No Coriander Please! - 31/10/20

It was about 25 years ago when I had my first encounter with a coriander leaf. I was living down south and out for a meal with friends. We decided to go to a Thai restaurant. I’d not been to one before and looked forward to a fun night out. When my meal came, it was quite simple really, I took a big bite of whatever it was, grimaced slightly at something that didn’t taste so good, felt very ill very quickly, turned a very ugly shade of green and remember nothing more about the evening. Putting it bluntly, coriander is seriously bad for me!! Lemongrass has the same effect on me!! How I survived working in Thailand for two months I’ll never know! These days I can spot it instantly. The smell alone is enough of a warning to keep my distance! As I was chatting to a friend the other day who was with me at that Thai restaurant all those years ago, we were reminiscing about all the mad things we got up to. They were an amazing group of friends, I’ve lost touch with most of them now, just because life has moved on for us all, but those friends were good for me. Remembering my coriander incident got me thinking though, some people can have a very similar effect on us. I guess we’ve all met in our lives, that person, or those people, who drag us down, cause us harm and would eventually destroy us if we let them? Maybe their words are always putting us down, comparing us to others, fuelling negativity and stealing our joy? The Bible is very straight on this...’Bad company corrupts good character’ and James has a whole lot to say about how poisonous our words can be. Just like coriander is to me, so words can destroy a person. The Bible tell us to, ‘...encourage one another and build one another up...’ What an amazing world we would have if we all practiced that more. If we put aside our anger and bitterness and jealousy and judgement, and actively chose to see the best in others. 

So today, let’s recognise the ‘coriander’ in our lives and choose to hear other voices. The good ones, the ones that encourage and cheer on and bless. And when you do encounter those toxic voices, wish them well and walk on...just like I do with a Thai restaurant. 

 
Cheers - 30/10/20

I recently noticed that Channel 4 are showing re-runs of one of my favourite comedy shows; Cheers. Some of you may remember it. It’s the ongoing story of a bunch of disparate individuals who meet in a Boston bar every day. It was full of great characters; Sammy, Woody, Cliff, Carla, Diane, Norm and of course Frasier, who went on to have an equally successful spin-off show. When it first aired in the early 80s, we didn’t have any means to record the show, so if you were out at nine o’clock on a Friday night, you missed it. Now, I simply set my digi-box to record all the episodes and the entire catalogue will appear for my delectation. So much time has passed that I can’t remember which ones I missed, so I’ll probably end up watching them all again. I don’t have to wait until Friday, I can watch it every day of the week!

People often comment on the show’s theme song, “Where everybody knows your name”. The lyrics paint a picture of a warm, welcoming place. A place where you can be with people who know you, people who listen to you and take time to understand you:

“Making your way in the world today, takes everything you’ve got.

Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go…

Where everybody knows your name,

And they’re always glad you came.

You want to be where you can see

Our troubles are all the same.

You want to be where everybody knows your name.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The problem is, it’s not like that. I’ve been to Cheers (yes, it’s a real bar in Boston) and nobody knew my name. More to the point, if you watch the show, you’ll find that the behaviours exhibited by the characters don’t mirror the sentiment of the song. They might know everybody’s name, but they are not terribly sympathetic or understanding towards one another. In actual fact, they spend most of their time mercilessly ridiculing each other and making jokes at the other’s expense. Now for the purposes of a comedy show, this is both hilarious and necessary, but if you were really treated that way, you wouldn’t be in a rush to go back.

Contrast that with the wonderful community that is being built by the Melling Baptist Community Hub. Many of us have only met through Zoom and everybody didn’t know my name, but they could cheat and read it on the screen. I know that, whenever we meet, I am assured of a warm welcome and will be greeted by a sea of faces that seem genuinely pleased to see me. It’s a place where people laugh together, cry together, quiz together, buy cakes together, play bingo together, learn about God together, pray together and feel that they belong together. A place that people will want to go to in person when the whole Covid pandemic is over. Each time I drop in I am reminded of Paul’s words in the Bible; “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. I’ll take that over Cheers every day of the week!

 

How Are You? - 29/10/20

We’ve all done it and continue to do it every day of our lives. It’s very British apparently although I don’t know how it would be different in other countries. It’s that two-way conversation that we are obliged to engage in. You meet a friend in the street and the conversation goes like this, “Hi how are you?” “Fine thanks, how are you?” “I’m OK thanks.” Job done so we move on. We weren’t asking for information, good grief we don’t want information and we simply were not prepared to talk about our bunions. If the other person did stop and tell us how they were, that they had been laid off, the car failed its MOT, their card had just be rejected by Lidl, but it didn’t matter because they had just won the Lottery and were moving to Florida, would you be happy to hear all that? Often our apparent concern for other people and their welfare is simply a matter of good manners that we don’t expect will cost us anything in either time or money. But if there’s a real need and real tears, do we spring into action or run for the bus? If you and I were honest with each other when the question was asked, “How are you” would the world be a better place even though a little slower?

 

Jesus was walking through Jericho when He passed a man called Bartimaeus who was sitting on the floor begging. This was because he was blind and the only route through life for him was to ask other people for money for food and clothing. Probably nobody asked him how they could help; his need was obvious; he needed money. People brought him to Jesus who looked at him and asked a daft question, “What do you want me to do for you?’ It didn’t take a genius to realise that he needed money. But the answer He got back was as daft as the question; “I want to see.” Of course Jesus knew that but He wanted Bartimaeus to tell Him the truth and not just be polite and ask for a coin. Bartimaeus on the other hand, believed that Jesus cared and could help, so he said what was on his mind. ‘Jesus told him, “You may go. Your eyes are healed because of your faith.” Immediately he could see, and he went down the road with Jesus.’

 

That was a very brief, direct, and simple conversation that turned out to be life-changing. Are we are missing something as we bump into each other on the street?

Let’s not ask questions we don’t want the answer to, and if we were asked, “How are you?” would it be the right time to be honest?

 

Christmas is Coming - 28/10/20 

A couple of days ago I was doing some shopping and walked into one particular shop and not only was I greeted by their display of Christmas decorations but they were also playing Christmas music!  I love Christmas.  I love the lights, I love the decorations, I love the excitement and the shopping, I even love the music.  The moment we get to December, my decorations and Christmas lights go up and my husband begins his annual moan that it takes 20 minutes just to go up to bed while we go round and turn everything off!  However, no matter how much I love all things ‘Christmas’, I don’t want it to be Christmas in October – I’m not ready!  

There is a temptation for us to rush towards those things that we think will make us happier or times we believe will be better than we are experiencing now.  This year has been a tough year – it is very tempting to just put our heads down and wish it away - let’s just get to 2021 when things will be better!  But no matter how many bright lights we put up or jolly songs we sing along to, we can’t get there any quicker.  

