Previous Sunrises

 

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.”

It’s In the Details- 21/09/20

When you add a new piece of software to your phone or computer, you’re frequently asked to agree terms of use which will identify your responsibilities and theirs. This could allow the company providing the software to have access to personal information. For your peace of mind, they provide terms and conditions. I wonder if anybody reading this Sunrise has ever in their life read this document from beginning to end. Most people simply click on the ‘Agree’ button and get on with life. However if you ever have a disagreement with the company, you will be referred back to the document you agreed to before you loaded the software and told to read Para 19, Section 13, Subsection F. This states that you relinquish all rights to privacy which includes your bank account and if you have lost money, that is your problem because you agreed to these conditions. We all sign many agreements during our lives; maybe you signed a mortgage agreement, or life insurance, or something as short-lived as a holiday insurance, but now you wish you had spent five hours with a dictionary and a solicitor friend deciphering the language in the document. The expression used frequently to describe your dilemma is, “The devil is in the details”, which means of course that it’s the little things that you don’t notice that do the damage.

Whenever I hear this phrase I smile because I prefer to think that, ‘God is in the details.’ The astonishing creation all around us which is made up of unbelievably tiny particles working in unison is God’s handiwork. ‘The heavens and the Earth belong to you. And so does the world with all its people because You created them.”  God understands the details because He put them together. But for us in our daily walk, the most important fact is that God cares about the details that make up our lives.  St. Peter wrote to Christians, ‘Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.’ You may not wish to talk about some things, but God already knows about them, ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.’

Many of us are feeling lonely and fragile and sometimes we don’t want to talk to anyone about our worries. That’s OK, talk to the God who already knows and cares. You won’t need a solicitor or a dictionary and there’s nothing to sign.

The Same But Different- 20/09/20

I’m sitting in exactly the same place as I always sit when I’m writing Sunrise. I’m on the same seat in the same room at my normal time for writing and on the same computer. Even the clear evening sky that I often see is there tonight. Nothing’s changed! But something must have because normally on a night like this the sun would be blinding me and I would have to close the curtains a little. So where’s the sun tonight? Ah, it’s gone behind the houses opposite, it’s just a little lower than it was last time I sat here on a clear night. So even though I’m the same person doing the same things at the same time, my world is different. And the leaves on the trees I can see are turning yellow, and the room is colder than it has been for months. One of my family members has returned to Uni so I won’t see her until Christmas. Our Choir and Hub, Shoot and Watercolour and other activities have all been mothballed as well. Now that I think about it, most of my world has changed and I have no control over any of it. And we haven’t even mentioned the pandemic. The nights are going to get darker and the days shorter and the flowers in the garden are already dying and we can do nothing about any of this. 

But let’s understand that there are things we can do, we still have the freedom to make choices. We can choose to practice the fruit of the Spirit that we are hearing about every Sunday morning; we can demonstrate love and joy, peace, patience, and gentleness. We can make each other feel loved and important just by being the people that God wants us to be. This is in our control. The seasons and the weather and the vicious pandemic have not removed our ability to be valuable to each other. We can still visit, phone, text, send cards, go shopping, tell each other jokes and express the truth that we are all important to each other. Melling is alive and well, let’s take back control!

Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Keep On Keeping On- 19/09/20

Is anybody else fed up yet? We have now been socially distancing for 6 months. We can’t easily meet together, life as we knew it has changed drastically, and I don’t think I'm the only one getting a little bit fed up now. When the lockdown started in March we faced the battle head on didn’t we?! We encouraged and supported, we laughed and chatted. People got to know each other better over phone conversations and on text messages. Photographs of times gone by, beautiful gardens, or a DIY project at home were posted on group chats for all to see. And the support and unity were strong. But as time has gone on the lonely get more lonely, the struggling struggle that bit more, those who’ve lost jobs feel that bit more anxious and financially unstable, and those working from home when they really need to be in an office are feeling the pressure mount! While many of us are doing ok and maybe are privileged enough to live happily with others, not have financial struggles and have hobbies and activities to keep us entertained and distracted, let’s not forget that for many others this just isn’t the case.

The Bible gives this wonderful little instruction, ‘Never tire of doing good’. 

It may be a short sentence but if we do as it says then our good words and actions will have a massive impact! Sadly the war with this microscopic enemy is not over but we can continue to help and support eachother, every day, by a simple phone call, a text message, a photo of your garden you’ve been working on, a story of something funny from years ago....

Aesop, the Greek storyteller said, ‘no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted’. 

So, let’s take a deep breath, the battle continues, let’s fight it together and not tire of doing good. 

Seasons- 18/09/20

Yesterday, I looked out of my office window and saw my wife begin the annual ritual of closing up our summer house for the winter. I realise that this statement raises questions. How can you see your summer house from your office window? Why were you watching your wife rather than helping her? Why was she making such an early start on the job?

Well, thanks to Covid, I have to work from home, so my back bedroom is now my office, therefore I have a view of my garden and my summer house. I was busy at work, so I couldn’t help her with the job. She always starts the job during the last spell of sunny weather that we have in early autumn, so that she can get everything away before it becomes damp. Now that we’ve got that sorted out, I’ll continue.

The weather outside is still bright and sunny and it’s difficult to believe that we are on the cusp of a new season, but other signs are there. The children have gone back to school, the football season has started, the garden is full of spiders, the mornings are cooler and have a smell that can only mean that it’s early autumn and the geese are back, flying over my house in their thousands every day. All these are indicators that it is now autumn and the summer house needs to be put to bed.

My wife is not a fan of autumn. In autumn, everything points to winter. She’s not a fan of winter. It’s not the cold or the rain or the snow that she doesn’t like… after all, there’s no such thing as bad weather; merely poor clothing choices – no, what she doesn’t like is the dark. The dark is limiting. It reduces your opportunity to do many of the things that you like to do in spring and summer… walking on the beach in the evening; sitting in the garden enjoying the sunset and watching the bats make their nightly rounds in the twilight. When it’s dark at four o’clock every afternoon you can’t do these things. The only good thing about winter is that it’s one step nearer to spring, which is my favourite season. A season of hopefulness, of new beginnings and lighter nights. A time for hope. A pointer towards warm days and longer nights… before autumn comes along and we start the cycle again!

The seasons come and go, bringing with them their own particular pleasures and dislikes. But whilst the seasons change, God remains constant. Always present, never changing. No matter the vagaries of the weather, or the length of the day, we can be sure of one thing… God is faithful. Come rain or shine, hail or snow, He is there. A steady presence that we can turn to when our own lives pass through seasons. Those seasons may be seasons of age, or seasons of famine and plenty; they can and will change as time passes, but God will remain there, present and steadfast to see us through it all.

“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).

What a Shame- 17/09/20

When you look back over your life, do you think you made decisions which changed the direction of your life? If you could go back would you do the same again or do you now think that you made a mistake that devalued the years and your career path? Many of you reading this have finished with employment so a change of mind now is probably a little late but still possible. But many of you are still working; do you find your employment satisfying and meaningful or are you still open to re-routing your life if you have the courage? We only get one opportunity to live our life down here and when it’s over we can’t go back for a second go. When you make the big decisions in life, were you or are you assisted by family or friends or are you a loner? 

You probably have never heard of Lilias Trotter (you should Google her); that’s because she made decisions that most people wouldn’t. Raised in a wealthy Victorian family, highly educated, and well used to expensive European trips in the summer, she could choose many paths through life. The most obvious one was as a painter. She was introduced to John Ruskin who didn’t believe that women could paint, but he eventually changed his mind because of the quality of her work; and he made it public. He mentored great artists like John Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but his opinion of Trotter was that, “She would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal.” So her life’s direction was sorted. Just one slight problem; she said, “No.” Her Christian convictions led her to walk London’s streets at night alone trying to persuade prostitutes to join her classes where she would teach them other ways of earning a living. A few years later she believed that God wanted her to go as a missionary to Algeria where she spent the rest of her life. John Ruskin commented, “What a shame.” She continued to sketch and write books; these are available on Amazon and are beautiful. Her decision on a ‘career’ left people baffled, but she never regretted the path she had taken. 

Whether you and I are working or not, we still have to make decisions constantly. What is our motivation; to make money, or be famous, to live in a beautiful location, or to do as little as possible? The Bible says that God has ideas for our life’s direction if we want to listen to Him as Lilias Trotter did, “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.” 

Some of us are beyond a career plan but whatever time is left for us, God can make it worthwhile and satisfying. We just need to turn up at God’s Job Centre, and don’t listen to people who say, “What a shame.”

