Moving On - 30/11/20

Sunrise Number 245. Last one for 2020

It’s so good to know that in just one month we will vacate 2020. We started off brightly enough with good intentions, and possibly resolutions to boast about. Personally I never make resolutions because you only have to fail once and you shatter them, and you feel a failure, which is reasonable because you failed. Because I’m very wise (and old) I have discovered that targets for the year are much better, because you are allowed to fail occasionally but you can still carry on aiming for your target. Most of us probably started the year with hopes of good health, happy families, sunny holidays, and bacon and coffee at the Hub. That went well didn’t it! But it doesn’t matter now because 2021 is on the horizon and we know that when we wake up on that very special Friday morning it will all be behind us. Honest, trust me. We will be able to rush out into the street and hug complete strangers, practising for when we find our families and friends. Three days later choir starts and two days after that Hub opens, just follow the aroma. It’s probably best to confirm the dates with Jo in case she’s not organised, but she’s never failed us yet. So life will start again with no sign of Covid-19 because it’s a new year and we all know that everything will be brand new. 

Dream on! 

Although the past is behind us and we cannot undo it, it tends to travel with us into our futures. Our experiences help to make us who we are and this year has helped to make many of us more caring and more aware of others situations, sadnesses, and fears. God did not promise His followers an easy life but He did promise His company on the way, “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” As we all struggle to make the right decisions in the difficult months ahead, Christians take great comfort from knowing that God is always with us and is better equipped than we are. We read in one of Paul’s letters, ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’

So armed with compassion and new wisdom gained from this year’s journey, let’s face 2021 with optimism and confidence because we know we can have the presence of God to help us to move on toget

 
The Train of Life - 29/11/20
At birth we board the Train and meet  our parents , and as time goes by, other people will board the train. They will be significant i.e  our siblings, friends, children and maybe the love of our life. However, at some stations our parents will step down from the train leaving us on this journey alone. Others will leave the train over the the time and leave a permanent vacuum. Some, however will go so unnoticed that we don't realise they have vacated their seat!
This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos and goodbyes. Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers, requiring that we give the best of ourselves.
The mystery to everyone is....we do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So we must live in the best way we can ; showing  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness ,goodness ,faithfulness, gentleness, self control, known as "The fruit of the Spirit" and of course forgiveness. It is important to show these attributes to our fellow passengers because when the time comes to step down and leave our seat empty, we should leave behind beautiful memories of someone who has done all they can to show God's love to those who will continue to travel on the Train of Life.
In the Bible, God says in Jeremiah ch 29: v 11
"For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future"
I wish you a joyful journey for the coming years. We need to include God in our plans and thank Him for the journey.
You're Hearts Are Full Again - 28/11/20

Coming up on my screen were the unusual words: “Your hearts are full again. You are ready for new lessons”. This would not have surprised me if I were looking at a Biblical Prophecy website or some ready-made sermon resource, but I wasn’t. This message came up on my Duolingo screen where I was battling with the Spanish language!! Interestingly, they have mysterious symbols like crowns, lingots, streaks and hearts. Mostly I don’t understand them, but it doesn’t matter to me as long as I can go on learning. Well it seemed my Duolingo ‘hearts’ were full and it was time to go to the next level. 

This made me wonder though if our real hearts were getting full in any other way. I for one felt really touched by the nation putting me into Lockdown just because I was seventy. (I wasn’t pleased a few years previously to hear 65-yearolds described on the radio as ‘the elderly’……. I was actually quite cross, but I’ve mellowed since then). I wasn’t asked to shield, so it wasn’t too tough, and I got quite a lot of fun out of what was left to me: the daily sunshine walks, the time for hobbies and husband, and all the sharing and humour on our chats. So long as I could see still see family even from the doorway I could cope and even thrive. I could get spiritual support without leaving my home …and in a way got to know people better because we had all slowed down and had a common purpose, survival!

A TV newsreader recently stated casually, when anticipating some return to normal after the vaccine, that we had all been changed by the Pandemic. For some there were brutal experiences, which might harden them or break them: we weep for these. For some there were new friendships, new acts of love and new connections. There were things to learn, gifts to grow or transformations in our homes. Our hearts really are quite full. There were of course anomalies, so that I couldn’t see my daughter properly in Tier Three but I can now in Lockdown! Who thought that one up? It seems like a good reason to stay in Lockdown Two. But where is the rest of my reluctance to emerge coming from? Why do I feel a little edgy about the idea of a return to normal life, about new lessons to learn? Why do I feel like Abraham being asked to “Leave your country … and go to a land that I’m going to show you?” [Genesis 12:1]

Abraham’s journey took him to “the sacred tree of Moreh” (the holy place at Shechem) and later to “the sacred tree(s)* of Mamre” (the holy place at Hebron). On his journey he took these times to worship, to say thank you, to keep his focus on God. After these pauses, there was a big battle to face, a nephew to rescue, and a priestly blessing. High drama indeed, but at the end we are told “Abraham put his trust in the Lord, and because of this the Lord was pleased with him”.

 During this year of 2020, we have also had our personal adventures, our hard lessons and battles, perhaps friends and relatives to rescue, but also worship, blessings and promises. Very soon things are going to change again. There will be some sort of ‘Tier’ to get accustomed to, some sort of Christmas to create from the scope/relaxation we are being given. I for one will also have to “put my trust in the Lord”. It’s a very good job then that now we realise “our hearts are full again and that we are ready for new lessons”, we can call to mind God’s promise to Abraham: Do not be afraid. I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward. I for one am looking forward to a third tree in this story, my own personal Christmas tree and my Christmas time of celebration and worship.

*[Some scholars say there was only one tree, a big oak]

'Tis the Season... - 27/11/20

So… we put up our Christmas tree on Tuesday. I say, “we”, but, in reality, I play no part in the event, other than dragging the eight-foot-tall monster out of the loft. The decorating is undertaken with expert precision by my wife. As always, she has made an excellent job of it. It is a monument to tasteful elegance… you can tell I’m hoping for a really good present this year!