From the beginning of December we start the period of advent.  This is the time when Christians all around the world begin a time of preparation and waiting before the great celebration of Christmas day and the birth of Jesus.  Advent isn’t about getting to Christmas as quickly as possible, it’s about the preparation we do while we wait.  Yes, for me that includes putting lights up and decorating Christmas trees, but it’s also about preparing our hearts to remember and recognise who that little baby truly was – “Emmanuel … God with us”.  The same little baby who grew to perform miracles; the same little baby who grew into the man who was nailed to a cross and conquered death and who will return again one day.  Are we preparing for that?

Isaiah 40 says “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint”.  We’re all feeling a little weary now but Christmas lights won’t renew our strength – for that, we need to wait on God.  Let’s enjoy the preparations, let’s not be in too much of a hurry to get to Christmas day, let’s use this time to prepare our hearts so that we can recognise the baby.

 

Thick and Thin - 27/10/20
 

In Celtic Christianity there is a tradition of so called ‘thin’ places, where heaven & God seem to be so much closer. The island of Iona is one such place. Aa you step onto that island you can almost feel that there is something special and deeply spiritual about the place. It is understandable I suppose as since the time of Columba way back in history, there have been monks, pilgrims and hermits praying day and night on the island. It would be wonderful if the communities that we live in could be like that. However, true Community is not like that at all. It is a ‘thick’ not a thin place. True community requires a level of sacrifice and selflessness. It can be noisy as everyone tries to get their voice heard. It can be messy, as things often are when human beings live and work with each other. It can be uncomfortable and require that we welcome interruptions to our neatly planned schedules, when that is the last thing that we want to do. Few of us are called to live in beautiful ‘thin’ places. Even if sometimes, being a hermit sounds like an attractive option(at least you would get some quiet!) Most of us are called to live & serve in towns, villages, suburbs, workplaces, churches, pubs, coffee shops or busy streets and all whilst juggling family, jobs, commitments ,money and a hundred and one other things.  In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus tells us; “ You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth…”.

We are called to do that wherever we find ourselves today.  

 

A Real Man - 26/10/20
 

I think I’m more impressed and moved by sculpture than I am by paintings. If you go to an art gallery and view classical paintings, they can be very powerful and moving;  if you have ever tried to paint, you will appreciate the enormous skill, dedication, and patience required to produce these masterpieces. I can admire the composition, colour distribution and the depiction of light and shade. But as a photographer I can do nothing with it. I can of course photograph it but all I will produce is a copy of someone else’s work. I can’t put that in a competition or on the wall, anyway that’s where all paintings finish up, on the wall, so there’s not a lot of scope for me. Having just written this, I’ve had an idea, remember you heard it here first; if I could take paintings out of the gallery and photograph them in various locations, I may produce something that could add to the image on the canvas. I’m not sure what painters would think of that, it might be interesting to find out. Sculpture however is a very different thing because it is three dimensional. You can walk around it and you can view it from below or above, and its shape will change and it can look totally different as you move. Also as you circle it, the background changes producing another variation. Finally you can transform it with lighting. 

 

People are often like paintings, they can be beautiful but no matter how many times you see them, they are always the same. Irrespective of what is happening in our world or community, they have nothing new to offer and you are never surprised by them. They are two dimensional characters. 

The individuals in the Bible are real three dimensional people, they are happy or sad, inactive or violent, weak or powerful, and as we look at them we get different pictures and different messages. For instance, we see Peter attacking a man with his sword then standing in the dark weeping! 

When we are talking about Jesus, we are not talking about a cartoon character or an image fixed on canvas, but a real life three dimensional man. We read that He was both gentle and violent, He wept and got tired, He was angry and sad. He taught and He healed. When they whipped Him He bled, and when they crucified Him He died. Three days later He was back and they thought He was a ghost, but His response settled that for all time, ‘He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” The disciples were probably not art critics, but they recognised a real three dimensional man when they saw one. Let’s understand that we do not worship a painted image, but a real man who is really God.

 

The Stationmaster's House - 25/10/20

I wonder how lucky you are with level crossings? In my experience, if I returned to Maghull from Melling via the station I had a 90% chance of being held up and having to wait for the two trains to pass, one for Liverpool and the other for Ormskirk!! It was hardly surprising therefore that I began to notice an old broken-down two-storey house which I assumed had once been the satisfactory home of the then stationmaster. Why else would someone live so close to the noisy railway? There was so much damage to the outside and inside that, at first inspection, it looked virtually collapsed and ruined, but also so much structure was left standing, an outline and image of the original design. I don’t know why but I began to pray for its restoration. Eventually, not only was it totally restored but three new properties were added on some adjoining land. The creativity and resourcefulness of some entrepreneur had presumably made this possible. To me that person was divinely inspired!! The Divine hallmarks of restoration and new life were evident. (And in childhood a month-long holiday next to the Metro in Paris had already proved to me that we humans can screen out much noise……which meant that somebody could buy this house and expect to be happy).

Now it may seem like a bit of a waste of prayer. Why would a God in Heaven be concerned about such a project? Maybe I should go back to praying about people? Yet restoration is His business (Joel 2:25 gives a promise from God “I will restore unto you the years that the locusts have eaten”), and local Community is His passion (1 Corinthians 13 is a whole chapter devoted to building loving relationships. St. Paul says “If I have no love, I am nothing”). Now in human terms we can easily understand a restored building, perhaps a mended marriage or a flourishing of a neglected friendship, even a return from financial despair and general economic downturn. We might dare to pray for any of these. However, from the above quotes we learn that God can do the impossible**, which is to give us back the time we have lost ….. or wasted or not appreciated. He calls us to a brand new life with his Son Jesus in our hearts. In this Life we experience lost opportunities coming back, or the enthusiasm and energy we once had being channelled into new directions. We are able to start again. This promise of hope is needed now in our ‘plague of viruses’, our invisible locusts, which attack life and health, work and finances, closeness and love. It is a promise from our Heavenly Father who knows every hair on our heads and every thought before we think it. We are all in some way experiencing this community of love, of restoration, of comfort and compensation, and of pinpricks of light and hope. Just don’t let go. If you sometimes can’t hang on, then ask to be held. Perhaps one day just go and look at the Stationmaster’s house. It is truly inspiring, because it is whole again and hopefully will soon contain a loving dynamic.

