handbook to refer to. Well, there are probably thousands of people who have written books about it, telling people there is a formula for bringing up children and if you do it “my way” everything will be perfect. However, people are people, nothing is ever really the same twice.
Each of us needs to find our own way of being a parent.
However, we do have a God who has shown us some different aspects that we can all learn from and strive to follow as best we can.
Our God is a God of love, no matter what we have done, no matter what we do, He will always love us. There are no conditions to this.
Our God is a God of choices, He will let us choose what to do, though He will want us to do things in His style, it is up to us what we do. He has the power to enforce his will, but He lets us choose our own path, He will always be there, he will always choose to support us. Though as a parent, young children need help and guidance, as they grow up we need to release them to their own choices.
Our God is a God of trust, He gives us the freedom to choose as He trusts us and wants us to Trust Him.
Our God is a God of hope, as He longs for the best for us and we have a hope as we know that God has a new life for us.
These are just a few of the words that can describe our indescribable God.
There are many aspects to being a parent and as part of Gods family we can learn from the best. It does not mean there wont be tough times, but there will also be great times and there will always be love.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
''Card School” - 05/11/21
I'm not much of a card player. It's probably because I don't like card games. I have never been very good at any of them and that has added to my lack of enjoyment. I can remember my Dad teaching me to play cribbage when I was young, but I was far more keen on kicking a ball around, so he didn't get many opportunities to beat me. In high school, we played poker for marbles on rainy days and I can remember that, not only was I an atrocious player, but I was also inept at both shuffling and dealing. Incidentally, I'm sure many of you have wondered when it was that I lost my marbles, well now you know.
I think one of the reasons I don't like card games is that much of the game hinges on the cards that you are dealt. If you end up with a lousy hand, then there is not a lot you can do. Sometimes, when I look around, I see people who have been dealt a lousy hand in life. They didn't ask for it; they did nothing to warrant it; they just ended up with it. They can't bribe the dealer to change it; they can't swap it with another player; they just have to play the hand they were dealt. Sometimes they will bluff; sometimes they will gamble; sometimes they will fold, but whatever happens, it is their hand to play.
Whilst they may not be able to change their hand, they don't have to play it alone. There is somebody who will be by their side and will help them through whatever they are facing. God will be there to play it with them. But how do we get Him involved? By prayer. Why? Because the Bible tells us to, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" and, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us" and, "Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always" and then, "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know". I could go on, but I only have a limited space. If you spend just five minutes reading the Bible you will uncover many more similar passages that I couldn't fit in. The Bible doesn't waste words. There so many references to the efficacy of prayer because it is so important. God wants to be involved in our lives and longs for us to reach out to Him and tell Him our worries and concerns.
So, whether the hand is yours to play, or whether you are a faithful friend wanting to offer support to somebody in difficulty, remember that prayer is the ace up our sleeve; our royal flush; our trump card.
''Who's In Charge” - 04/11/21
“Sometimes you will hear leaders say, “I’m the only person who can hold this nation together.” If that’s true then that leader has truly failed to build their nation.”
Prisoners of Geography describes the impact geography can have on international affairs. It offers some very interesting insights on what makes a good leader, including this quote.
The idea that leaders can believe themselves to be so amazing and brilliant that they are indispensable, is often misplaced. Some of the very famous mistakes through history happened because someone thought that they were the only person who could sort something out. Napoleon thought he was undefeatable. Richard Nixon though he was above the Law, and Hitler thought he was the law, to name but a few. All were wrong.
In ancient Rome, when a successful leader enjoyed a triumphal march, a slave stood behind him and whispered in his ear: “Remember you are human.”
Whilst it’s not world politics, in daily life it’s all too easy look at situations and think ‘well if only they had done things my way’, or ‘of course I could have done things better’. On a small scale I put myself above others, and I need someone to whisper in my ear, ‘remember you are only human’.
The good news is that our church, this great amazing family of faith, is not built by people. It’s built by the most amazing God, who unlike us, is all powerful and really does know what he is doing. Humans can mess up, God never does. God places us all in this wonderful family, with different gifts and abilities, but all equal, with Jesus in charge.