Of course, the question that is on all of your lips is, “Why so early?”. Normally it is a question that I would ask myself, but this year is different. There used to be a rule in our house that Christmas could not even be mentioned until December 1st. No discussion of presents, no thought of decorating the house and certainly no time for the premature adverts on television.

Why then is this year different? Well, quite simply to brighten the days. We have all been a little gloomy of late. Various lockdowns have taken their toll and it is nice to have an excuse to lighten the mood. Not that we really need an excuse. We have already bedecked our gardens, front and back, with enough lights to give Blackpool council a run for their money. They have nothing to do with Christmas – they just look really nice and give us the chance to sit out in the evening without constantly tripping over the plant pots, or each other. The opportunity for early tree dressing simply provides more cheer and a further drain on the National Grid.

People will assume that it has come about because of the oft heard cry that, “Christmas is cancelled because of Covid, so we better get in early and enjoy what we can while we can”. Or perhaps that it is an expression of relief that, as the lockdown measures look to be lifted, “we have been given back Christmas”. No; it’s just a bit of fun at an otherwise mundane time.

Now, the thought that Christmas can be cancelled is, in itself, absolute nonsense - as is the notion that it has been returned to us. I’m sure an extended lockdown period throughout the whole of December may have prevented people from celebrating Christmas in their usual way, but it wouldn’t have cancelled Christmas. You can’t cancel Christmas! The clue is in the title; Christ – mas; a celebration of our saviour. Nothing can stop us celebrating the fact that Jesus was born and that He came to save the world.

We choose to celebrate his coming on December 25th, but that is not the anniversary of His birth. We don’t know for sure on what date His birth occurred. So pinning all our hopes of celebrations on this one date is arbitrary at best; we should pin our hopes on what we are celebrating.

We choose to give presents at Christmas because the tradition evolved to commemorate the fact that the wise men brought gifts to Jesus. We know that the wise men didn’t arrive on Christmas day, so that too is arbitrary. What is important is that we have all been given a gift; “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”. It is the greatest gift of all, “… they will call him Immanuel (which means "God with us)”. A gift that was given to us on an unknown date more than two thousand years ago still resonates today. God was with us on that day and has remained with us ever since. Now that’s something to celebrate every day!

 

Wonderful Variety - 26/11/20

Flour, Sugar, Eggs and Butter. Four very simple ingredients, but combine them in the right way and they are transformed into the most amazing and joy making creation, CAKE! I have never met someone who doesn’t like some sort of cake. 

There are so many different types of cake, some with added extras like chocolate or nuts or citrus, but they all start with those basic ingredients. I find it amazing that to alter the ingredients slightly produces such a different type of cake, and that the possibilities for different cakes are limitless. And of course we all have our favourite type of cake. 

 I love the joy that cake brings, whether its at a party, or just with a cup of tea, or to raise money for a worthy cause, it brings joy. 

Cake reminds me of people. We are all made with the same basic ingredients, but we are all so completely different. As we go through life and experience different things, this changes us and shapes us into the people we are. And we are all capable of bringing great joy to others, whether its in a very simple way, like having a cup of tea with a friend, or in a very lavish way, like being part of a great party for someone, or planning a fundraising event. We all have different gifts and abilities, and we all use them in different ways.

This is just the way God planned it to be. God knows that the world is a better place with each one of us in it, using our gifts and abilities to bring his Love and Joy to others, just like all the different types of cake bring joy in different ways to different people.

In Romans 12:4-6, Paul describes the way that God uses all of our different abilities not in terms of cake, but in terms of a body.

"For just as each of us has one body with many parts, and these parts do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each parts belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us." 

So today, whether you see yourself as a chocolate fudge cake, or a lemon drizzle, lets spread Joy and Love to those around us, and work together with our wonderful Melling community to support one another. 

Now who fancies a piece of cake?

Strangers in The Night - 25/11/20

In the book (and film) Lord of the Rings, there is a scene where the hobbits meet Aragorn for the first time. If you have not seen the movie or read the book, you need to know that Aragorn is a goodie,( In fact, for the real geeks amongst you, he is symbolic of Jesus Christ, as Tolkien was a Christian ). Anyway, back to the scene. Aragorn is going by an alias and is called Strider. It is a scary sounding name, and he approaches the hobbits as a tall, cloaked horse rider coming in from the mist on a dark stormy night. It is quite a scary scene. Despite having no understanding of who he is, he protects the hobbits & the hobbits decide that they must trust him.

In Celtic prayer there is a lovely short meditation based on this scene. It says that the hooded stranger emerging from the mist need not assumed to be the bearer of ill. Just because we do not know what is ahead of us, or do not understand what is happening to us, we need not assume that the scary unknown is to be feared. We must try not to let our fear of the unknown, stop us from trusting for the future. We do not know what the next few weeks and months will look like but we do not need to fear them.

These familiar words from Proverbs chapter 3 sum it up: 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

And do not lean on your own understanding.

 In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He will make your paths straight.

 

My Rock - 24/11/20

Throughout December the Sunrises will be slightly different which means that this will be my last Sunrise of 2020.  I can’t finish the year without reflecting back and what a year it has been!  I don’t think that any of us could have imagined 12 months ago what lay before us.  All of the normal rhythms of life that we are used to were taken away and we felt like the rug had been pulled from under us.  We’ve had birthdays celebrated on doorsteps; weddings postponed or at least drastically reduced; anniversaries have passed us by; rites of passage such as proms and graduations – cancelled, and let’s not forget the celebrations of lives lost during this time which have unsatisfactorily had to be marked from a distance.  We’ve learned to wave from 2 metres away rather than shaking hands and symbolise a hug rather than making physical contact.  We’ve learned new technological skills that we never knew we could and ‘zooming’ has become something of a social life-line rather than something a small child might do around the playground!  

It will go down in our memories, and indeed history, as the year when everything changed and everything became a little less certain and a little less secure than it had felt before.  