**https://www.thegospelcoalition.org ‘God Can Restore Your Lost years’

 

If I Could Turn Back Time - 24/10/20

In 1989 Cher’s new song, ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ was released. The song tells of a person’s deep regrets and the desire to turn back time and do things differently. With the lyrics, ‘I don't know why I did the things I did, ‘I don't know why I said the things I said‘, Cher tells the story of someone living with the consequences of their poor judgement, poor behaviour and unkind words. This is probably a song that each and every one of us can relate to in some way. The conversation, or maybe argument, where in the heat of the moment, words were said that were cruel, untrue, and damaging? Or maybe a situation or incident where you did something you weren’t proud of and living with the consequences is crippling? If only we could turn back time! Hindsight can be truly wonderful! If only it took place first! The Bible is jampacked with normal people who said the wrong thing and did the wrong thing and had to face the consequences. King David is just one of these people. Guilty of some outrageous behaviour, he sought out God’s forgiveness. ‘O loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon me and take away the awful stain of my errors. Oh, wash me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again. For I admit my shameful deed—it haunts me day and night’. David couldn’t concentrate on the present and the future because his past haunted him day and night. He needed to say sorry in order to move on. Maybe there are things in our lives that still haunt us? Things that are holding us back because of our deep regret and guilt? Maybe there is someone we need to say sorry to? The Bible tells us that we all make mistakes. But it also tells us of an incredible God who can help us learn from the past and leave the past in the past. ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, great is His faithfulness’. In the absence of a time machine, let’s look at our past and choose to learn from our mistakes, seek forgiveness for the wrong we’ve done, and thank God for His new mercies every day. And as for turning back time?… The clocks go back tonight everybody. But just one hour.

A Cast Iron Hope - 23/10/20

We’ve just bought a chiminea. In case you’re wondering, it’s a cast iron, wood-burning stove. I believe they originated in Mexico.

Now those of you who have been to my house will be thinking that I have a perfectly adequate central heating system and have no need of supplementary heating devices. That would be correct, but this is to use in the garden.

Again, those of you who have been to my house will be thinking that in addition to perfectly adequate central heating, I have comfortable furniture and have no need to sit outside. Also correct, but this is something different to do on those cold winter nights when we have nowhere to go because of lockdown.

Now, I’m a man, and the gender stereotype dictates that men like to play with fire… ever notice that men always do the cooking at a barbeque? It’s not because we like to cook, it’s because fire is involved. In this instance, the gender stereotype is correct. Fire is fun!

At this point I feel I should include a disclaimer that the disregard for political correctness and cavalier attitude to health and safety are entirely the responsibility of the author.

Okay, back to the plot. Sitting in the dark in the garden, watching the flames twist and dance and feeling the warmth from them gently singeing my legs, brings a feeling of satisfaction that the time spent carefully building the pyramid of fire-lighters, kindling, small twigs, bigger twigs and very big twigs has all been worthwhile. Even greater satisfaction is achieved by throwing on some cardboard. This provides a double endorphin boost, because not only do the flames spectacularly engulf the entire chiminea and anything within two feet of it; satisfying the male pyro maniacal sensibilities, but it means that the mountain of cardboard boxes, kindly supplied by Amazon over the past six months, can be reduced to a heap of ash.

So, like I said, fire is fun. I will doubtless extend an invitation to join me one evening to sit in my garden and be entranced by this new plaything. Oh, wait a minute. I can’t. We’re all in Tier Three lockdown and we can’t meet in gardens. But that’s the thing about our chiminea; it’s a testament to hope. Once we move back to Tier Two and beyond, we can have people round to join us. The chiminea was bought in anticipation of just such a time. It’s a cast iron hope.

Throughout history, people have endured various troubled times and those who have come through those troubles have needed hope. That hope has always been there. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Why? Because the Bible says this, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” We too can rely on that faithfulness, because God is our cast iron hope.

 

Emmanuel - Not Just for Christmas - 22/10/20

As I sit in my lounge, drinking a good coffee, and trying to teach myself to sit still for five minutes, my eyes have landed on ‘mini me’! Let me explain. Last Christmas I wanted to get each of my four daughters something personal and special and well, something that would just be lovely! I went on the internet and found ‘mini me dolls’!! These are stuffed dolls, shaped a bit like a gingerbread man, about 20 inches long, and you send the company a photo of your face and that gets put on the doll!! Voila!! How much fun is that?! So, I ordered four of these dolls and a week later, there I was, sitting at home while all my chicks were out, staring at four little ‘me’ dolls!! I’ve got to say, in addition to them being very funny, they’re also terrifying! When my chicks go away somewhere, (not going anywhere at the moment!!) I put them in their bags, with a message ‘mum is watching you!’ I don’t deny it’s creepy really, but very funny. 

My chicks are getting older and like any doting parent I have to be able to ‘let go’ and let them grow up. It’s only right and natural for them to gain more independence, but, well, I still want to be there for them, and protect them. 

And in this time now, isn’t it difficult not being able to go and spend time with family and friends and neighbours? We want to be with them, check on them, be there physically for them....and, well, we can’t.

But! God can be there. God is there. David wrote in a psalm, ‘Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast’.

I’ll be completely honest, my mini me dolls do not bring comfort! Anything but! And as humans, we are restricted and limited in where we can go and what we can do. But today, may we find comfort in knowing that God can reach us in hospital, in school, in the loneliness of our homes and the busyness of our lives. Wherever we are and however we are feeling, may you know ‘Emmanuel - God With Us’

 

Planning for the Future - 21/10/20

I am not much of a gardener probably due to being impatient for results and I do not like waiting. However, in the Celtic tradition of prayer, waiting is something which is very much encouraged. One of the Celtic saints, St Hild of Whitby, spent a huge chunk of time just praying and waiting. She is said to have encouraged her followers to prepare the ground by praying. Then she said that you should plant promises that those who come afterwards will recognise. She argued that we do not need to see the results of our planting because God was the keeper of the plans, not us.

 As our harvest week approaches, in amongst the fun, the quizzes, the baking and the eating, let us not forget to pray. We may never see the impact of that praying or even of our fundraising; but that is okay. Someone else in Beirut, Lebanon, will reap that harvest of Gods promises. So, if we need some inspiration, one of Gods many promises to us is from  Philippians 4:6-7 :”Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

Now, where can we plant that today?

 

It's all in the Preparation - 20/10/20

Over the course of last weekend while we had some lovely autumn sunshine, we spent some time out in the garden tidying things up a bit, cutting back some of the dying foliage and raking up fallen leaves.  I’ve taken delivery of the allium bulbs I ordered and they’ve been strategically planted out, ready for spring.  Edward, our friendly and increasingly brave squirrel, has been busy collecting the nuts we put out and presumably storing at least some of them away in various places (he now has a couple of friends that have joined him but as we can’t tell them apart they’re now all called Edward!) 

It’s that time of year isn’t it when preparations are made ready for winter.  The luscious green of summer turns to beautiful shades of red and orange which in turn will eventually die and leave the garden looking rather barren and dead and we all retreat indoors to stay dry and warm.  In some ways it feels as though the garden is reflecting a bit of the situation we currently find ourselves in - our usual activities continue to be halted and we must all retreat from each other and hibernate away.  But hibernation isn’t about doing nothing, hibernation is about preparation.