Do-nuts and Compassion- 16/09/20

So, setting the scene, a grief-ridden family, coming from a double funeral, are leaving San Francisco to go back home. Before leaving, they stop off at a do-nut store late at night, to get something quick to eat and drink. As they enter the store, and sit themselves down, they don’t notice Robin Williams sitting at another table. But he notices them. He notices their smart, dark coloured clothes. He notices their desperately sad faces. And he wanders over to say hello. He introduces himself simply as Robin. One of the family members writing about this encounter said that he, ‘can’t remember what Robin talked about but I know it made us smile. And as time went on, he made us laugh’.

It was Maya Angelou who said, ‘ I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel‘.

Jesus was amazing at making people feel loved, special, accepted. If they needed encouragement, He gave it; if they needed a friend, He was there; if they needed correcting or challenging, He did it with love. People would travel far and wide to see Jesus, to listen to Him, to talk to Him. Why? Because wherever He went and whatever He said and did, He made people.....young and old, male and female, from every place and background, feel precious and loved and important to God. 

The Bible says,

‘Jesus had compassion on the crowd‘.

And again, ‘Jesus showed great compassion’.

And yet again, ‘Jesus was moved with compassion’.

And again, and again, and again.

Let’s go and show compassion as Jesus showed compassion. Let’s leave people feeling better about themselves, encouraged, heard, valued. 

Let’s give people our time. 

From what I know about Robin Williams he seemed like a really lovely guy who had compassion for those who were struggling and finding life so tough. And while that family don’t recall much of what he said to them during their time of grief, they do remember that he made them smile again.

Am I My Brother’s Keeper- 15/09/20

I looked at the news headlines today and was greeted with the headline “Report your neighbours for breaking rules”.  This is with reference to the new rules that have been introduced that say that we should not meet in groups larger than 6 people from multiple households.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am as frustrated as anyone with the complete disregard that some people seem to be showing towards the rules that have been put in place in order to try and halt the spread of coronavirus – I find I am particularly annoyed when I walk into a shop complete with my face mask only to realise that I am in the minority with many people choosing not to wear one.  I am well aware that for some of them there will be very good health reasons why they can’t wear a mask, my niece is one of those who can’t – but are there really that many people who can’t wear a mask?  

Even this morning I listened as reporters interviewed people on the street who were simply saying that they would not be obeying the new rule of no more than 6 people – I could feel my blood pressure rising!  But when I read this headline I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of community we have become.  Is our only reason for obeying a rule, fear of being caught?

In Matthew Ch 22 we read Jesus giving us this simple instruction: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all you mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: Love your neighbour as yourself.”Imagine a world where love of God and love of one another were the driving force behind all we do rather than fear and stubbornness.  There would be no hesitation from us to do those things that expressed our love, whether that was wearing a mask, delivering groceries or buying a coffee for a stranger who looks like they need it.

In Genesis we read the story of Cain who becomes jealous of his brother Abel and so kills him.  When God asks Cain where Abel is, Cain’s defiant reply is: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Well actually, the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’  We all live alongside one another so that we can take care of one another and express that love that Jesus asked us to show.  I can’t control the actions of others but I can choose to show my love for God and those around me by my own actions.  Wouldn’t it be great to shift our thinking away from rules and fear to expressions of love - rather than the headline “report your neighbours for breaking the rules” we could read “show your neighbour how much you love them today”. 

Maybe I could just change my tiny little corner of the world in some small way by choosing each day to try a bit harder to be my brother’s – and my sister’s – keeper.

Gentle Giant- 14/09/20

In 1986 five year-old Levan Merritt fell 20 feet into the gorilla enclosure of Jersey Zoo and lay unconscious on the ground. Parents and zoo visitors understandably panicked and started screaming. As they watched terrified, Jambo came on the scene; he was an adult male silverback, huge and powerful. He placed himself between the small child and the other gorillas and began to stroke the boy’s back gently. As Levan woke up and began to cry, Jambo led his gorilla family into another enclosure allowing zoo-keepers and an ambulance driver to rescue the injured young boy. That was more than 30 years ago but Levan still talks about his Guardian Angel gorilla. Wouldn’t you? The shocking event, the appalling possibilities, and the astonishing outcome, left the family and visitors shaking and speechless. The bedlam in the crowd and the noise they made was in total contrast to the gentleness of the hugely powerful beast of the jungle.

In the Bible, Elijah was frightened of his enemies and their threats and travelled far to escape the danger. He ended up in a cave half way up a mountain, hiding from both God and man. But God approached and decided to teach Elijah an important lesson that we can all benefit from. Shocked that God could find him, Elijah watched in awe as God created a terrifying storm that shattered rocks around him. As the storm died God presented Elijah with a nerve-jangling earthquake that he thought would kill him but God protected him and then surrounded him with an enormous fire that destroyed every sign of life as far as he could see. Then there was nothing; absolutely nothing; just silence. Then God spoke; He didn’t shout to show He was angry with the terrified prophet, He whispered to show Elijah that He cared. 

Sometimes people try to hide from God and hope He can’t find them. They may want a relationship with Him but feel that their lifestyle has separated them from Him and are afraid of God’s reaction. The story of Elijah teaches us that the all-powerful God who can create storms, earthquakes, and wildfires, can also be gentle. He can whisper. And if we listen we will hear the voice of the ultimate gentle giant.  

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Three Years- 13/09/20

Can you remember what your life was like three years ago, September 2017?  My wife has a memory like an elephant; not only can she remember things I forgot years ago, I almost believe she can actually remember events that didn’t happen. Not only can she tell me in detail about conversations we had with people, she can describe how we were all dressed, where we were, and what we had for lunch and how much it cost. And she claims that she paid for it. I have no memory of the people, I don’t think we have ever been to the place she described, I can’t remember what we ate yesterday but whatever we tucked into three years ago, I’m not convinced she paid for it. Our lives are constantly shifting and changing. Three years in the life of your child or grandchild can transform a little angel into a bigger monster; happily it can work the other way as well. Has your life drifted during the last three years with no memorable events, meetings, or journeys? Do you look back and see wasted time with nothing achieved, or do you relive sad events? Maybe you smile as you celebrate improved health, better finances or new friendships? Have there been events that you couldn’t have predicted which were either brilliant or dreadful? 

All through the Bible, practically on every page, there are accounts of men and women facing situations they hadn’t planned for. Their reactions varied; anger, sorrow, joy, confusion, despair, or gratitude; all the same responses that we experience when faced with something or someone unexpected. Three years in our lives is not a long time, but its events can transform the years still to come. Solomon had spent a lot of time considering the ups and downs of life and he understood that even he as the great wise King of Israel could not control everything in his life but he could make the point, “God appoints a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” We may not appreciate Gods timing or the events we meet along the way, but Solomon says that God can make “everything beautiful in its time.” That might be hard to believe but often during the hard or sad days, we learn lessons which help us to help others, or we find a new positive direction in life, or maybe we encounter new friends who walk with us on our journey. The possibility for Christians is that by trusting in God He can bring something good out of bad times. By telling us that, “God has also set eternity in the hearts of men,” Solomon is reminding us that there is more than this life and God can make the next one beautiful too.

The Real Gym- 12/09/20

I’ve been reading about body building because I need to get fit and look great again. I don’t look very impressive at the moment and clearly our culture is telling us that appearance matters. I discovered that body builders put themselves through a brutal regime of exercises and a calorie controlled diet that is noted for its total lack of taste and its sheer size. The point is apparently to win competitions by looking more perfect than their rivals. They start by building up size and strength until they are massive, and then as the competition day approaches they focus on losing any fat. A few days before they step on the stage they reduce their water consumption so their muscle tissue is easily visible. Because of the reduced nourishment they are taking in, they are at their weakest on the day of the competition, despite looking like Hercules. 

I don’t think I want to go to these lengths, I am just responding to some photos that have appeared during a tidying session that required us to empty some drawers. These pictures haven’t seen daylight for forty years and the images of me are both shocking and impressive. They are impressive because they show a young man who is six foot two tall and weighs ten stone four pound. He looks as if he could run a marathon, (which he couldn’t but he did cycle to Lands End), and the photos are shocking because he is five stone lighter than the writer. I start going to the gym again in October and it could take me weeks to lose five stone. OK it could be longer than that but I can dream can’t I? Because I’m not stupid I realise that I may never reach my target but I would be pleased to lose a stone and a bit. Having targets is probably necessary for most of us; there must be something we can improve. I’m not too bothered about my appearance but I would like my heart to have an easier life.