Christ brought us together through his death on the cross……. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals.…… This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
Let’s give thanks today for our wonderful church family, the amazing God who leads it, and look to see how we can all be a part of it
''I'm a Genius” - 03/11/21
If you asked me to build you a boat I’m afraid I think you would be very likely to sink. If you asked me to design you a house you would be wise to keep your hard hat on as bits of it would be likely to come down on your head! If you asked me to explain the quantum mechanics of x-rays you would probably have to wake me up because I’d drifted off after ‘quantum’! There are so many things that I just can’t do. Some of them are things that I would love to learn to do such as play a musical instrument or cut my own hair but there are also many things that just don’t really interest me like fixing the car when it breaks down or understanding gravity.
Don’t misunderstand me, it isn’t that I don’t place a value on those things - when my car breaks down I really appreciate the person that is able to fix it and I definitely appreciate gravity, it’s just that my gifts lie elsewhere. I can organise things really well; I can bake a decent cake and I’ve learned how to knit a tea cosy – I may not be in the running for a Nobel prize but in my small corner of the world, there are things that I can contribute. There are things that we can ALL do well - but thankfully, they’re just not all the same things.
Somebody once said “Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.” If you put me in a room full of scientists discussing how to create a vaccination for Covid-19 I would feel incredibly stupid but if you asked the same room full of scientists to make a gingerbread man with a ‘snap’ that was the envy of Mary Berry, then I might suddenly be in the running!
God created each one of us different, not some better than others, just different, so that we ALL have something to offer. The Bible puts it this way: “Be generous with the different gifts God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.”
Let’s share our gifts generously with one another giving freely from our strengths and receiving humbly in our weaknesses.
And if you want to know who said that we are all genius’ – it was Albert Einstein! So from one genius to another Albert, you keep an eye of gravity – I’m off to bake a cake!
''Turning Back Time” - 02/11/21
Last weekend saw the end of British Summer Time as we all turned our clocks back by one hour. It always feels to me like a strange thing to do and for at least a day I seem to be hungry at the wrong times and tired earlier than I should be! As I turn the clocks back I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to choose an hour in time that we could re-live. What would you choose? Would you choose a particularly good time that you would like to enjoy again? Or perhaps you might like to choose an occasion that you think you could improve by having a second chance at – rectify a mistake; say something that you wished you had said or perhaps take back some words you wish you hadn’t said?
As tempting as that might be, it is clearly not possible – the past is done and if we want to avoid getting stuck, the Bible is clear that there is only one thing to do: “…forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus is calling us.” Paul had made many mistakes in his life and had many regrets but he understood one thing, that the past lay in the past and the direction of travel must always be forward. But here’s the good news – what awaits God’s children is so much better than anything we might like to look back to:
I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighbourhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone… Look! I’m making everything new”
As I write I can see a beautiful, strong and clear rainbow outside my window and am reminded that God has promised to walk every step with us, through every trial and difficulty that may lie ahead until we reach that promised place when all tears and pains are gone.
Whether we desire to go back to happier times or whether we struggle to move on from our regrets or hurts, let’s leave the past where it is and look to the wonderful, bright, fulfilling future we have with God.
'Colour From God' - 01/11/21
It’s that time of the year again when the leaves in your drive each morning are beautiful, colourful, wonderful shapes, and in the way. However, they provide good exercise; they’re not very heavy but you do a lot of bobbing up and down with a shovel. Some of the gardens around us have huge trees which shed their leaves for about two months so we can all be very trim and fit for picking up those large presents from Santa. Maybe. I’ve noticed something about these leaves; the vast majority are faded greens and browns, very pretty but not quite New England. Amongst them on the shovel are some beautiful orange and yellow leaves which proudly stand out and attract attention. They are asking to be photographed so I’ve done just that and I must say my images are stunning. You would probably expect me to say that. Its interesting to see that they come from the smallest tree in the road. Despite that, they stand out as being special; they are fewer in number but they make a greater impact.
The Bible mentions many individuals who only take up a verse or two, then disappear for ever, but they make a significant change to other people or to history. In many cases they are not even named. We were reminded in our service yesterday and also in yesterday’s Sunrise that Jesus told His followers that they were, “The light of the world.” Let's also bring some colour into the lives of those who feel that everything around them is grey and drab. There are so many people around us, young and old, who are seeing the world and their lives in black and white and are longing for a reason to smile. We saw a stunning rainbow yesterday in a miserable grey sky and people smiled. Those bright orange leaves on my drive will soon fade and be swept up and put out of sight. This is a reminder not to delay but to get on with the business of bringing colour and beauty to those who are looking for it but can’t see it. The autumn leaves and the rainbow are gifts from God; let’s put some of God’s colour into people's lives.