The bulbs I’ve planted may be hidden from sight but they’re not doing nothing; they’re gathering nutrients and establishing good roots so that they will be ready when the time is right.  The perennial plants aren’t dead, they’re just preserving themselves so that they will be ready when the time is right.  The trees losing their leaves isn’t a sign of death, but a way of helping them conserve their energy so that they will be ready when the time is right.

This year has been a strange year, different to any I have known in my life-time, and at times you may have felt like hiding away and telling someone to wake you up when this is over but would that have helped to prepare you for next year?  Some people refer to this year as the year we lost, but while it’s been different to anything we have known before, we didn’t lost it – each and every one of us has changed in some small, or maybe significant, way this year.  Some of us have learned that we can be more resilient than we ever thought; some of us have learned that we truly do have good friends we can depend upon and some of us have learned that we can be a good friend.  None of that is wasted, it’s preparation for the community of people we will be when we are all back together again.  

And while we’ve been preparing and growing this year, Jesus has also been busy.  He’s been working in us and through us and the Bible also tells us that he is busy preparing a place for us: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.  If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”

Let’s use our time well and prepare ourselves to be the people that God would have us be – ready when the time is right.

 

Friends and Friends - 19/10/20

 

I’m sure this is something that we all know; there are friends and there are friends. They seem to belong in different categories depending on your lifestyle. You could have friends in all kinds of places; - work, golf club, church, gym, scouts music society, etc. Some friends you see several times each week, some on dry days when you play golf, or every second Friday night in the month at the music society. One may be the friend who sits in the season-ticket seat next to you every home game. You may only know him as Billy and you have no idea where he lives or works, but he’s still a friend. If you’re on Facebook or Instagram, you might tell me you have 597 friends, but you have never met 458 of them. Some friends you chose, some of them are just in the same place as you, like the office or the football match. And they’re all different; - sporty or arty, philosophical or noisy, male or female. Some of course may be family members, but that’s not always the case. Do you have degrees of closeness? Are some good fun but that’s all they are? Have you had deep and personal conversations with any of them? Could you trust any of your friends with secrets? Here’s an interesting question, if you were seriously worried or frightened, and you had to talk to someone at 3 in the morning, how many friends have you got? 

 

King Solomon had thoughts about friends, “A friend loves at all times.” Do you have a friend who will tell you the truth? Solomon said, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” These words really reinforce the reality that there are friends and friends. In a conversation with the Disciples who considered themselves to be followers and servants of Jesus, He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” This sounds like promotion with conditions, but all Jesus was saying was that He knew what was good for these men in this life and the next, and He wanted them to have the best of both worlds. There is no time limit on this and we have the same choice. As we are building friendships in our community that we can trust, let’s learn to trust Jesus as the ultimate friend. He will never let us down or leave us because He’s found different friends. And we can talk to Him about anything.

Even at 3 in the morning.

 

Light My Fire - 18/10/20

I’m sitting here quietly by myself looking at photographs of matches, I bet you’re not. It sounds like a strange thing to do but I have a good reason for doing this rather than watching Michael Palin on TV. It’s all to do with our camera club ‘Shoot’. We have a new theme each month and our excellent members submit their interpretation of the given subject for assessment. During our recent lock down when we were confined to barracks, our themes could be created in the safety of our homes. This particular theme was ‘Close Up’ and many different approaches were applied. Strangely two members, without talking to each other chose to photograph matches. This does sound odd I know, but a few years ago for a different theme two members photographed the same street lamp in the centre of Liverpool. Photographers are interesting people! Back to the matches; one picture shows an extremely close view of five match heads. They are twenty times bigger than life-size, and the matches are like works of art; very deep red with texture like orange peel and a beautiful shape. The other picture is also, oddly, of five matches but these are just normal scale. These matches however are lit; so one photograph depicts their appearance and the other indicates their purpose. 

 

I spend some of my time talking to children in a junior school and I’m always impressed with their energy and smiles, but mostly by their potential. They are like the close up image of the match heads, lovely and interesting but not yet fulfilling their hidden promise. This reminds me of Bible characters like Joseph, David, Mary, or Peter; people couldn’t tell by looking what they would be like when they exercised the ability God had placed in them. When that happened, they were like the lighted matches, giving out light and warmth. And they were noticed. Many people comfort themselves by thinking that what they believe in is all that matters. But God expects the match to be lit. But other words hearing the words of Jesus, even remembering them, is not enough, we must exhibit the light and warmth that comes from God. 

 

In the Bible, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote this, “Someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.”

Our days are not getting easier at the moment, but in our Melling Community we are learning to rely on each other’s generous actions, which demonstrate our mutual concerns. But remember, God would love our actions to be an expression of our faith in the One who planted our potential.

 

How Great Thou Art - 17/10/20

It was 1998. I was on my way to do a few weeks of AIDS education and training in Thailand. On my way there I stopped off in Malaysia for a few days and spent some of that time working in a home for destitute women. The majority of these ladies had been horrifically abused and were both physically and mentally harmed. The stories I heard from the carers, and some of the sights I saw upset me enormously. During one afternoon I went for a walk, on my own, with just my tiny cassette player for company. I had a new cassette that I had picked up in a store and hadn’t yet played. I had no idea if it was any good or not. As I walked around a large park, trying hard to compose myself and asking God to help me be of some good to the ladies I was serving, a song started playing that instantly distracted me. The words were familiar, but I’d never heard it sound so beautiful and so moving as I did then. The words poured out the mouths of a large choir with such power and emotion. 

 

“O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy Hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

 

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art

 

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow with humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art”

 

As I wandered back, I thanked God for the rescue home that cared so beautifully for these ladies. For the smiles and laughter that were gradually appearing in such broken lives. I went in and played them this beautiful song and we danced and giggled like little school girls. Separated by language, but on that occasion it just didn’t seem to matter. After they’d danced, and swayed and danced a bit more, they all collapsed in a heap, laughter was everywhere. My friend took out her bag of cheap nail polish and we spent the rest of the afternoon painting finger nails and toenails! Much to the delight of all!

 

I left Malaysia with a dream. ‘One day I’ll be part of a choir that will sing music that is that beautiful, and they too will bring laughter, smiles, tears, encouragement, and above all, hope, to the people who hear them. Hope in a God who loves us, who can restore the broken hearted, who can place us in families, who can do the impossible‘. 

 

Melling Community Gospel Choir is 9 years old today. Happy Birthday to the most amazing choir, who love, who care, who help to restore, and are family. May God bless us with many, many more years together. And when life gets challenging and our problems seem overwhelming, let’s remember those beautiful words, ‘...my God, how great thou art’.

“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.”