The Apostle Peter who was a very fit man talked about having targets and a regime that would improve all of us. He wrote, ‘Do your best to add goodness to your faith, to your goodness add knowledge, to your knowledge add self-control, to your self-control add endurance, to your endurance add godliness, to your godliness add Christian affection; and to your Christian affection add love. These are the qualities you need, and if you have them in abundance, they will make you active and effective in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Nothing there about body building but a lot about character building. Nothing there about appearance but a lot about people seeing Jesus in our attitudes and priorities.  We don’t need the gym down the road, our real gym is where we are. Let’s give each other some time and see if we are in better shape than we are now.

Will You Join Me?- 11/09/20

When Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the Olympic podium in October 1968 to receive their Men’s 200 metres gold and bronze medals, respectively, it was the culmination of years of hard work. Years spent in early morning training; pounding the pavements come rain or shine and working long hours in the gym. Years of sacrifice and physical effort. It was an achievement to be savoured. Something to tell their grandchildren. A personal triumph. A moment to remember.

When the U.S. national anthem began, they did not stand hand on heart, as so many of their triumphant countrymen had done. Instead, they donned a single black glove and, heads bowed, each thrust an arm into the air in a, “Black Power” salute. A moment to remember, indeed.

As a result of their actions, they were both expelled from the games. The Olympic Committee President suggesting that their gesture was, “a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit”.

Back in America, reaction to their statement was almost universally negative. They were accused of disrespecting their flag, their country, their national anthem and the Olympic movement. They were criticised in Time magazine and a great many news outlets. They were described as, “ignoble, juvenile and unimaginative”. Both they and their families received death threats.

Smith and Carlos took their stand to provide a platform for debate. They were the forerunners for many sportsmen and women of today, who take the opportunity to use their status as public figures to highlight their concerns. These statements are better received today, but they still attract criticism in certain corners. The, “sport should be separate from societal debate” mantra can still be heard. It should be remembered that sportsmen and women are, first and foremost, simply men and women. They have concerns and opinions just like the rest of us.

Nonetheless, I have heard people complain regarding these statements of discontent; “Why do they have to keep banging on about it?” The simple answer is, because nothing has changed. Despite reminders down the generations, various elements of our society are not treated as they should be. It’s not just black lives that are affected. In many countries women are, at worst, actively discriminated against or, at best, not treated as equal. Even this country had to enshrine it in law before it began to happen. If it takes an act of parliament to make women equal, then something is very wrong with our society, but then something is very wrong with our society. The simple fact that people of colour actually feel it necessary to point out that their lives matter, or that women have to lobby parliament to be treated as equal, should tell us that something is wrong.

So, what do we do about it? Well, I’m not suggesting that we all start rooting through our cupboards to find a black glove, or that we join radical political movements to campaign for change. No; I’m suggesting that we do something simple. That we simply do something. That we treat people, all people, with dignity and respect. That we are kind and patient and understanding with people. That we act when we see injustice. It isn’t just politicians and law makers that have a responsibility to improve things. It is incumbent upon us all to be agents for change.

Why? Because I believe that Jesus valued everybody. Not only did He value them, but He showed them that He valued them. Time after time we see instances in the Bible of Jesus demonstrating His love for people… all people. Men, women, rich, poor, sick, downtrodden and social misfit alike received care and attention from Jesus. He spoke out against injustice and took action to put things right. He made the ultimate sacrifice for everybody, not for the select few; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. Jesus did not stand by and sympathise. He got involved. He did something. If I am to follow Him, I need to do likewise. Will you join me?

Rough Day- 10/09/20

You know how it works don’t you; the Sunrise writers live idyllic lives filled with tranquillity and provision, and order reigns. It’s amazing how everything in the house always works, the car always starts, and the health of friends and family sails on and on untouched by Covid or any other interfering monster. So it’s very easy for us sheltered and pampered people to sit down in peace with coffee and chocolate biscuits to amaze you with our brilliance and wisdom. 

OK let’s get real. Today has been a beast; a combination of bad health and bad behaviour together with the fact that I have sat in for four hours waiting for a phone call which I have just discovered won’t happen until tomorrow, it’s turned into a rough day. It’s the kind of day that we all experience more often than we wish, and Sunrise writers are not immune from the ‘poor me’ disease. My thoughts turned to Katie, a young schoolgirl I read about who was given an essay to write called, ‘My Perfect World.’ She wrote, ‘In my perfect world, ice cream is free, lollipops are everywhere, and the sky is blue all day with just a few clouds that have interesting shapes.’ Sound good, I like this world. She continued, ‘No one will come home to bad news. And no one will have to be the one to deliver it.’ Now she really is dreaming; we find it easier to believe in free ice cream than the absence of bad news. That’s not the life we know. 

Jesus lived a life that was filled with bad news, just like us. He experienced sadness, frustration, and irritation, just like us. He knew that life down here would never be any different, just like us. But He still managed to offer hope to people who thought that hope was fiction. He looked ahead and promised ‘My Perfect World.’ It’s a world full of ‘no more’ – ‘no more evil, no more death, no more mourning, no more pain, no more tears.’ This promise of a new world order allows us to, ‘With joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for His people in the kingdom of light. He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.’

My day is still a mess, but the great Creator God says I can look forward to a much better world. And the ice cream is free.

An Unexpected Visitor- 09/09/20

Have you ever been caught out by an unexpected visitor and found yourself apologising for an untidy house or unwashed dishes?  I have.  Many times!

I remember after I had Ben and the Health visitor called round in the way they do to check on the progress of the baby.  Alice was little and had been playing when the doorbell rang and there was the health visitor – I had washing everywhere - the maiden and every radiator was covered and there were toys all over the floor.  Alice loved to play with some small plastic animals – everything from dinosaurs to cats and dogs and everything in between – and she would create an animal parade which would wind it’s way around the house.  I answered the door and immediately started apologising for the washing and the toys and quickly trying to pick things up so she didn’t trip over a small leopard or giraffe.  Straightaway, she said ‘oh don’t apologise!  It’s the immaculate houses I worry about where I can’t tell what a child is allowed to do or play with’.  That worked for me!

In the book of Luke we read a story about 2 sisters who responded quite differently to some unexpected visitors: “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Jesus and his disciples had been travelling and simply turn up one day at Mary & Martha’s home.  They have no hesitation in welcoming them in with no mention of whether the bathroom was clean or the hoovering done; they are simply welcomed in and Martha sets to work to prepare some refreshments.  But this is where the sisters differ.  While Martha is busy with preparations, Mary is sitting listening to Jesus.

As Martha becomes more and more exasperated with her sister (we’ve all been there!) she eventually cries out to Jesus “Tell her to help me!”  She doesn’t actually address Mary or complain to the disciples, she goes straight to Jesus.  She knew who to take her problems and anxieties to and she knew she didn’t have to wait until she was less emotional or make her words pretty.  She came as she was.  Jesus isn’t offended by our emotions or our stresses he just wants us to share them with him.  How often do we spend time worrying and stressing over things and letting problems build up inside us because we don’t think it’s important enough to bother God?  He wants to hear from us, he wants to be a part of our lives, even the seemingly mundane.  If it’s enough to worry us, it’s enough to be of interest to God.

I can imagine Jesus smiling at Martha – he knew Martha and he loved her – even in her moments of frustration.  He accepts us as we are.  It wasn’t Martha’s preparations that were the problem, they were appreciated, it was the fact that she was worrying about things that didn’t need worrying about.  Jesus gently reminds Martha what was important – to keep her focus on him.

This isn’t a story about one person doing the right thing while another did the wrong thing – it’s a story that reminds us to ask ‘what is God asking of me today?’  Do I need to serve or do I need to listen?  The answer will be personal and different for each of us – and very likely different to what will be asked of us tomorrow.

Whether today is a day to serve or to listen, let’s not worry about the unimportant things, let’s find satisfaction in our work and recognise the need to keep Jesus the focus of all we do.

A Child’s Eye View- 08/09/20

So good to learn recently that God sees the end from the beginning. He understands why things are happening (the whys and wherefores) whether there is an immediate remedy (a quick fix) or whether in this pandemic we all have to just patiently pull together (the long haul) until the exit appears. Meanwhile we hold our needs before Him, waiting to understand, and roll up our sleeves when necessary. Enough of the mixed metaphors!