However, in the midst of such uncertainty, turmoil and insecurity I read these words: “I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.”  These may sound like the words of someone living in peace and certainty but King David was surrounded by powerful and devious enemies, however, rather than living in fear, David took his strength from knowing that God was his security; his sure and certain footing, his protection and safe place to go.  Those words remain as true for us today as they were for David then.  It may feel like 2020 was the year that changed everything, but it didn’t change God.  In Hebrews we are told “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” and what that means for us is that whatever else has changed this year we can live in the secure knowledge that God remains the steady and unmoving rock on which we stand and when life gets tough, as it has been for so many this year, he waits for us to take shelter in his care.  This isn’t a promise to make life easy, but it is a promise that we can draw our strength to take the next step from God.

I don’t dare to imagine what 2021 may hold, but I will face it with the hope that comes from knowing that my God goes with me.   Thank you for being such a huge part of this year for me, now let’s go together into next year sure-footed and unshaken.

 

Thank You - 23/11/20

We’re getting close to that time when people start saying “What do you want for Christmas?” or am I a typical bloke who is already two months too late? I drive my family nuts because when I’m asked this question it’s as if nobody has ever asked me that before in my life. It’s the same with my birthday, if they never bothered to raise the issue I would carry on with life without noticing the date. They could save themselves a lot of money by not asking the question. It reminds me of my time in the Scouts when their motto was, ‘Be Prepared’ but nobody ever told me what I should be prepared for. And it’s happening again because I haven’t got a clue what I want people to spend money on for me. Well actually I would like to change my car but I don’t think that’s going to turn up in my Christmas stocking. 

 

We tend to think of our own needs and wants when we hear the question, but I’ve got a feeling that this year it may be different. If we could ask 100 people on the street “What do you want for Christmas?” how many would say “A cure for Covid”, or “I want to hug my dad in hospital”, or ”I would like my job back so I can feed my family”, or “I want to see my consultant next week not next year.” Maybe DVD’s and mobile phones are not the first things people are worrying about this Christmas. Possibly some people would say, “I want to see an end to child abuse”, or “Abortion” or “Slavery” or “Persecution of Christians and other faiths.” What’s top of your list this year?


I believe God has a wish list for humanity in 2020. I think He would say, “I would like the world to remember that on the first Christmas I gave you my Son.” Businesses and organisations are attempting to wipe the greatest Christmas gift of all time from the records because it makes some people uncomfortable and they don’t know how to say, “Thank you.” The Bible tells us that, ‘God loved the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him will have eternal life.’ That’s two presents in one! How many people out of a hundred this year will be pleased to accept God’s gifts and learn to say “Thank you?”

Its A Gift - 22/11/20

When M. and C. were vicar and curate (in the old days) there was an awful lot of fun and an incredible amount of joking around. We did pantomimes, day trips to Wales, Spring Harvest and Pop Concerts. I was on a protein diet and could convince most people that everything was a vegetable! After all, even chocolate is made from beans. It started when the vicar tried to explain that my jacket potato, my lunch at Spring Harvest, was carbohydrate! I thought I had made a healthy choice and was quite affronted, firmly asserting that it couldn’t possibly be carbohydrate because it was a vegetable. Most things can be vegetables if you analyse properly. “It’s a vegetable!” became a catch-phrase.

Similarly, if any one of us messed up, burnt toast, sang out of tune or spilt coffee down our fronts, or even crashed a computer, someone would pipe up “It’s a gift you have”. [C. once ate a daffodil to illustrate a Mothers’ Day sermon but later vomited over the school wall. I wasn’t there and I never wanted that gift]. As with vegetables, we could recognise gifts anywhere. Of course we were teasing and eventually got fed up with the jokes. However, it perhaps helped to see things differently, to do a bit of ‘Lateral Thinking’? Maybe it was good to turn things around, view from a different angle, alter the angle of the light? It was certainly good to have a sense of humour. Somehow we were stating that even our weaknesses could be someone else’s strength, a way for them to show kindness, to help that person in real ways. It was a gift to them; it was their opportunity?

Recently we were told about the Parable of the Talents, how each person can have varying amounts and different kinds of talents or gifting's, none of which are to be despised and certainly not to be buried. They are to be cultivated (oops, slipping back to vegetables there), polished, displayed and shared. They can be decorative or functional but let’s have them ‘out there’ please. The fudge cake we acquired at our Community auction recently was so beautifully rich (not soggy) that I could only describe the icing as ‘chocolate mud’. I meant that as an enormous compliment!! Thanks to the Team that holds together our Melling Community where we and our gifts are nurtured.

To me time is a valuable gift. I think about the gift of an extra hour when we put the clocks back …. It’s the only time I’m early for church, even as it happened once, an hour early. Then the almost universal day off on December 25th: what we find within those twenty-four hours is so vital to our sense of identity and well-being. My gratitude to those whose profession won’t allow them to partake fully (nurses, doctors etc etc): but I also adore Boxing Day, another free gift, actually free of cooking because it was cooked on Christmas day. A special gift to the cooks and frontline workers in our families. Then there are the unexpected gifts, like the little goodie bag handed to me as a surprise just before a talk on ‘Gifts’…. Because that gave me the perfect illustration.

So going beyond all of these gifts, what about the gift of Eternal Life? Jesus said “I am come that you might have Life and have it more abundantly.” As far as I can understand this Life that He’s giving away is beyond, above and also surrounding time. Eternity is another dimension: if time is the Fourth Dimension, then Eternity is the Fifth. I’m told I received Christ when I was three (but I don’t remember). It has meant survival to me, but that’s another story. Since then I have messed up so many times but His Life is there every time I reach for it. I come through dark times but when I call out to Him there is the same Gift bubbling up inside me. Is that where the Fifth Dimension exists… inside of us?

My Dad - 21/11/20

Time for a great children’s poem by the poet Steve Turner. Great words and great images! Enjoy!