You need to read this in your best movie trailer voice. You know the one; deep, growling, filled with the promise of menace and adventure. “Imagine a world filled with fear. Fear of contamination. A world where your every waking moment is spent avoiding those who are unclean; those who are contaminated. A world where you must prove that you are able to participate in the clean society; where you must dress to show that you are avoiding contamination. A world where the unclean are isolated, excluded, vilified. Welcome… to Covid.”

Okay, you can stop doing the voice now… it hurts your throat after a while. How long do you think it will be before Hollywood comes up with the movie? It’s perfect for a dystopian future epic… except that it’s not the future, it’s now.

It’s also the past. In biblical times cleanliness was very important. Rules were in place to monitor the clean and unclean. People were fearful of contamination. Leprosy was a common disease. Lepers were to be avoided. They were sent out of the local area, declared ritually unclean and isolated, excluded and vilified. Just as today, the rules regarding cleanliness were there for sensible reasons. They were there to keep people safe, but they took their toll.

There are those people today who complain about the rules being complicated and confusing. Spare a thought then for the people of Jesus’ day. The law makers of the time, the Pharisees, took the 613 laws of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible) and created over 2,000 rules to add to them; because 613 was clearly not enough of a challenge! In doing so, they forgot the people the laws were designed to protect.

When asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself'. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus made it clear that we are to love God and, very importantly, to love people. Everything else follows on from these two basic principles. To simply give people a set of rules to follow and wash our hands of them is not enough – no pun intended.

As responsible citizens of the United Kingdom, we must follow the rules and guidelines set out to protect ourselves and others, but we should also remember that this is not the only kingdom we serve. We are citizens of God’s kingdom and we are called to fulfil the law, just as Jesus did. We are called to love God and to love others. To care for those who are isolated and marginalised. To look out for those left out, or kept at arm’s length. To be mindful of the effect of the pandemic on people’s mental health. To remember the value of relationships. To be kind. To be a friend. To be there for others.

So, if you feel fearful, fed up, or forgotten; remember that you belong to a community of people who are there for you. A community who follow the rules without forgetting their relationships. A group of God’s people who demonstrate joy and hope beyond our immediate circumstances. It’s a world you don’t need to imagine.

Don't Forget To Remember - 15/10/20

It’s funny how you can be certain that you’ve never met someone who your friend is talking about with such enthusiasm; “Wasn’t if funny when he fell off his bike into a holly bush.” or “How brilliant it was that night when he jumped into the canal to recover the football for the little boy crying on the bank.”  Listening to your friend recalling events from the dawn of history, you know he has mistaken you for someone else because you have no idea who he’s talking about. Then he says, “And remember that camping weekend when a cow sat on his tent.” Ahhh, it all comes flooding back now; “Oh him, yes of course I remember, how could anyone forget?” But you did forget until something triggered one memory that led to dozens more. I wonder how many of your old school mates you ever think of now? Does an event or a sound or a sight ever remind you of someone you haven’t seen for many years? In our present situation, what does it take to remind you of someone in the Melling Baptist Community who you used to sing with in the choir or have breakfast with at Hub? Is it now a question of ‘out of sight out of mind?’ Do you think that you have been forgotten also?

 

There’s a Bible story about Naaman who was the Army Commander of Syria, a very powerful and influential man, but he had leprosy for which there was no cure, so he was dying. From one of his invasions of Israel he had brought back a servant girl to attend his wife. When she heard about his illness she was reminded of Elisha, a man back in Israel who God had used to heal people. She had no reason to want her captor cured but she believed it was right to tell him about the man she remembered in her own country. The outcome was that Naaman was healed, but only because the young girl he had taken from her family home was compassionate enough to care. 

 

We read in our Bibles that God needs no reminder, He never forgets us and is compassionate enough to care. “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you.”

Do we remember those people we used to mix with or do we need a reminder? How great it would be if we called a friend we hadn’t seen for months simply because we cared enough. We read at the end of the book of Hebrews this reminder, ‘Do not forget to do good and help one another, because these are the sacrifices that please God.’

 

You Matter - 14/10/20

Outside the Oratory, next to the huge Liverpool Cathedral there is a Tracey Emin piece of art work that is exquisite but it is rarely noticed. It consists of a 4” bird on top of a pole. So often we can feel like that bird. Unseen, unnoticed, unimportant next to the giants of our culture like celebrities and even local heroes. We too can be guilty of not noticing an individual because they are not important enough to us. The Bible tells us that we are precious, that we matter. Jesus reminded us that we are valuable, precious. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Do you need that reminder today? Do you need to remind someone just how precious they are, not just in Gods eyes but because they are?

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? - 13/10/20

It’s that time of year again.  

I was sitting on my sofa, minding my own business when something caught my eye.  I was aware of movement and turned to discover the biggest spider I’ve ever seen walking up the wall (the one in front of you always seems to be the biggest one you’ve ever seen!)  Now I don’t like spiders – I don’t want to hurt them and I appreciate that they have an important role to play, but I don’t want to share my living room with them.  I screamed and my husband rolled his eyes before finding a suitably sized cup to put over him.  The problem was, just as he was about to put the cup on top of him, the enormous spider decided to jump – yes jump! – off the wall and disappear.  We moved sofas, cushions, bins – anything that could be moved to try and find him but the biggest spider in the world had simply disappeared.

You will have heard the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – I can honestly tell you that that is nonsense!  Just because I couldn’t see it, that spider was very far from being out of my mind.  Every time I walked into the room I would check the floor and walls, the chairs and cushions in the certain knowledge that he was somewhere … just waiting for his next venture out.

As we face further restrictions on our movements and lives, it would be all too easy to begin to think that God had stopped watching over us, that he had forgotten about us in some way and left us to just get on with things.  But that wouldn’t be true.  

In the Bible we read: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.  You know when I sit down or stand up.  You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.  You see me when I travel and when I rest at home.  You know everything I do.  You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.  You go before me and follow me…  If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the depths, you are there.  If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.”  

If you’re feeling anxious or alone right now, that’s completely understandable as these are strange times, but know with absolute certainty that God sees you and he knows you and he is with you every step of the way guiding and supporting.   Unlike my spider, you’re not out of sight and are very much in God’s thoughts.  What’s more, the fact that we are unable to physically see one another at the moment, doesn’t mean that we are out of one another’s thoughts and prayers either.  We are part of a wonderful community of God’s people and we have been put together for a reason – to watch over one another and offer a helping hand when it’s needed.  That’s something to celebrate.

And the giant spider?  Well he turned up again a few days later and was gently and humanely rehoused to somewhere he can live in peace.  I think we’re both happier that way.