I remembered recently one very surprising realisation I had as a child. My father was very keen on protecting our eyes when studying and if possible would get us to sit with the daylight coming from the right! Or he would put the electric light on for extra illumination. (Dads are like that I suppose and he loved photography of the family variety) One day he mentioned that the sun was much brighter than the bulb: I was astonished and I don’t think I really believed him. After all it was a very dull day and I could see immediately what a difference the electric light made! It seem dramatic, it was nearby and it was instant.

In John’s Gospel 8:12, Jesus declares that he is the Light of the World. We recognise that this is true when we encounter his brilliant mind and graced character. He makes the statement in the context of healing a blind man (ch9), making a massive difference to the direction of that man’s life and revealing the love of God to the onlookers. Heaven in its brilliance came close through a perfect human being. Not many of us could duplicate what Jesus did that day.

Yet Jesus told us elsewhere that we are the light of the world? (Matthew 5: 14-16)…..You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

So as we’ve also been learning, we are required to show kindness in order to reveal the Light of Heaven into our dark times. Thank goodness the sun is still shining, it is incredibly large and constant, hidden at night but returning faithfully at every dawn. This is the Godlike light and heat that holds everything together, that renews us and inspires continuing life. But for the instant effect, the dramatic impact, the immediate benefit we are chosen to be the main actors. We have all benefitted from the hands-on actions of another human being, or their listening ear, especially when it is unexpected or even feels undeserved. A few years ago I was feeling despondent, not sure where God was and certain that there were no friends thinking about my needs, when a special lady arrived at my door with a jar of pickled herrings. Now I understand that not everyone likes pickled herrings. But I do and I felt very loved and protected. There was an instant light-bulb moment of human kindness and a long-term Heavenly reassurance. We should go for it!!

God’s Perspective- 07/09/20

Most of us are within ten minutes of two motorways that link to other motorways that link to other motorways. It is possible to travel all the way to the south coast or south Wales, the east coast or Scotland, London or Glasgow and never see a set of traffic lights, a zebra crossing or a roundabout. But we know that life is not usually that simple. We have all experienced that moment when speeding along we see in front of us three lanes of stationary traffic. We need to decide instantly which lane to join and the car’s occupants all have different advice to give. I’m sure there is a law at work that states whichever lane you choose, it’s the wrong one, and your fellow travellers will point your mistake out. We can sit there wondering what could possibly hold us up and how far away it is, then suddenly it’s all clear and off we go and we never see the reason for our infuriating delay. 

A little while ago, thoughtful friends sent us a meal token for the restaurant that is the closest to Heaven in Liverpool. It’s possible to get a nose bleed just travelling up in the lift. But when you walk into this facility in the sky you immediately forget about your nose and stare out of the window with your mouth open, which is a good thing to do as you’re in a restaurant. Looking down on the streets below is like looking at a 3D map complete with pedestrians and vehicles all moving along. But in one long winding back street the traffic was going nowhere. From my position in the sky I could see why. At the far end a lorry had shed its load so the traffic stopped and those at the other end could see no reason for their delay. 

I felt a little bit like God because I could see the situation that some people were in and what had caused it and how long they would have to sit there fuming. We don’t have to be in a traffic jam to feel confused and helpless, but it’s worth remembering that God’s perspective is different to ours, we read in Psalm 102, ‘The Lord looked down from His holy place on high, He looked down from heaven to earth.’ He sees more and He knows more than we do. There’s a Bible story about a lady called Hagar who was dying in the desert all alone but God sent an angel to help and guide her. As she realised what had happened she gave God a new name, she said, “You are the God who sees me.” How brilliant is that. He didn’t just see what nobody else could, He got involved. Whatever your situation, however you’re feeling right now, even lonely and fearful like Hagar, nothing has changed, our God is still ‘The God who sees me.’

All or Never- 06/09/20

It’s strange and a little scary how we talk to each other sometimes. Conversations can start very amiably and gently and continue for a long time then suddenly one person quite innocently mentions a subject that is for the other person a raw nerve. And the conversation explodes. Tempers become frayed and statements are made that can be thoughtless, hurtful, and extreme. Ordinary normal little words can be very damaging. Words like ‘All’ or ‘Never’ or ‘Everyone’ or Nobody’ etc. To be told that, “You never listen to me”, or “Everyone tries to avoid you” is so damaging because it’s so total in its condemnation. There is no room for moderation, ‘Never’ and ‘Everyone’ are conversation stoppers and can cause good friends to walk away. “You do this all the time” or “Nobody believes you” is so unfair because it’s almost certainly untrue. Without an apology or forgiveness it could be the end of the road for a beautiful friendship. We need to weigh our words very carefully because they can be savage and destructive. For someone to write a document that includes repeated use of the word ‘All’ for instance might cause people to be cautious about treating it seriously.

King David wrote Psalm 145 in which he uses the word ‘All’ fifteen times to describe God’s love and character. David only wanted to tell the truth, this is not an exercise in exaggeration so David could receive a pat on the back from God. As we read through this Psalm the picture of God we see is that of the great creator God caring for all people including you and me. Listen to some of the statements that David makes, “The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made...The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does...The Lord is righteous in all His ways...The Lord is near to all who call on Him in truth...The Lord watches over all who love Him.” It’s comforting to know that whatever our history, no matter how many times we have disappointed or offended Him, His compassion and concern for all of us is all the time. God loves All of us, Nobody is ignored by Him, Everyone can approach Him, and He will Never give up caring for us.

Let’s be careful with our words and let’s celebrate God’s.

One Day At a Time, Sweet Jesus- 05/09/20

I have been on YouTube again. This time listening to country music. Who remembers the song, ‘One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus?’ It was first recorded in 1974 by the singer Marilyn Sellars, and has since been re-recorded over 200 times by other artists. As I listened to the song I found myself swaying to the music. Something our gospel choir members will totally understand. ‘Sometimes you’ve gotta sway!‘ But it’s popularity over the years, has not just been because it is good ‘sway material’, but the words carry meaning to many of us. The singer is asking Jesus for help and guidance today. Not tomorrow. Not in a week‘s time. But,

‘One day at a time sweet Jesus 

That's all I'm asking from you. 

Just give me the strength 

To do everyday what I have to do. 

Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus 

And tomorrow may never be mine. 

Lord help me today, show me the way 

One day at a time’.

Just this last week, schools and colleges across the country opened their doors for a new school year. After five months children and young people are getting up in the morning, and heading back to classes and hopefully good friends. Workplaces are also opening their doors to more people. And then there are the people who have lost their jobs, and those who are ill or vulnerable and needing to remain at a safe distance. Whatever our current, personal situation may be, we are guaranteed to have times of difficulty, anxiety, stress and sadness. And fear of the unknown can be immense. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said, 

‘...do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own’. 

Worry is something we all do, the ‘what ifs’ in life can be overwhelming. But when Jesus was talking to His disciples about prayer He taught them to say, 

 

‘...give us today our daily bread...’ 

In other words, ask God to help and provide for you this day. And when tomorrow comes, ask Him all over again. While we can and should plan for the future, let’s trust and thank God for today. Let’s hand our worries, however big or small, over to the One who holds the future, let’s thank Him for each and every new day, as it comes, and let’s echo the words of the song, 

‘...Lord help me today, show me the way, one day at a time’.

Harry Got It Wrong- 04/09/20

Over the Bank Holiday weekend, I went camping with family and friends. We had four really nice days. I don’t mean that the weather was particularly nice – storm Francis had passed through the campsite the day before we got there and the ground was particularly wet and muddy - and then it rained on and off for the first two days. I mean that, despite any weather considerations, we had a nice time. Good food, good company, good humour and a time to relax and just be. Not having to think about work, or school, or shopping, or cutting the grass, or even, to a large degree Covid, because we were outside the whole time. For four days, the world didn’t exist, except for the little microcosm we had created. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish you could have been there.

It’s tempting to think that it would be nice to create our own little world. To shut out all the things we don’t like, or don’t want to face in the real world. For it to be sunny every day and to only see the people we like. To forget about the iniquities that exist in the world we actually inhabit and to live in a world that seems perfect to us. The problem is, we aren’t perfect and our plans are flawed.

I’m reminded of the song made famous by Sir Harry Seacombe. I don’t mean, “I’m walking backwards for Christmas” – that was the entire cast of the Goons. I’m talking about, “If I ruled the world”. The first line of the song says, “If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring” – which sounds lovely, until you realise that there would be no harvest and we’d all starve to death. Thanks Harry! You see, because we aren’t perfect, we can’t create the perfect world. Only God can create a perfect world. He’s already done it once and look what a mess we’ve made of it.