 

My dad’s bigger than your dad. My dad’s as tall as the moon, as strong as the wind,

as wide as the sky.

You should see my dad!

He’s got stars in his fists.

He bends rainbows on his knee. When he breathes, clouds move.

He’s good is my dad.

You can’t scare him with the dark.

You can’t scare him with guns or sticks. He makes bullies say sorry

just by staring.

Big green monsters fall asleep on his lap. Ghosts start haunting each other.

My dad’s been everywhere

but he says he likes the world. Earth people are fun, he says.

My dad knows more than teacher. He knows everything.

He knows what you’re thinking, even when you try to trick him by thinking something else.

If you tell a lie

my dad says he can tell

by the look on your face.

My dad’s the best dad ever.

I say I love him

a million times a million

times a million times a million trillion. My dad says he loves me

a billion trillion times more than that

My dad likes to love.

My dad made the world.

When The Dog Bites... - 20/11/20

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favourite things”.

I’m sure some of you will recognise the words of St Julie of Andrews quoted above. It’s from the film, The Sound of Music, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1965.

It’s a feel good musical romance that never ceases to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. Yes, I’m just a big daft romantic at heart. I’ve even been to the sing-a-long at the Empire Theatre. Now, that’s a strange experience! Perhaps I’ll tell you about it someday. What is often forgotten is that this happy tale is set against the backdrop of a country being slowly consumed by the tyranny of Nazi rule. Still, there’s nothing better to ward off the terror of totalitarianism than a good old sing song.

Now, whilst I’m being rather tongue in cheek here, there is a serious point to be made. We are not in the process of being overtaken by a military conflict that will engulf more than half the world, but we are living through a time of difficulty that involves all of us. How encouraging then to find ourselves surrounded by people who lift our spirits.

I can honestly say that despite the various states of lockdown we have found ourselves in and the effect that that has had on our physical and mental wellbeing, I have been constantly buoyed by the people involved with the Melling Baptist Community Project. I thank God for you all.

Despite everything, or maybe because of it, I have regularly been given cause to smile and many times to laugh because of some of the people reading this article. They have kept me cheerful and the Bible tells us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine”. I haven’t needed a spoonful of sugar to help that go down.

So, thank you to all who have contributed to my enjoyment of this time… to my fellow Sunrise scribes; to those who have joined in Zoom church on Sunday mornings and the bi-weekly Zoom prayer meetings; to our wonderful and faithful WhatsApp quizmaster who has regularly kept us on our toes with his questions; to our bonkers bingo caller and her gnome centric prizes and to all who make it possible for the necessary media to run smoothly. Without all of you and the many others who have involved themselves in so many activities, this would have been a bleak time, but because of you we have all been able to face the day knowing that there are people out there to share the experience with. The things we have shared should be added to the lyrics of the song I began with, because they have indeed been some of my favourite things.

“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun”.

Take A Look Around - 19/11/20

I don’t know about you, but I love ‘behind the scenes’ programmes. Particularly about films. I love learning about how things are created, and a little about the people who have the imagination and creativity to create the films, special effects and characters we know and love.

I happened to be watching a behind the scenes documentary about animation the other day. There was an interview with a character designer about how she creates her characters. The answer was quite surprising. She replied that she often got stuck and didn’t know what to draw/paint. When that happened, she would take herself outside, and just take time to have a good look around. She explained that stepping back and looking at things from a different point of view often inspired her and motivated her to keep going, and it was after such occasions that she did her best work.

Often some of the most amazing poetry in the Bible was written when the writer stepped back, and took a second look at the world around them.

King David, when he wrote Psalm 8, did just that. He took a step back, looked up at the night sky, and was inspired to write these words about God

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.

 

These verses have inspired many millions of people over the years to take a step back, and look at the world from a different point of view, with our wonderful loving creator God in mind. 

So, whatever you are doing today, if you are looking forward to it or dreading it, take time to step back, and look at the world with God in mind, remember that whatever you have to do, you do not face it alone. Today, let’s all be inspired by that loving creator God.

Hello! Bonjour! Ola! - 18/11/20

Did you know that on Saturday (21 November) it is World Hello Day?  If you did then I’m quite impressed because if I’m honest, I didn’t even know there was such a thing.  Apparently it was started in 1973 as a response to the conflict between Israel and Egypt and it’s all about using dialogue and communication in order to achieve a more peaceful world.  

The idea is that during the course of the day people from all around the world are encouraged to say hello to at least 10 people that they meet.  These could be friends, family and neighbours or complete strangers that you meet on your socially distanced walk or essential shop.  Sometimes some of the most interesting conversations (and sometimes the most wonderfully bizarre ones!) start with a simple ‘hello’.  There was the lady in the park who seemed to just need someone to pause long enough so that she could tell me all about her newly diagnosed MS or the one in the post office who was ready to go back to bed because she had been up since 4am to open up.  

So often we rush around with our heads down and avoiding eye contact because we just don’t have time to give to others but what might it be like if we just allowed a little space in our day for the potential of giving someone the opportunity to speak – especially in this time of lockdown and keeping to social distancing, you might be the only person they get to engage with that day.  

The Bible puts it like this: “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry”.

We all have the potential within us to be a blessing to someone by simply showing them that we are happy to give them a little bit of a time, a quiet tongue and an open ear.  When we do that it is surprising how often we find that the blessing is returned and we receive as much as we give.  

The Bible also tells us to “keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.  Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it!”  I can’t promise you angels but who knows who you may find yourself talking to, you may lift their day more than you realise but you might also find that your day takes a surprising upturn too.

Let’s not restrain our ‘hellos’ to just one day a year, let’s use them freely and start a ‘hello’ revolution!

 
Celtic Advent - 17/11/20

November the 16th is the first day of Celtic advent. Like Lent, it is 40 days of preparation but, unlike Lent the focus is not so inward looking. We do not give up anything you will be glad to hear, so your chocolate stash is safe!

 It is meant to be 40 days that should be filled with joy, thankfulness and light. 