Change - 12/10/20

I’m looking at a photograph on my wall in front of me. It’s a picture of Liverpool Waterfront, taken from Birkenhead about fifteen years ago. If anything happened to it and I wanted to replace it by taking another one, I couldn’t do it. If I stood in exactly the same place at exactly the same time of the year, the same time in the day and in the same weather conditions, the new photo would not match the first one. Things have changed, life has moved on; there are new high-rise apartment blocks, a new museum and two huge modern buildings used for large events. Almost certainly some elderly structures have suffered violent attacks from monster cranes swinging nasty metal balls. The waterfront church, St Nicholas, which used to be conspicuous, is now dwarfed by modern shapes that have rendered this famous icon almost invisible. Can you remember the Liverpool of your youth; Paradise Street before Liverpool One, the Pier Head Bus Terminal, the Overhead Railway, what about Lewis’s when it was a shop? Can you remember paying with cash? Something I haven’t seen for years is a line of local shops, closed in the evening, with not a roller blind in view. That hasn’t changed because shop owners love the sight of metal blinds, but because society has changed, not for the best. I can remember when we played out in the street and every school had a Christian assembly! There have been many wonderful changes through the years, and there have been changes which cause us to be fearful and sad. Can you predict how society will look and behave in twenty years from now? 

 

We are clearly living with shifting styles of behaviour due to the pandemic and when it’s over, not everything will return to what we used to call ‘normal’. Bible characters lived in a world where standards and patterns of behaviour were static for thousands of years. They would be shocked at the speed of change we are trying to cope with. Nevertheless they had to live with the realities of famine, flood, invasion and more. They would view the future with fear and trembling, and the people of Israel would look to God for reassurance that He had not changed but was still the God of Creation, the God of Heaven and Earth. 


As we look forward and imagine life without Covid, will it all be sweetness and light or are you nervous? Let’s be encouraged by what the Bible tells us about God, ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows’...’Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures for ever.’ Let’s give God the last word as we struggle with changes out of our control, “I the Lord do not change.”

Call Someone - 11/10/20

At this time in our history it’s very easy to be worn down by the constant supply of depressing news. It could be Covid-19 or Brexit, forest fires or floods, or something really important such as our football team losing the last three games. Often people don’t help; we read of ‘celebrities’ spending a fortune on another car, or we look at those in charge of the country and think we could do better, or as we sit having our cornflakes we resent the fact that nobody has rung us for a week. We can get into a damaging mindset that causes us to wake up expecting more bad news before we get out of bed. But maybe we need to look again at the world, but this time with fresh eyesight and a positive and grateful attitude. There are always different ways of looking at things. Like many professional photographers, De Witt Jones who works for National Geographic, uses his skill to celebrate what is right and beautiful in our world. By having a positive attitude and not rushing, he will eventually see the shaft of sunlight that penetrates the heavy cloud and transforms a drab city street into a wonderland that encourages you to jump into your car and head for Bootle before the sun disappears. But you don’t have to go to those extreme lengths, just open your door and step out. Listen and watch the magic of a flock of geese, look at that ordinary tree that’s transforming itself into a rustling golden miracle, pick up the acorn on the floor and admire the tree that provided it and remember that’s where the tree came from. Oh and that silence on your phone, why don’t you cause someone else to hear their phone ringing? 

 

In the Bible, Job had more cause to complain about life than you or I ever will; read the first two chapters of the book of Job; you’ll be shocked. Eventually God asked him about the wonders of nature that were obvious to anyone who bothered to look, and suggested to Job that God was slightly wiser than he was, could do anything He wanted to and was still in control of the world He made for us to inhabit. “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand....Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn it’s place?....Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt?....Do you give the horse it’s strength or clothe it’s neck with a flowing mane?....Does the eagle soar at your command and spread it’s wings towards the South?" 

 

There are lots more that God talks about; the point is that however you view the world this morning, and your place in it, God is in charge. Many places in the Bible assure us that God knows what He is doing and is concerned for those who trust Him. ‘This God-how perfect are His deeds! How dependable His words! He is like a shield for all who seek His protection.’

 

OK, time to get up, grab a coffee, call someone.

Here Comes SpiderMan! - 10/10/20

Last week I was in a supermarket trying to get my shopping done as quickly as possible. I reached the queue and found myself stood behind two young girls. As I stood there I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. It started with one girl making a comment about the person in front of them being too slow. The other girl responded in agreement and then went on to criticise the persons shoes. The first girl laughed and added to the insult by commenting on the ‘ugly clothes’. The conversation grew more insulting with every comment. Every word more toxic than the last. Until, after just a couple of minutes they decided they’d waited long enough, dumped their unpaid-for goods and stomped out of the shop, pushing past the bewildered customer in front. Thankfully, the customer hadn’t heard the comments and was saved from feeling hurt and embarrassment. I came away from the shop feeling angry and sad that humans could speak with such cruelty. It was deliberate and unprovoked!

 

The Bible has a lot to say about this! It makes it clear that what we choose to think about and dwell on, will eventually come out in our speech.  It gives us huge warnings about the dangers of wrong thinking and the immense damage that our cruel and toxic language can cause. It says, 

 

‘...the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A great forest can be set on fire by one tiny spark’. 

 

As I walked towards my car, there was a little boy in a SpiderMan costume walking with his mum towards the shop. He looked up at me and said, ‘Hello, I’m SpiderMan, and SpiderMan says hello to everybody!’ What an amazing contrast in the space of just a few minutes! 

 

I don’t know why those girls were so cruel, I don’t know what kind of experiences they’ve had themselves, and every one of us is guilty of speaking out of turn at some point.  Proverbs says, 

 

‘Some people like to make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise soothe and heal’. 

 

SpiderMan may have only been about 3 years old but his words were simply beautiful! So today, and every day, let’s be more like SpiderMan!

 

Buongiorno - 9/10/20

I’m currently learning Italian. Not because I want to learn something new for lockdown, but because I want to feel less ignorant whilst abroad. Italy is my favourite tourist destination, but I am linguistically challenged and find it embarrassing that every waiter seems to speak perfect English, whilst I am left floundering with even simple phrases of Italian.

I once asked a charming, elderly Italian lady for directions - having studiously rehearsed the appropriate phrase. She listened carefully to my beautifully modulated enquiry and proceeded to give me a full and detailed set of instructions to find my required destination. You might surmise that this encounter was a success, until you realise that I didn’t understand a word of her answer. I simply thanked her profusely and continued wandering about aimlessly.

Though I say so myself, my progress has been remarkable. Only thirty-three days in and I am already able to assert that I am indeed the man in possession of an apple; “Io sono l’uomo. Io ho una mela”. Should ever you find yourself in dispute with a greengrocer in Milan, please feel free to give me a call.