So, if we can’t create a perfect world, then maybe we can retreat to our own artificial idyll every now and again – like camping. Time spent, “away from it all” can be welcome and just the refreshment our body and soul needs. It should be enjoyed when it comes, but we shouldn’t cling to it. It’s not what we were created for.

God made us with a purpose. There is a world out there that needs fixing. We can’t possibly hope to change the entire world all by ourselves, but we can’t simply sit by and ignore what is on our doorstep. God made a world that should be better than this and He made us to be a part of that world, not apart from it. We can change the world. We can do so by being the people God wants us to be. By living the life He wants us to live. By exhibiting the fruits of the spirit; “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). By showing those around us that there is a different way and by having an answer when people ask us why we live differently; “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Camping was lovely, but it’s time to pack up the tent and get on with the job.

I’ve Had An Idea- 03/04/20

I’ve had an idea, it happens from time to time, I had a good one in ’87 but that’s another story. This one only came yesterday so it’s fresh and you are the first people to hear it. Next time we meet, whenever that is, at Choir or Hub, Shoot or Watercolour, Church or The Table, bring with you a little print from a photograph that you took of yourself alone or with others, or not of you but of family members or friends. It could be happy or sad, thoughtful or crazy, but it MUST have been taken in January 2020! Then we could pin them all up on our exhibition boards (we must be able to assemble more than a hundred prints), and move them around all our activities for everyone to see. It would provide us with a powerful and moving reminder of life this year before we had even heard about the monster creeping out of China. How innocent and oblivious we were of what was heading our way. It was a new year and we all had hopes and plans about health and holidays, children and partners, finance and fun. In those chilly days and nights we were dreaming of warm summer breezes, leaves on the trees, birds singing, and meeting with each other. ‘Coronavirus’ wasn’t a word, it still isn’t (I’ve checked), but it will be in next year’s dictionaries. We will never forget 2020 and our grandchildren will be telling their grandchildren about the pandemic of 2020 in about 2080. 

What a lesson this is for all of us and every individual around the world.  Our scientists have demonstrated astonishing abilities, our teachers and professors know so much more than their predecessors, but none of us, NONE OF US can predict tomorrow. King Solomon reminds us, ‘Never brag about the day to come, because you don’t know what it might bring.’ Just in case humans begin to think we know more than God, St Paul offers this thought, ‘What seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.’ And God chips in with this, ‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you can imagine.” So having been put in our place, let’s get on with today and leave tomorrow to God. 

I am looking forward to your PPP, your Pre Pandemic Photo. Between us all, we can produce something memorable. Let’s start looking.

A Fresh Coat of Paint- 02/09/20

It’s all change in our house at the moment.  We have one person who has just returned to live at home after being at university for the last 3 years and one person preparing to go away to university.  This has brought on the inevitable room swap in the ongoing battle for the better, bigger bedroom.  So I find myself only 3 years after decorating the bedrooms, once again with a paint brush in hand switching the rooms around again.  My hope was that I would try and get away with a bit of a freshen up rather than stripping all of the paper off and starting again and so I decided to cheat and just paint over the paper that is already there.  However, we soon discovered when we took a unit down off the wall that it seems we decided to cheat last time as well.  It turns out that I have just painted a lovely teal colour over grey stripes which covered blue birds which covered pink dots!  I think I’ve done quite a good job and you would never know how many layers are hidden – that is so long as you don’t start to scratch away at the corners to reveal what is below – but the truth is, I’ve only covered up all of the unwanted décor, it hasn’t gone away, it’s all still there if you want to look hard enough.

There are things in life too that we sometimes try to cover up.  Perhaps it’s things that we have done or said; perhaps we’ve hurt people or lied or cheated.  None of us are perfect and it’s all too easy to think that we can just hide the things that we have done wrong and simply carry on.  But the truth is, however good we may be at fooling those around us, we can’t fool God.  God says, “I see everything they do.  Nothing is hidden from me; their sins do not escape my sight” (Jeremiah 16).  

It’s no good trying to put that public Instagram or Facebook front on with God, he knows all of our imperfections and all of our failings already – there’s no papering over the cracks with God, he strips away all of those layers and sees to the heart of who we are.  But there is good news! If we’re prepared to be honest with God then we’re told “He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.  For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.  He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west”.  There’s no cheating God but neither do we need to try because he’s just waiting to shower us with his grace.

Next time I decorate I promise I’m going to strip away all of the old and start afresh but for now, that will wait.  What won’t wait, however, is my need to let God strip away those things that I have tried to hide from him – that needs to happen today and each and every day hereafter.

The Touch of the Masters Hand- 01/09/20

Good morning all, the following poem was written in 1921 by Myra Brooks Welch. It has, for many years, blessed many people. 

'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.

"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,"

But, No,
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its' bow.

"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.

The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The Touch of the Masters Hand."

"And many a man with life out of tune
All battered and bruised with hardship
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.

But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.

- Myra Brooks Welch

What’s Wrong With Being Old?- 31/08/20

We went out for breakfast the other day to a restaurant that allows dogs inside. However the morning was so beautiful, that we all sat outside, including the dog. There were sixteen of us and we took up four tables. It was a lovely experience, good food, company, and location. These days Liverpool is looking very good; visitors love it so much that tourism is the city’s biggest business. One of the great aspects of the trip was the view that we had while we ate outside. The mix of buildings side by side was fascinating. Some of them were built in the 1880’s and some were built in the last ten years. Even the sculpture spanned more than a hundred years with one large and famous piece only erected less than two years ago. It is constantly surrounded by visitors from all over the world as they queue up to be photographed with four Liverpudlians. The contrast between the old and the modern buildings is considerable. Some people are offended that modern buildings with their angular shapes and glossy finishes are placed alongside buildings made of brick and stone. Other people think that old buildings should be knocked down, partly because they struggle to pass building regulations concerned with fire escapes, insulation, and achieving enough daylight through small windows, and partly because this is the 21st century and we don’t want our city to look out of date. 

Many people struggle with the Bible because it’s so old; it’s full of camels and wells, sheep and goats, men in robes and silent children. (silent children!!!). People say it can’t possibly be relevant for today’s world. But the truths and teaching in the Bible are timeless. Look around the world and see how people and cultures struggle to relate to each other, and how many governments treat their populations appallingly. We are constantly hearing of domestic abuse or people earning a fortune destroying lives with drugs. Every day we have phone conversations with individuals and organisations lying to us to get to our savings. There are more slaves in our own country than you would believe. Children daily face bullying in schools and are misled by bloggers and ‘celebrities’ to believe in twisted standards and distorted morality. 

Simply reading a few chapters of the teaching of Jesus and putting it into practice will transform the lives of individuals and nations around the globe. And it’s never out of date, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear.” We are not talking about an old fashioned and irrelevant religion, we are talking about God’s standards that will never fade away but have the power to transform your life, my life, and everybody else’s.

What Is It?- 30/08/20

When one of my chicks was just three years old she took herself off with paper and pencils to draw me something special. Some time later she walked up to me, with a smile from ear to ear, and proudly announced, “mummy this is for you!“ I looked down and smiled an equally big smile, and whilst telling her it was absolutely wonderful, in my head I was wondering exactly what it was! I looked at my chick‘s face, she was delighted with her picture, but I had absolutely no idea what I was staring at. It definitely had eyes...I think....And a very interesting body. She said to me, “mummy do you like it?“ “I absolutely love it! Is it a dog?” She began to giggle, “no mummy you’re silly!” We laughed. “Oh! Then I’m guessing it is a very big cat!” Again she giggled, “mummy you’re really silly!” This conversation went on for some time, and I went through all the animals I could possibly think off. Mythical ones included! And she giggled and giggled! Eventually, I turned to her and said, “okay I think it’s a duck billed platypus!” She stared at me, and smiled and said, “well done mummy!”

And with that, she picked herself up and ran off to play. And I was left laughing and wondering just which end of the duck billed platypus was the head and which was the tail! 

The simple fact is that what I was looking at didn’t match what I was told it was! 

As I remember that funny story, I think of the lesson I can learn from it too. What do I ‘look like’ to others? It’s an important question. 

The Bible talks about how God changes us, for the better, the more we get to know Him and love Him. Paul called these changes, ‘the fruit of the spirit’ and defines them as, ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control’. And as each one of us learns to trust and love God that little bit more, we will start to ‘look’ differently. We will start to ‘look’ like we love God. We will start to display signs of the fruit of the spirit. I confess, I have a long way to go!! Some days I ‘look’ like someone who loves Jesus and sadly other days I don’t! But every time I mess up I’m thankful for our perfect God picking me back up and showing me, all over again that, ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, great is His faithfulness’. 