John 8:12 says this: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." In Coventry Cathedral there is a window called the Baptistry window. Look it up; it is stunningly, breathtakingly, beautiful. It is designed not to see out of, but to let light in. When the sun shines through it, the whole floor of the Cathedral is turned into a carpet of colours. 

As we head towards a vastly different Christmas this year, some of us maybe finding the whole idea of Advent and Christmas just too difficult to cope with. So here is some advice from John Piper, who designed that beautiful window: "Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God and embrace the life you have."

The Power Of Touch - 16/11/20

Dr. Paul Brand was a medical missionary in the early days of the twentieth century. He had seen at first hand the stigma associated with leprosy and the appalling mental damage inflicted on sufferers caused by the rejection of people, even family members. During his early days working in India, whilst treating a man with the dreaded disease, he touched his patient to reassure him that he was treatable. Instantly the man burst into tears and Dr. Brand was confused. An attendant explained the tears saying, “You touched him. No one has done that for years. He didn’t expect it, they are tears of joy.” 

 

We read in our Bibles that in His first year travelling through Palestine, Jesus was approached by, ‘a man suffering from a dreaded skin disease, he knelt down and begged Him for help. “If You want to” he said “You can make me clean.” Jesus was filled with pity, and reached out and touched him. “I do want to” He answered “Be Clean.” On many occasions Jesus simply healed by speaking, but this man’s needs were more complicated, he was ill but he was also rejected by society. The touch from Jesus 

told him he was not rejected by God.

Our five senses of which touch is one, are totally wonderful gifts from God, David reminds us that, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

 

During these strange days that we are living through when the leprosy of Covid is keeping us apart from each other, most family members and close friends are living for the day when we will have permission to actually touch each other. Can you imagine how our arms will ache the day after we are let loose? In the meantime we are still able to ‘touch’ each other in different ways. We can touch someone who is lonely or fearful with a phone call. I got a letter through the post that touched me. We can send photos of loved ones to each other, not the same as a hug but pretty good. Wearing a mask we can deliver food to those who are captive in their own homes. That will touch them. Many of us are regularly touched by meeting together on Zoom on Sunday mornings. We are not the untouchables, nobody is! Enjoy your week, reach out and touch someone.

The Same But Different - 15/11/20

We have a new Hoover! I bet you’re excited about that. Well we are although it’s not a ‘Hoover’ but it does the same thing; but differently. Our old vacuum cleaner must be at least fifteen years old but I wouldn’t be surprised if we bought it last century and it still works, even after I have repaired it. So why have we got a new one? Well we noticed smoke coming from it and the boss said it shouldn’t do that so she switched it off. She also said we shouldn’t use it again because it could burst into flames. That was a challenge for me so I ‘fixed’ it and it works fine but now sounds like Concorde. My wife was not convinced that it wouldn’t take off so we bought one recommended by our daughters. It’s very light and bendy, can go under our furniture without having to move anything, and it’s battery powered so cables don’t get tangled around our feet. It’s almost a pleasure to use. Almost. It made me think about all the things we have done for decades that we still do now but in a different way. We still take photographs but not with film. We still shop but increasingly on line. We still play music but when did you last see an LP? We still work for eight hours a day but we don’t leave the house. These and many more things we do, but differently. This year has seen massive changes in our lives and how we live. We can still talk to each other face to face but only on Zoom or our mobile phones. We can still show people how busy we have been in our gardens but only if we take photos. We can still give each other presents but only if we keep our distance. 


But some things never change, whatever happens in our world. God tells us, ‘I the Lord do not change.’ We read in the Psalms, ‘Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures for ever.’ And St. Peter tells us, ‘The Word of the Lord stands for ever.’ As we struggle to survive, St. Paul reminds us of other things that never fail, He says, ‘These three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ As we wake up on Monday morning, let’s decide to explore and develop our faith, let’s celebrate our hope in an unchanging God, and as we try to express the love of God to those around us, let’s remember that even if we express it in new ways, it’s still God’s love and it’s not going away

Not Just Any Sandwich - 14/11/20

During this past week, I read about a person who asked on social media about how they go about ordering a sandwich from a national takeaway chain. They were incredibly anxious and wanted some advice. This could appear to many as a ridiculous question. And it could have been met with much ridicule and cruelty. The very thing the person with anxiety would not have benefited from! But instead, within moments, somebody had replied with kindness and great advice. There wasn’t a hint of frustration or ridicule, and the guidance took the person through the steps required to order the sandwich. It was this care and concern that caused the post to go viral and people praised their kind actions. For many people, ordering a sandwich is easy and straightforward. But for others, it can be paralysing. We all have a weakness, a fear, an anxiety. And whatever they are, they’re real to us. There is so much truth in the saying, ‘be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they are facing’. Let’s show patience and kindness towards one another, even if we don’t quite understand each other’s battles. Let’s also remember that we can take our anxieties and fears to God. ‘Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you’. 

And as for the person who asked for help the other day....well, I applaud you! You were brave! And I hope you got yourself one amazing sandwich!!

Here Comes 46 - 13/11/20
The US Presidential Election is finally over bar the shouting – although, at the moment, there seems to be a lot of shouting going on. President Trump may be unwilling to concede defeat, but defeat is now staring him in the face. His thoughts should now turn to the transition of power to the next administration.

Presidents come and go and our memory of them is often coloured by a single significant event or comment during their term of office. In my lifetime we have had a President thrust into the job following the sudden and tragic demise of his predecessor. A two term President was forced to resign over clandestine surveillance of the opposition party and his successor is best remembered for falling down the steps of an aeroplane. A peanut farmer was replaced in the White House by a Hollywood cowboy, who in turn was followed by a man best remembered for his definitive statement, “Watch my lips – no new taxes” … before he brought in new taxes. We have had a serial womaniser and a man who brought us, “The war on terror”, before, at the 44th attempt, the first black President in the nation’s history.