My tutor is a little green owl who regularly rewards me for my various stellar achievements. Now before you think that lockdown has affected my mental health, let me explain that I am using an App on my mobile phone and the little green owl is the animated instructor. He rewards my progress with jewels and crowns. I get some for correctly answering questions, some for correctly completing entire exercises and yet more for learning on consecutive days. I’m able to, “spend” the jewels to allow me to continue learning when I have run out of chances to progress - due to too many wrong answers. It’s a little like being able to carry over the accolade from a previous good deed to deflect the disapproval of a current misdemeanour. I’m not sure what the crowns are for, I only know I’ve got fifteen of them. I’m sure I’ll be told at some point. Of course, my rewards are virtual and I’ll never actually get to see the jewels or wear the crowns, but it’s nice to have somebody tell me that I’m doing well… even if it is a little green owl.

Alongside the language App on my phone is a Bible App. I noticed that my tally of consecutive days reading is eleven. Not as impressive as my language App tally, but I do tend to prefer the dog eared paper copy that sits on my bookshelf. Neither one offers me rewards for reading it. The reading of it is reward in itself. Whichever version I choose to read, it tells me that I don’t need to, “cash in” my good behaviour to atone for my bad. I simply need to come to God and say I’m sorry. He is “a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love”. I’m also told that, if I keep the faith, a crown of infinite value is awaiting me, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day”.

I’ll keep up my language learning and continue to receive my virtual rewards, but, more importantly, I’ll continue to keep the faith, assured that one day I will receive the greatest reward of all. Grazie a Dio.

 

Rocking And Creaking - 8/10/20

I’ve got a rocking chair in my front room, I’ve had it for years. Someone in my family is going to go mad when I tell you that I can’t remember when or why I got it, or who gave it to me; I don’t think I went round the shops searching for my chair, but if I did I have no idea how we got it home, it’s big and heavy. It’s beautifully made and finished; it’s golden and shiny but I’m not sure what kind of wood it is. It could be Beech or Ash I suppose; what wood do they make rocking chairs out of? I’ve got a feeling someone is about to tell me. Anyway, when I’m in a thinking mood, I often retreat to my rocker and in case my wife walks in I have developed a very good thoughtful expression. I think most men have done this but I guess that not many wives are fooled. A few days ago I was gently rocking and I was genuinely in a pensive mode but something kept interrupting me but I was only vaguely aware of it. Eventually I was forced to pay attention to my thought intruder and I realised that my lovely rocker had developed a creak. Every time I rocked forward then back there was a whisper from my chair down by the carpet. I can’t find anything loose and all the joints seem firm. I intend to continue my relationship with my rocker, but I’m worried that it might be warning me of trouble ahead. 

 

At this time in our history we are all fully aware of our society creaking, caused by Covid-19. We have survived more than six months and we thought it was going away, but now it seems to be fighting back and we are all worried that there may be trouble ahead. The Bible is full of stories about people who were fearful of the future; Noah, Abram, Joseph, Elijah, and many more. They all were comforted by the belief that the future was in God’s hands and they all demonstrated concern for those who were struggling.

‘We who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves....Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other.’ In our Melling family let’s continue to meet each other’s needs as we have done this year, bringing friendship and hope for the months to come. And let’s pray that the creaking stops soon.

 

One Big Family - 7/10/20

All around my house I have photos of my girls! Photos from when they were tiny, right up to recent. I look at the earliest photos and am instantly transported back to that time. Nappies, bottles of milk, nappies, baths, no sleep, nappies....I seemed to have spent years without any sleep. Only one of my chicks liked to sleep. The other three were up all day and all night. I try and tell myself that it was because I was so much fun they just didn’t want to miss anything! It’s more likely that God was allowing me valuable lessons in patience!! When they were little they all had very long, dark hair; they watched the same tv programmes, played the same games and had a very similar dress sense....well, I chose their clothes! They were my little Russian dolls. But as they’ve all got older they’ve very definitely developed their own characteristics, their own likes and dislikes. One can play beautiful guitar and loves all things blingy; another lifts weights at the gym, loves Billy Joel and gets seriously excited about algebra; another is our style guru who has to match every item of clothing and can chat all day and all night to anyone; and my other chick is loud, noisy and has the ability to take over the world! Putting it bluntly, all my girls are completely different and I have to treat them all differently. Each one of them has strengths and weaknesses, frustrations and enjoyments, good days and bad days. And I love each one of them more than I can say. 

As we look at our own families, friendship groups, WhatsApp chats, Zoom groups....we will see such a huge array of different characters with different skills and hobbies and dislikes. Some skills and hobbies we can totally relate to and some that complete baffle us! But one thing is certain, everyone is equally important! How boring life would be if we were all the same. God created us all different, on purpose!! It’s no mistake!! I’m so thankful for all the amazing people I know who are blessed with such incredible gifts and skills. I couldn’t do without you!!! And as for your weaknesses...well all I can say is Thankyou for being patient with mine!! When we look at others, let’s choose to see the positives! Let’s encourage and bless and accept one another. There’s enough bad news in the world, so let’s start with our friends and families and create some good news!! 

‘ So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it’.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

The Sound of Silence - 6/10/20

In Celtic prayer there is a tradition of being silent. Our world is very noisy and sometimes it really can drown out the whisper that God speaks into our souls. Even Jesus took time out to be alone , away from the noisy crowds: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

I love these words that were written by Francis J Roberts:

“Listen to the silence.

It will teach you. It will build strength.

Let others share it with you.

It is little to be found elsewhere.

Silence will speak more to you in a day than the world of voices can teach you in a lifetime.

Find silence. Find solitude, and having discovered her riches, bind her to your heart.”

When I was teaching( a very noisy occupation at times) I would leave the staff carpark, turn up my stereo and last out Bon Jovi or Springsteen to anyone in the vicinity. It was my way of destressing. However, after reading the words above, I once challenged the staff to drive home in silence. If you don’t drive, just turn off the TV, the notifications button on your phone and unplug the radio. Try it for 10 minutes to start with and build up to an hour. Then listen. I even dare you to pray…but silently.

 

Keep It Or Throw It Out? -  5/10/20

I’m sure you have found yourself in the same situation as my wife and I. We are in the process of de-cluttering a room, just one. We couldn’t possibly move house within the next ten years, even if we have finished this room, there are many others but they are bigger. We have hundreds of books, some read from front to back, some half read, some we’ve dipped into and so we haven’t even started. It is going to be very difficult to decide what goes and what stays. One of the problems is that frequently we disagree so the book stays. Another problem is the transfer of books to somebody who would look after them, it’s like giving your dog away! Yes it is. But the biggest problem by far is the 1000+ photos going back to before our children were born, and some of them go so far back we have photos of ourselves when we were children. Yes they did have cameras then. It’s almost impossible to throw out photos of your parents or friends who have died, it’s like rejecting them and saying “We don’t need you anymore.” There’s a real danger that we may just re-pack them into tidier bundles and put them all back. So I still won’t get my much needed desk and my wife will have nowhere to put her new exercycle that she doesn’t know I’m going to buy her. 