So far nobody has ever looked at me and thought I was a duckbilled platypus, although there’s still time, but what would really devastate me is if people looked at me and failed to see any evidence of Jesus in my life.

 

 

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.

Here Comes Big Phil- 30/09/20

It was just like any normal day for me in 6th form. Lessons, chat, lunch… And a cancelled lesson! Our teacher was sick and we had a free lesson before our final lesson of the day. We were feeling a little bit bored. Wondering what to do with our surprise free time. Then we found a long handled floor brush. Perfect! 

“Who wants to play the broom game??” 

We all thought this was a great idea. We took it in turns to get spun in a circle holding the brush up in the air. After 20 spins, whilst feeling completely dizzy and unstable, we had to lower the brush and try and stand on it. What could possibly go wrong? People were spinning in all directions. We laughed and laughed till we thought we could not laugh anymore. Then it was my turn. Just as I was about to be spun, who should walk in to the room but Big Phil! “Oooo can I play too?“ Big Phil was tall and built like a tank! He rushed over towards me and before I knew what was happening I was spinning faster than everyone else put together! I remember thinking to myself that if he didn’t stop soon I would probably throw up on him! As they shouted out “19 and 20!” They all stepped back, and as I brought the brush-head down to the floor, I spun across the room straight into two stacks of chairs. The chairs collapsed onto a table, the table tipped over, and a glass jug full of water, and a pile of plastic cups tipped onto the floor! It’s fair to say, that along with the crash and the bang, we were laughing so hard that tears rolled down our faces. The room had turned into a disaster! As I was pulled to my feet, the door opened. There stood our Head of Year. I won’t say he looked angry, it was more a look of dismay. He’d not been gone for long and suddenly the room looked like a tornado had passed through. We got the speech. The one about how it wasn’t very responsible of us and how we could’ve got really hurt. We all apologised. And then, he smiled, and laughed, and offered to help us put the room back together before our next lesson. 

Sometimes life can feel a bit like the Broom Game. We have times where circumstances cause us to feel completely out of control and then sometimes we end up ‘crashing’. Family crises, loss of a job, stress and ill-health…we’ve all been there. During those times, we need people around us who are a bit like that teacher I had all those years ago. They step into the mess, they help pick us up, they offer wise words and they hang around to help bring some order. And just as we all need those people on occasions, we ought to also be those people. The Bible says, 

“Treat others as you wish to be treated“

And the greatest news of all, is that there is our all-loving, ever-patient, gracious God who we can turn to in any moment, however out of control or close to crashing we are. 

“The Lord lifts the fallen and those bent beneath their loads“. 

These are such comforting words to hear. But it doesn’t stop me loving the Broom Game! Anybody want to play??

Something Borrowed- 29/09/20

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”

Last Thursday a new world record was created as the national treasure that is Sir David Attenborough launched his Instagram account and gained one million followers in just 4 hours and 44 minutes, beating the previous record (held by Jennifer Aniston) by an hour and a half.  In an interview he said that social media was an unfamiliar territory for him but that he wanted his message to reach as many people as he possibly could, including as many young people as possible.  

So what is his message that he is so desperate to spread?  Well, he has spent decades thrilling us with images of species that most of us will never see in the flesh and educating us about the world we live in.  More recently, however, he has brought us stark warnings about the damage that we are doing to the world with our carelessness and self-centeredness and who can forget the images he brought to us of miles of plastic waste floating in the ocean?  His Instagram launch precedes his new documentary ‘A Life on Our Planet’ - but whilst I admire his work and agree with so much that he has to say, there is one point that I must pull him up on - this planet that we live on has never been ours.  

We are merely temporary guardians who take a turn before passing it on to the next generation and into their care.  At the very creation of the world “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” – what does he see now? But it’s not just the earth that belongs to God, it’s everything in it as well.  That means our homes, our cars, our phones, our shiny kitchens, our clothes and expensive trainers – all belong to God.  Does that change how we view those things and what we do with them?  It should do.  If instead of holding our possessions tightly, what difference would it make if each day we started by asking God, ‘how can I best use YOUR car today?’, ‘how can I best use YOUR phone today?’, ‘what would you have me do with this home today?’ The answer may be to not use that car today, you can walk; or use that phone to check up on someone who may be feeling lonely and uncared for.  Perhaps he might suggest that the shiny kitchen could be used to prepare a meal for someone or a cake to just raise a smile.  

This is traditionally the time when we celebrate harvest and give thanks for the provision God has given to us – that’s the wheat and the corn, the fruit and the vegetables but he’s also given us so much more.  Perhaps this harvest we should remember to give thanks for this earth and EVERYTHING in it – including one another.  And when we keep one eye on the giver, the gifts take on a whole new value.

The Nail in the Road- 28/09/20

Last week, I dropped my daughter at college for 9am. College is about 10 miles from home and as I dropped her off, I was already thinking of all the things I was due to do that day. I had a whole plan. Beginning from 9:30am and going right through to school pick up. It was a really full day, too full, and I needed to work quickly and efficiently and with full concentration in order to get everything done that I needed to do by 3pm. As I pulled out of the side road to leave the college, I drove over a huge big nail and suddenly I’m stranded with a flat tyre. I parked the car about 20 metres from where I dropped my daughter off. And staring at my very flat, front tyre for a brief second, a very brief second, I wondered whether I could drive home really quickly without doing too much damage!! I quickly dismissed that thought as completely ridiculous and so got back in the car and wondered what to do! After a few phone calls I finally settled down to wait for the RAC to come and rescue me! And 3 hours later I was finally sorted with a new tyre, and free to get on with my day.

When I got up on Thursday morning I had no idea that I would be spending so much time sat in my car, that I would meet a friendly man who would come to my rescue, and that all the plans I had for my day would be completely messed up. And there was nothing I could do about it.

The truth is, every morning when we wake up we have absolutely no idea what the day will bring. Our lives can be changed forever, in both good ways and bad ways, within a split second.

Sat alone in my car last week I was forced to look at my busy day and prioritise. Some things that had been ‘urgent’ at 9am could now wait until Friday. There were some people I wanted to see and they suddenly became my priority for the day. And when I finally got to bed that night I thanked God for keeping me safe in the car that day and for teaching me a lesson in what was really important. Friday was a busy day. But as I entered that day, I did so with the knowledge of what was really important. The Bible says, ‘Don’t be foolish; be wise: make the most of every opportunity you have for doing good’.

So today, as we enter a new day, with our busyness and pressures and deadlines, let’s just pause for a moment, thank God for a new day, and choose to make every moment count, for good.

Anywhere. Anytime.- 27/09/20

If you watch school pupils emerging from the school buildings in the afternoon, it doesn’t matter how many hundreds there are, they all seem to have mobile phones. And it could be a junior school! We can see TV news bulletins from almost anywhere in the world, including many of the poorer nations where people are living in shacks which are falling down, but you will still see huge numbers with mobile phones. If you go out to the shops or to play golf or fish or just go walking, and you realise that you have left you phone at home, don’t you feel slightly vulnerable? It’s not that long ago when we would go out all day and have no easy means of communication, but that was life and it was normal. It’s so intrusive now that schools ban them, cinemas, theatres and churches ask (or tell) you to switch them off, and for obvious reasons they are banned while you’re driving. This most modern method of communication is now restricted in many places as we try to win back normal conversation. Let’s hope that they are banned from restaurants and dinner tables soon!  

There is a very ancient means of communication that many people have forgotten about despite there being no restrictions anywhere or anytime. It’s called prayer. You may have heard of it. It’s simply conversation with the God who gave us the give of speech and language. It’s important to realise that you don’t need special words or phrases, clothes or locations. And you don’t need to listen to boring music because God is talking to someone else; in fact St Paul encourages us all to “Pray continually” even while driving! Paul also tells us that he prays, “night and day.” Jesus told us to get on with it without waffling, “When you pray, don’t talk on and on like people do who don’t know God. They think that God likes to hear long prayers.” And Paul tells us, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Wherever you are in the world, you will not lose the signal (even in Asda), your battery will never let you down, and God will not keep you waiting.