Of course, every Presidential term has its good points and its bad points; its highs and lows. In most cases, we can only take an objective view of an administration through the lens of history. We may feel that it will take a very long lens to see any good from the present outgoing regime, but in a hundred years from now, historians far removed from the events themselves may well ask, “How bad could it have been? More than seventy-two million people voted for him!”

King David had his highs and lows. He was considered the greatest king of Israel. His journey to high office began as a child, when he stood alone against the Philistines and defeated their greatest champion. He won many battles both before and after he took the crown and oversaw Israel’s rise to prominence. He returned the Ark of the Covenant to Israel and helped establish God’s kingdom on earth in Jerusalem, which he made the capital of Judah and later of the united Israel. Along the way, he stumbled. His behaviour was not that of a great statesman. He committed adultery, he lied and schemed and had people killed to cover up his wrongdoing and it was this killing that led God to deny David the opportunity to fulfil his plans to build the great temple of Jerusalem.

Despite all his faults, the Bible tells us that God considered David to be a man after His own heart. David was certainly far from perfect, but his faith and zeal made him the standard against which all future kings of Israel would be measured.

Of course, Kings and Presidents have their lives documented for all to see – at least that portion of their lives during which they are Kings and Presidents. Our history books are full of critiques of Presidents and their accomplishments and only Jesus is mentioned in the Bible on more occasions than David.

But what about us? Our lives are not recorded anywhere. Our actions, good or bad, are not scrutinised by the world’s press and subject to debate by anybody and everybody who feels they have an opinion to offer. Does that mean that we can be less rigorous in applying standards to our behaviour? Can we be cavalier in our attitudes towards others; thinking only of what is good for us? Well, no… but, like David and every President there has ever been, we will stumble. We will fall short of the standards we aspire to meet. But, if like David, we can remain faithful and try to be true to the calling God has for us, then maybe we will be able to echo the words of the most famous Psalm David ever wrote:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint me with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the

house of the Lord forever”.

Hope - 12/11/20

Great news! There is hope for us after all. ‘Us’ means our local community, our city, our nation, and not forgetting the entire world from North Pole to South Pole, from the crowded streets of New York and Calcutta to the vast empty spaces in Canada and Mongolia, from massive China to tiny Fiji. Hope for 7,ooo,ooo,ooo (count the noughts) people of every culture, colour, faith, and age. What on earth am I talking about? Hope on Earth, that’s what I’m talking about. We have a vaccine!!! Well we will have soon; once again humanity has solved a dilemma that was threatening to destroy masses of people. Sadly some have already succumbed to Covid-19 but some clever scientists are wearing permanent grins because they have learned how to fight back against this global enemy. Soon lessons in schools and universities will be face-to-face, we’ll be able to travel on buses and trains without looking like bandits, football supporters will be screaming together rather than alone at home, churches will be open and we will be allowed to sing, gyms will return to sweat factories and Primark will be open. Our joy is complete. Explain 2020 to young children in ten years time and they will think you’re from another planet. So many of us around the world have accepted new ways to live; work from home, shop online, tie your hair back, accept that beards are trendy, and discover walking. There are many lessons that we have already learned, one of which is the value (even the existence) of community. The fact that life is better when we work together with and for each other has become obvious. Let’s never forget it and let’s make sure that the next generation accept it as normal. 

 

One of the Bible writers discovered long ago that in difficult times, working together is the best way forward. Although he was writing to Christians who were struggling to survive, his words are still appropriate for all people today. This is a characteristic of much that we read in God’s book because He knows more than we do about how life was intended to be on His world. We read, ‘Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.’ 

 

At the moment, meeting together is a dream but we will wake up soon and it will be reality. Let’s be ready to sit face-to-face, encouraging and loving each other. And let’s remember that hope is a gift from God, not just for after Covid but also for after life.

Get A Brand New Sense Of Wonder- 11/11/20

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

I'm A Genius - 10/11/20

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 (handy right now!) 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!

Who Wants A Medal? - 09/11/20

I’m quite sad this morning; I watched some of the remembrance services on TV during this weekend and I became very conscious of the medals on show. All sorts of people seem to have them; obviously there are many veterans and members of today’s armed forces, police officers and fire brigade staff; I noticed politicians displaying medals on their duffle coats and there were many others. Some just have two or three but some individuals have a whole row of them. I counted fourteen on one man’s chest and I found myself wondering if he could remember what they were all for. So why am I sad? Because I haven’t got one, not one, and I want one. I was too young to be in the last war and I am too old if there’s ever another one, so my chances of being presented with a medal are tiny. I’ve had badges of course; my first one was to tell the world that I was a member of the Junior Magicians Club of Great Britain, but they never gave me a medal. I studied photography in Manchester for four years and gained the appropriate certificates but no medal. I belonged to an international business association and had a lovely metal badge that I still have, but it’s not a medal. I am doomed to be medalless in my life.

Special Days - 08/11/20

Today is special; it’s the day when congregations either in churches or on Zoom, and many others around the country, will stop talking for two minutes. That’s quite an achievement for some people, but the silence is important and we need the peace to express what words can’t. 

On Remembrance Sunday we are invited to look back in sadness but with gratitude as we consider the sacrifices made by men and women in wartime to protect our nation and provide safety for subsequent generations. It will be different to all previous years of course because although our brave forces protected us from invasion, nobody could protect the UK from the invisible invasion of Covid-19. But we will remember all those who fought on our behalf; for some people it will be very personal because they lost a friend or a family member but most of us have been excused that level of regret. In addition to looking back, this special day encourages us to look around our nation and celebrate how fortunate we are because of battles fought and won. Many people around the world wish that they lived where we do. Having looked back and around, we can also look forward with a measure of hope and anticipation. Covid-19 and Brexit will leave us with significant financial issues and possibly political consequences, but most of us will still be able to work or enjoy our retirement in safety. 