We sometimes keep things, feelings, and experiences, from the past that we really need to free ourselves from. Remember that nasty comment you received from the arrogant person  you last saw in 1996? Do you think it’s time to put it in the bin, you can’t give that to anybody and you don’t need it, it still irritates you now? And what about the time you left your handbrake off when you parked the car on a gentle slope. Remember how the owner of the Rolls Royce made you feel when you came back three hours later? There are still days now when you feel as tiny and as inadequate as you felt then. Let it go! 

 

We are not required to live in the past, God would like us to be free of those feelings and events. He wants us to know how important we are to Him NOW! ‘The angel of the Lord surrounds those who fear Him, and He delivers them.’

And we need to understand that despite things in our past that threaten to drag us down, we are important to the people around us NOW! 

‘Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.’

The Bible reminds us, ‘These are evil times, so make every minute count.’

READY STEADY GO!

You Never Know... - 4/10/20

A man saw a snake being burned to death in a fire and decided to get it out.   When he did, the snake bit him causing excruciating pain. The man dropped the snake and the reptile fell right back into the fire. So the man found a metal pole and used it to remove the snake, saving it's life. Someone who was watching approached the man and said "That snake bit you, why are you still trying to save it?" The man replied "The nature of the snake is to bite, but that is not going to change my nature ,which is to be kind and help if I can"

Do not change your nature simply because someone is unkind to you

You never really know the true impact you have on those around you.

You never know how much someone needed that smile you gave them.

You never know how much your kindness turned someone's entire life around.

You never know how much someone needed that hug or talk.

Don't wait for someone else to be kind first.

Just be kind, because you never know how much someone needs it. 

We are told in Ephesians 4 : 11

" Be kind and compassionate to one another" 

Why don't we all give this a try. 

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast... - 03/10/20

Even as I write the words from this Paul Simon song I am starting to sing them in my head. In Celtic prayer, there is a lot of emphasis on living or dwelling richly in the moment. Ann Lindbergh put it like  this: “Hurry is an unpleasant thing in itself, but also very unpleasant for whoever is around it. Some people came into my room and rushed in and rushed out and even when they were there they were not there – they were in the moment ahead or the moment behind. Some people who came in just for a moment were all there, completely in that moment. Live from day to day, just from day to day. If you do so, you worry less and live more richly. If you let yourself be absorbed completely, if you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.”

In Psalm 31, David wrote these words: ‘But I trust in you, Lord;

    I say, “You are my God. ”My times are in your hands;

    deliver me from the hands of my enemies,

    from those who pursue me.’

We may not find ourselves being pursued by enemies, but deadlines, pressures and general life can squeeze us so that we stop living in the moment and lose out on the blessings that God is trying to give to us if we just slow down. 

 

Time- 02/10/20

By the time you read this, it will be October. Where did the time go? I sometimes think that it would be nice to go back in time. Back to a time before Covid. Back to a time when things were simpler. Back to a time when things were better. Back to a time when every summer was sunny and we didn’t have any cares. But how far back would we have to go? 

The film, Midnight in Paris is based on this premise. The main character finds a portal that takes him back to the decadent Paris of Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Cole Porter. A new and a vibrant world of artists where Art Deco was new and the creative possibilities seemed endless. A golden age. There he meets and falls in love with an artist’s muse. He decides he does not want to return to the world of today, but to live out his life in this idyllic setting… until, during their nocturnal wandering through Paris, they pass through the portal again. This time they arrive in the Paris of the Belle Epoch. She doesn’t want to return with him, but wishes to remain in the Paris of Lautrec and Gauguin; her golden age. Both characters have a different idea of the perfect time in which to live, but neither can agree and neither believe it is today.

That concept is toyed with in yet another film that takes liberties with time. About Time tells the story of a man who can turn back time. He uses his ability to correct mistakes, usually concerning his love life, and the results are both amusing and gently affecting. He is able to revisit days that didn’t go so well and put right things that he got wrong – bringing about a different outcome and not always the one he intended. He realises however, that even though each and every day has its share of disappointments - some bigger than others - that day is also filled with things that are wonderful. Things to be enjoyed and celebrated.

They may be small things; a ray of sunlight breaking through the window, geese flying over the house, a child's laughter, a marvellous sunset, but, if we take the time to enjoy them, their cumulative effect is noticeable. They provide a hedge against the less palatable issues of the day. They don't make them go away and it would be glib to suggest that they make them better, but we shouldn't ignore the fact that each day brings its share of the good along with the bad.

The Bible urges us to constantly seek out God in prayer and to be thankful for all things; “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances”.

No matter what kind of a day we're having, God is in the midst of it and wants us to share it with Him. Whether we choose to rail against a perceived injustice, or to tell Him what a nice time we're having, He delights in our company. He loves us to share what we feel, good or bad. He may not turn back time and wipe away our past, but God offers us a future in which He wants to walk alongside us, to share our grief and our joy and to help us towards a better day.

Looks Don’t Count- 01/10/20

Apparently his name was David but nobody knew that. The majority of people who regularly saw him and walked past him in the city square called him ‘the street fiddler’. He was there three or four times each week on the cold or hot days, and even if it was windy he would be there. He tended to avoid rainy days for obvious reasons. He played the violin. But he was no ordinary ‘fiddler’; he was an accomplished violinist who could play a great variety of styles from classical to musicals, from jazz to pop. In front of him he placed his violin case for any tokens of appreciation that people felt moved to donate. He preferred silver to copper! When coins arrived in his case he would look up, smile, nod his head and carry on. He was never a fashion icon, wearing crumpled discoloured ancient garments that looked as if they had been rescued from a litter bin. Recently he disappeared from the square and people passed the news to each other that he had died. His presence and his music were missed by those who commuted past him and those shoppers, often with children, who would stop and applaud and donate, hopefully silver. 

The local paper investigated the man behind the music and published his obituary.  People were astonished to discover that David was fluent in several foreign languages, had a first class degree from a prestigious university and had been a contender for the position of city mayor. In conversation with each other in the square, many people expressed their surprise at his considerable achievements, having judged him on the basis of his appearance.

The Bible reminds us that, ‘God created mankind in His image...God saw all that He had made and it was very good.’ This helps us to understand the value of every individual, (‘made in the image of God’) regardless of our appearance and the cost of our clothes. We have been reminded in Sunrise before that God is not concerned about our clothing or our hairstyles, God looks at what’s inside and loves us whatever He sees there. The Apostle John wrote this, ‘This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’

Please don’t judge me by my appearance and I won’t judge you. Because God loves me, I will do my best to love you, however you dress.