Be Disruptive!- 26/09/20

Up in western Scotland, the blackberry season is about 3 weeks after the rest of the country and to be honest, there are only so many blackberry crumbles that I can eat but I hate to waste free food. So I tried to be inventive with some cheap yoghurt and recreate the equivalent of a Muller fruit corner. It was rather successful but was lacking the essential bit of the ‘corner’! When Muller invented the ‘Fruit Corner’ yoghurts, they were revolutionary; they were square not round; large, not small; separate fruit to yoghurt…not all mixed up; premium priced not value for money. That was the whole idea. They aimed to disrupt the market and get noticed and as a marketing strategy it really worked. 

We notice disruptive elements and people. I am more likely to remember pupils like Lauryn, JR, Jeevan and Derrie because they were disruptive. They got my attention. I am not advocating that this is the way forward for us as disciples of Jesus but I do think that we should not be sat at the back doing little and saying nothing. We are called to be in the world but not of the world. Paul, in his letter to the Romans says this: “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” We have to be different and distinctive. At times that might mean being disruptive by calling out injustice when we see it and standing with those who are being trodden upon and sidelined. At all times it means challenging our own behaviour and each day trying to become more like the Christ that we seek to serve and follow.

We’ll Always Have Paris- 25/09/20

I’ve spent the last three weeks avidly following the Tour de France. I have done so from the comfort of my living room via ITV 4. Physically following the Tour de France would be a wonderful adventure; three weeks spent in the French countryside, enjoying the scenery of the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Cote d’ Azure and, finally, on to Paris… all whilst enjoying the greatest sporting event in the world. The problem, of course, is that I would need the time, the money and the language skills to complete the task. I would also need to be able to find my way around France at the wheel of some sort of campervan… on the wrong side of the road. My wife will tell you that my navigation skills are not of the highest standard and my employer will tell you that I don’t have the time. Add to that the fact that my bank account won’t stretch to cover the cost and that the only words of French I know are, “croissant” and “Pernod” and you begin to realise that the likelihood of such an odyssey is remote.

There are people who manage to follow the tour every year – devotees of cycling who structure their holidays and their bank account around the route and calendar of, “Le Tour”. This year, their annual pilgrimage was disrupted by Coronavirus. The crowds that usually line the roadside were told to stay away. Strict restrictions were put in place. In some cases, limited viewing was possible, but only in sanitised, socially distanced enclaves. Out on the mountain roads of the Alps, policing spectators is more difficult and some fans were still able to get uncomfortably close to the passing cyclists. This of course, resulted in the French authorities imposing tighter restrictions and actually closing the remaining mountain roads to prevent further pedestrian incursion.

In miniature, the tour reflected the issues that we all encounter; how to live our lives in the face of a virus that is not going away as quickly as we would like. Somehow, the organisers managed to deliver this magnificent spectacle with very few problems. Despite himself contracting Covid, race director Christian Prudhomme was able to remain upbeat. When asked about a tour without spectators, he philosophically replied, “A football match without spectators is simply a game played in a dull, empty box… Le Tour without spectators still has France”. Watching the TV pictures of the cyclists weaving their way through rolling fields, rugged mountains and the architectural marvel that is Paris, I had to agree with him.

We’re back to living our lives with restrictions again, but we should echo Monsieur Prudhomme’s attitude. There are things that we will miss, but we are surrounded by people who care for us… people that make our difficulties bearable… people who simply make us smile... those people are reading this article. We also have a God that is not diminished by the restrictions placed upon our lives… a God that cares for us… a God that makes our difficulties bearable… a God that makes us smile… that God is here with us, always. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” the answer is, nowhere… not even France.

Winter Sunshine- 24/09/20

It’s officially Autumn! I like Autumn, it brings sights and events that are beautiful and unique to this time of year. I live under the flight path of the geese flying in and out of the country. It’s a beautiful sight and sound, a miracle of nature. These creatures fly thousands of miles and land in just the right place; no maps, no satnav, and no signs in the sky. We sometimes insult people by calling them, ‘Birdbrain’. That’s a massive insult, not to the people but to the birds. What goes on in their heads is beyond us. I know some people who couldn’t find their way to Bootle! And what about the trees; most of them start the year with no leaves and the shapes of the trunks and branches are miraculous; then along come beautiful leaves that provide colour and shape and shade for months. At this time of the year, many trees provide fruit for us which is pretty clever of them. Then to finish the year’s performance, they put on new clothes and the world is transformed by an onslaught of yellow, orange, and red. Brilliant! There is a downside of course, the trees shed their leaves and go to sleep, a bit like teenagers, and we have to tidy up and there’s never enough green bin collections. But the wonderful autumn display is worth the trouble. The point is that every season brings its own glory if we only keep our eyes open. We are now able to enjoy amazing misty mornings if we bother to go out. Even in the middle of winter we have the fabulous blessing of being able to see a sunrise without having to get up at four o’clock. 

We all live through our own personal seasons of life of course, and just like in nature, these seasons have specific characteristics, opportunities, and blessings. Even old age can be wonderful; we’ve finished work, we’ve raised our offsprings, and we’ve paid off our mortgage (hopefully). We mark our seasons with birthdays that we put numbers to, but the numbers are just numbers and can be misleading. I know people older than me that I can’t keep up with, and some younger than me who can’t keep up with me. And we treat some numbers as more important than others, but they’re all the same, each one is a reminder that God has given us another year. As each birthday passes and we look back, inevitably we will have sad memories but also good ones. So let’s thank God for the seasons we have lived through and let’s trust him for beautiful and fruitful seasons still to come. 

David wrote, ‘I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God: I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.’

Ying Tong Iddle I Po- 23/09/20

A few nights ago, I woke up around 3am, with Spike Milligan on my mind! This isn’t a normal occurrence. I can only assume he had popped into one of my dreams from the deepest part of my sub-conscience! But whatever the reason, I then did what any normal person would do, I got up, picked up my phone, and googled The Goons. I must confess I wasn’t around when The Goons were airing on the radio, causing havoc and much hilarity, but I have listened to them since! Just over two hours later I had laughed a lot, and discovered a lot. Harry Seacombe appeared to live a very happy existence, but not so much the others, and definitely not Peter Sellers. They had all experienced loss and hardship and struggle. But it was Peter Sellers story that continued to play on my mind. He was born Richard Sellers but his parents always called him Peter in memory of his older brother who had passed away as a baby. The story continued that throughout his entire life Peter Sellers struggled massively with his identity, often saying that he had to always be in character because he didn’t know who the real Peter Sellers actually was. It was a heartbreaking story to read, at any time of day. This incredibly talented actor and comedian, was an enormously troubled man who went on to hurt his wives and children greatly. He didn’t know who he was. 

We all have questions at some point in life about who we are, where we came from, what our great grandparents looked like, why we look and sound the way we do.....it’s only natural for us to want some answers! I know that my lack of sense of direction comes from my mum, I’d like to know why I’m such a bad photographer, and I can’t help but think I’m part Italian-New Yorker. There’s a lot about me that I will never really know. But God does. He knows me inside out and back to front. He loves me completely and wants only the best for me. He knows what’s best for me. 

The Bible says, ‘O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit or stand. When far away you know my every thought.....You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it. You were there while I was being formed. You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book! How precious it is, Lord, to realise that you are thinking about me constantly! I can’t even count how many times a day your thoughts turn toward me. And when I waken in the morning, you are still thinking of me!‘

Whatever life throws at us, however we are feeling, in our fun times and our times of struggle and loneliness, when we have big questions and no answers, may we each find comfort and peace in knowing that the God who created us, loves us and wants the best for us. He is still with us. Nothing is unknown to Him and no struggle we have is beyond His help. 

He knows who we are.

Preparing For Uncertainty- 22/09/20

Have you ever played Pin the Tail on the Donkey?  One person at a time is blindfolded and spun around so they don’t know which direction they are facing and then they have to find the image of the donkey and stick its tail on – the one who gets the tail closest to the correct spot wins.  The person in the blindfold has to tentatively find their way around the room being careful not to walk into anything, outstretching their arms in the darkness trying to feel their way while avoiding tripping over or crashing into anything.  I don’t know about you but it feels to me like I am stumbling round in the dark at the moment with my arms outstretched, tentatively trying to find my way through so much uncertainty.  

As we prepare for extra restrictions and lockdown measures to be enforced upon us, there are so many questions - should I dash out and get my hair cut in case I’m not able to go for another 8 weeks?  Should I buy some extra toilet rolls in case stocks run low again?  My son is preparing to go off to university – what will that look like?  Will he still be able to go when he’s supposed to?  How do you make new friends when you’re not allowed to meet up with people? 