 

God often told the Israelites not to forget what He had done for them in the past, ‘Be careful that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ You would think they would always remember that but we read, ‘But they forgot the Lord their God.’ Some time later, David gave himself good advice, ‘Praise the Lord my soul, and forget not all His benefits.’ On this special day when we rightly remember the sacrifices of brave men and women, let’s also remember that many of our blessings come from our God who said this, ‘Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart you rebels....I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me.’ 

So let’s look back, let’s look around, let’s look forward, but let’s not forget to look up. And remember, every day is special because of our blessings.

 
I Vote 'Be Kind' - 07/11/20

This past week it has been almost impossible to avoid the US Presidency elections. For months, in between the relentless news reports about Covid, we’ve been fed all the news on who has said what about who, the arguments, fights, slander and personal attacks, it appears to have just gone on and on. Not to mention President Trump‘s Twitter account!!!! I’ll be completely honest, I am completely confused!! It is absolutely shocking that this most powerful of nations can have such public displays of anger and criticism and personal attacks on others. Not just from leaders but also from the public. I have been reading about the need for security to be massively increased for Joe Biden as the anger and hatred of protesters reaches dangerous levels. This is absolutely outrageous. And let’s be clear, this behaviour is not unique to the United States, it is becoming increasingly common, and accepted, throughout the world. 

Last night I watched a recording of George Bush’s speech he gave on the night that Bill Clinton won the election in 1992. President Bush was calm, polite, gracious and encouraging. His views differed with Bill Clinton’s. He stood for different things. But he showed respect, good manners and dare I say there was a sense of admiration and support. It went a long way. Whatever political side people were on, they had to admire how President Bush behaved. 

The Bible has a whole lot to say about how we should treat one another! 

‘Encourage one another’, 

‘Be kind to one another’, 

‘Forgive one another’, 

‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear’, 

‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’,  

‘Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles’,

‘Let all that you do be done in love’.

 

There isn’t one person in this world who deserves to be here more than others. We each have gifts, skills, abilities and value. And we have a loving God, who created each one of us and calls us by name. Whatever our colour, race, beliefs, language, job, bank balance, political views and lifestyle choices, we are all part of this great big family called the Human Race. So let us remind ourselves that we all need each other, that we all deserve our place on this planet, we all have gifts that can help and enhance and bless. So let’s choose, every morning when we wake up, to make a difference. 

 
Making A Difference - 06/11/20

I’ve spent a lot of time at the beach since the Coronavirus pandemic began. It is an open public space and therefore meets the criteria for a place to exercise or enjoy recreation. It’s also a good place to meet up with people, because it’s easy to maintain the social distancing requirements.

More than anything, it’s just a wonderful place to be! It’s different every time. The sea and the sky are constantly changing. Both the weather and the time of day alter the colour palette of the scenery; often with spectacular results. Sometimes you can see as far as the Lake District in one direction and the mountains of Wales in another. On other occasions, the wind, rain, or sea fog are such that you can’t see more than a few yards ahead of you. You can go and watch the hardy souls who regularly swim at high tide – one of whom recently wrote a Sunrise article about her encounter with a seal – you could even join them if you were foolish enough! You can collect shells, fly kites, build sandcastles, or just sit and watch the sunset. Perhaps I’ll see you there one day.

I was recently looking at the shells that had washed ashore on the tide and was reminded of the story of the starfish. It goes something like this.

A man was walking along a beach the morning after a severe storm. The violent waves had brought with them a variety of debris that now littered the sand. In the distance he saw what appeared to be a small boy, frantically running back and forth from the water’s edge. As he got nearer, he could see that this area of the beach was covered in thousands of starfish, abandoned by the previous night’s unusually high tide. It was these starfish that were the focus of the boy’s attention. Again and again the boy collected starfish and ran to the waters’ edge and threw them into the sea. Despite his efforts, the beach was still covered with too many starfish to count. The man approached the boy and asked him what he was doing. The boy explained that if the starfish were not returned to the sea, they would shrivel and die. Feeling sorry for the boy, the man explained that, no matter how hard he tried, he was fighting a losing battle. “There are simply too many… what difference will it make?” he said. The boy looked him directly in the eye, held up a starfish and said, “To this one, it makes a difference”. And the man turned and began to help the boy throw starfish back into the sea.

Sometimes things seem overwhelming; sometimes the task looks too big, but that should not deter us from doing what we can. The Bible has these words to say on the subject; “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act”. We may only be able to do a small thing; we may only be able to help one person, but to that one, it makes a difference.

 

I Can Do That - 05/11/20

It’s amazing the skills people have that they keep to themselves or never broadcast, not because they are selfish or lazy but just because nobody asks them what they can do. It’s obvious what some people are good at because it is, or was, their job, so we know what a car mechanic or a plumber can do. But we may not realise that the lady who worked in an office for thirty years is a great cook or the man who works in W H Smith’s worked as an electrician for twenty five years before he got bored with his job. It’s interesting that there are all these talents around us not being used. I read somewhere of an organisation set up to encourage people in their community to share their skills. So one lady taught extra maths to the children of a man who agreed to look after her garden, and a single man decorated people’s homes in return for meals; and nobody charged for their services. I read about a man who was in his nineties who knitted woolly hats for homeless people. He had been confined to bed for fifteen years and had made 8,000 hats! He started because he couldn’t go anywhere, so rather than lie in bed and become a liability to society, he looked beyond himself and his circumstances and thought about the needs of others rather than his own.  

 

In our Sunday morning thought on Zoom we are looking at the people Jesus went out of His way to meet because He was aware of their needs and wanted to help. He frequently talked to individuals who nobody else was interested in and made wonderful changes to their situations. We can’t go to the lengths that He went to, dying on a cross, but we are invited to imitate His attitude and look around to see if we can help others, and not get too anxious about our own needs, ‘In your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.’ 


We are surrounded by people with needs, some of whom we may be able to help, and who knows, there’s probably someone out there who could be helpful for us. The Bible talks about the very early days of Christianity and how everyone worked for the benefit of their community, ’All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. They would sell their property and their possessions and give the money to whoever was in need.’ We don’t need to donate our house but maybe a few hours a week will transform someone’s situation.

 
 
Trolley Madness - 04/11/20

Yesterday I braved the supermarket! I hate food shopping at the best of times, but with all of these added restrictions it’s even less fun. People were bustling around, all with masks on and keeping reasonable distance from each other, but there was a sense of urgency in the air. No one was taking their time! Get in! Get out! 

I collected my trolley and walked through the doors. Moments later I discovered that I had a rogue trolley! As I went one way it wanted to go the other! It pulled me in directions I didn’t plan on going. (I should be used to this with four daughters and a dog!) I kept tight hold and navigated through the fruit aisle! So far, so good! At one point I audibly congratulated myself on my ‘driving’ skills, much to the amusement of an elderly couple who assumed the roles of ‘supporters’ and cheered me on past the bananas! All was well. I began to relax. ‘I’ve got this trolley under control!’ I thought to myself. As I smiled to myself turning the corner, the trolley gave one great big lunge and headed off towards the cucumbers! With maybe a second to spare I avoided a serious cucumber incident!! I was only in the second aisle and already I sensed a rise in stress and blood pressure! And then I heard it! It wasn’t quiet at all. Raucous in fact! The elderly couple who had been so kind as to cheer me on just a moment earlier where now laughing so hard that I feared they would pass out behind their masks. They wandered over to me with tears streaming down their partially covered cheeks and despite all attempts to compose themselves, they couldn’t. The laughter was infectious. It doesn’t take much to make me giggle...and so we laughed, and we laughed! After what seemed like several minutes, this wonderful couple found the breath to say Thankyou to me. ‘Thankyou? Why are you thanking me?’ They went on to tell me about the struggles they’ve had recently and their desire to see family. They said they were struggling to find the good in their days, something to smile about. Until now. Our chat was brief, and beautiful. They went on their way with their well behaved trolley, still chuckling and smiling and enjoying. I spoke to my ‘teenage’ trolley sternly and then it dragged me off in another direction.

 

Life is really tough at the moment, for many. Some suffering far more than others. But laughter truly is an incredible medicine, even if it provides you with just a few moments of distraction! Give me a wayward trolley and a shelf full of cucumbers any day if helps somebody laugh. 

The Bible says,

‘Happiness and laughter are great medicine’. 

In these uncertain, difficult days, let’s keep trying to find little things, daft things, to laugh about. We all need that good medicine.

 
Peering Into The Unknown - 03/11/20

I will never forget the occasion when, on a wavy swim at Formby, I came face to face with a seal. The waves were a little bit like a gentle roller coaster so that as you swam over one, you could not see what was on the other side as you swam down it. I swam up and over and on the other side of this wave was a seal. Not sure who was most surprised-him or me but suffice to say, we both swam quickly in the other direction.

In Celtic spirituality questioning when facing the unknown is encouraged. Not knowing what is around the corner can be a time when we really begin to grow spiritually. It is sometimes, one writer says, that “… when we dare to peer into the unknown that we find God peering back at us.”

The times ahead may be unknown. We may be questioning what God is up to. It may feel like swimming over a big wave and not knowing what is on the other side, but , in the words of Psalm 56:

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.

 
Found So Much - 02/11/20

In 2005 John Stone gave corrupt evidence against Peter Boswell who found himself convicted of a crime he didn’t do, and he spent four years in prison, during which he lost his job, his wife, children and home. He vowed to find Stone when he got out and “hurt him.” Just as he was about to be released, Stone’s lying testimony was uncovered and he too spent time locked up and he lost most of his treasured possessions. In 2015 they were both shocked to come face to face, having been employed by the same company. How on earth would they deal with this? In a nutshell, Stone said “Sorry” and Boswell said “It’s OK.” 

Not only did they share the same experience of being locked up, but both men whilst in prison became Christians. And

 life changed and so did their attitudes and behaviour patterns. Stone discovered that God could forgive his lying if he was truly sorry and asked for forgiveness, and Boswell discovered that he could forgive the other man his sins because God had forgiven him his sins also. St. Paul wrote, ‘God loves you and has chosen you as His own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.’ 

 

These two men are now best friends; they’ve lost so much and found so much. And they have a joint mission now to let the world know that, “If you’re holding something against somebody, let go of the bitterness because it’s like you drinking poison and hoping it’s hurting the other person.”

These are difficult and trying times, let’s be grateful that in our Community there is nobody planning to hurt us and we are supporting and encouraging each other. We are all in the same boat, struggling to stay upright, so let’s continue to show each other the patience and grace that God shows us.

Here We Go Again - 01/11/20

Most of us know the story of Anne Frank from her diary entries describing the years she and her family tried to hide during World War 11. She eventually found herself in a Nazi death camp. We don’t need to go into details here. People who came into contact with her said that “her tears (for them) never ran dry,” and she became “a blessed presence for all who knew her.” One historian said that she “never displayed compassion fatigue.” I’ve just spent a confusing half hour looking at bar charts and graphs which apparently tell us why we are going into lock down again. Everybody has something to complain about; I’m glad I’m not a politician, whatever they decide to do, is wrong or too late or too early or too expensive in many people’s opinion. My immediate reaction was to think, ‘here we go again.’ I remember the first lock down and how exhausting it was for many family members, as well as those wonderful people who went out of their way to help lonely and frightened individuals. I wonder if they will be as committed to helping others this time as they were earlier in the year or will compassion fatigue set in. We will soon find out. 

 

It was never a characteristic of Jesus to walk away from problems, we read in Matthew’s gospel, ‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ The needs around us in 2020 are not only matters of ill health, hunger, and lack of money, but also mental and spiritual damage. Jesus came to meet those needs and He prayed that His Father would provide people with compassion, ability, and willingness to respond to the variety of needs around them. In our Melling Community we are blessed with people who can and do provide help where it’s needed. We could be God’s answer to people’s prayers for help. Let’s not give up and assume or hope that someone else will take our place. Maybe we could be ‘a blessed presence for all who know us.