The problem is that we feel like we’re blindfolded, fumbling in the dark and unable to see what is in front of us.  We may have health uncertainties, job uncertainties, financial uncertainties – how easy it would be to become weighed down by these as we feel like we’re stumbling around.  But the fact is, there are also some certainties if we choose to look for them – such as the certainty of friendship and companionship that comes from being part of a wonderful community of people; the certainty that if we have a need, we only need to make it known and there are people who will do everything they can to meet that need – we have that!  

The Bible also tells us of another certainty that we have, In Romans we read: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [nor coronavirus], will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We may face many difficult and uncertain times at the moment but let’s remember that we’re doing it together and what’s more, we’re doing it with the absolute certainty that whatever tomorrow may bring we can face it with the confident knowledge that it will not and cannot come between us and God’s love for us.  Let’s step into the unknown together, with confidence, because God is with us all the way.

Where's the Contract?- 29/08/20

I go back a long way with Microsoft, in fact I think I have probably kept them in business over the years. If I left them, I imagine a panic would ensue on the stock market as their millions of clients would be swayed by my dissatisfaction and find a different supplier. Maybe I’ve exaggerated my importance to Microsoft but I’m important enough for them to send me new terms and conditions because they say they want me to get the service I deserve. I feel quite proud that they go to great lengths to secure my custom. So I opened this new document today and started reading, and reading, and reading. Then I stopped for a coffee and two tablets and wondered how many words were in the document. I was quite impressed to discover that I am so important to them that they sent me 8000 words. But I’m a little bothered about the kind of words; they tell me it’s unlawful for me to ‘disassemble, decompile, decrypt, hack, emulate, exploit, or reverse engineer any software.’ They talk about ‘fraudulent, erroneous, or unauthorised transactions’ and they are very firm about ‘Contracting Entity’. Suddenly I’m nervous about signing this contract and I wonder why Microsoft doesn’t sound friendly anymore. Whatever we get involved with in life today, the lawyers have huge influence over, and we are expected to read, understand and sign documents that frequently appear to be written in a foreign language.

 Times have changed; when the disciples swopped jobs from fisherman etc to ‘Follower of Jesus’, they signed nothing; there was no contract and no wages. They just said goodbye to their families and walked away but they could always go home if they got bored or scared, because they signed nothing. ‘One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew-throwing a net into the water, because they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come and follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people.” They left their nets at once and followed Him.’ No contract, no lengthy employment negotiations, no money for solicitors, and off they went. It turned out to be a job for life. In 2000 years it has never changed, being a Christian (A ‘Follower of Christ’) is still a job for life. Simply by acknowledging that Jesus took the punishment for our sins and agreeing to follow where He leads, our lifelong occupation starts with no training or experience and leads to eternal rewards with no 8000 word contract to read and sign. Brilliant.

And What Do You Do?- 28/08/20

When I left school, many years ago, I had, “modest” academic qualifications and had no illusions about further education – a university degree was not in my future, but the climate of employment was such that jobs were plentiful, so it was not the passport to a prosperous future that it seems to be today. I remember discussing the type of job that I might be interested in, it was a long list and I had no definite plans. My Grandad was in the room and he fixed me with a look and said, “Your first job is to look after your family; to put food on the table and a roof over their head. The rest is window dressing”. Simple and sound advice.

Down the years, I have often thought of my Grandad’s words when attending one of the many tedious business meetings or conferences I have been required to sit through in my 43 years of employment. The most commonly asked question at these events is, “and what do you do?”. The enquirer is usually asking in order to make a judgement; either to judge if there is something that you do that will be of use to them, or to judge your status, based upon how important they perceive your job to be.

I always give a straightforward and honest answer, “I’m part of the Government Security Service”. This usually results in the questioner not knowing what to ask next and achieves my desired outcome of killing the conversation stone dead. It’s not that I don’t want to be judged; I couldn’t care less what the person thinks of my job and it’s not that I don’t want to talk to the person - it’s just that I don’t want to talk about my job. I have to spend all day doing my job, I don’t want to spend more time talking about it to strangers. Let’s talk about something more interesting. I’ve often thought about telling people that I do something a little out of the ordinary – just to see what happens, “I’m a seal greaser at a wildlife park”, or, “I put the cherries on top of Bakewell tarts”. It would be amusing for a while, but I’m not sure I could keep up the pretence; better to tell the truth and move on to something else.

It didn’t matter to Jesus what you did for a living. He chose His disciples for what He saw in them, not because of the job they did. There were several fishermen, a tax collector and a zealot - somebody who engaged in political debate, protest and perhaps even anarchy! We are not told about the professions of half of them, presumably because it didn’t matter. Jesus saw people for who they were inside. He didn’t judge them by their social status, but by their character.

The same was true of the people Jesus mixed with; “sinners and tax collectors”, the poor and downtrodden, the sick and needy. Class, social status and wealth meant nothing to Him. He simply loved everybody and valued them equally.

Jesus did, however, give His disciples a job to do and we, as His followers, are equally responsible for getting it done. Again, it doesn’t matter what we do for a living, it is something that Jesus requires of us all. It is often referred to as, “The Great Commission”; it’s in the book of Matthew, chapter 26 verse 19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”

It sounds like a big ask, but it simply requires us to start where we are. To tell those around us. Perhaps take my Grandad’s advice and start with your family. Let anybody and everybody know that Jesus loves them, no matter what they do.

Who Will Sing With Me?- 27/08/20

So, yesterday I woke up and decided I’d had enough of this virus! I was missing my choir family and Hub family, and everybody else. I wanted the freedom to meet up with them all and to sing and chat and laugh, AND HUG! 

My chicks have been getting increasingly fed up over the last few weeks, having done really well throughout lock-down. And so yesterday I woke up muttering!! I wasn’t muttering to anyone in particular. Just muttering! 

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last weeks sorting new choir music, and yesterday I went on to YouTube to find one more song. During my hunt, I came across a recording of America’s Got Talent with a contestant called Archie Williams. I’m giving you the link to see for yourselves what happened to this 58 year old man. I was stunned. Shocked. And I found myself all over again, thankful for, and at peace in, my circumstances. 

https://youtu.be/ShgOH1u78XA

In the Bible Paul was tortured and imprisoned because of his love for Jesus. It says,

‘And the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas. Then the officials tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered them to be whipped. After a severe beating, they were thrown into jail, and the jailer was ordered to lock them up tight. Upon receiving this order, the jailer threw them into the inner cell and fastened their feet between heavy blocks of wood. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them‘.

During these past months our freedom has been restricted and we’ve all, understandably, found different aspects difficult. Maybe we could all learn something from both Paul in the Bible, and Archie Williams today, that during our toughest times we don’t lose hope, don’t give up, give our struggles to God....and maybe even sing?!

Fix That Light!- 26/08/20

Confession time, we are rubbish at DIY. We have a gate that is painted bright blue and the fence that is attached to the gate is a mixture of blue, rust, black and the red paint that we first tried and didn’t like. In our kitchen we have a strip light that has not worked properly for over a year. It doesn’t matter because we managed. We used all sorts of contraptions to light the kitchen rather than replace the light. Then one day, despite standing on a chair and trying to twiddle   with the fitting, it would not turn on at all and the little plug in lamp was just not bright enough. So, we bit the bullet and bought a new light for the princely sum of a fiver. We screwed it in and hey presto, the kitchen is lit. We spent all that time making it complicated and the solution was so simple. Sometimes we make our faith so complicated. We make excuses not to share it, worry that we are not qualified enough or that it is not really our job.

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus said, “You’re here to be light bringing out the God colours of this world”. He didn’t say that we have to try to be something we are not. He didn’t say that we have to go to college to study before we can share our faith. He didn’t say that we have to be clever or creative or deeply theological. He just said that we are there to be a light. Bishop Desmond Tutu put it like this:” We are only the light bulbs; we just have to stay screwed in". Turn on your light and shine, wherever God has put you. 

Being Batman- 25/08/20

Last weekend we went away for a couple of nights.  It’s been such a strange year with so many plans having to be changed along the way, not least of all holiday plans, but we thought at least we could manage a couple of nights away.  We spent our time wandering around small historic towns and the inevitable gifts shops which are filled with all sorts of things that no one ever needs but we all end up bringing back from our holidays.  Amongst these were the usual items adorned with inspirational life quotes, many of which seem to require you to dance in the rain!  However, there was one that made me smile, it said – “Whatever you’re doing today, do it with the confidence of a 4 year old in a batman t-shirt.” 

Immediately, I had images of our children when they were growing up always wanting to dress up as something from a princess or a mermaid to Buzz Lightyear or Woody from Toy Story.  As soon as they put their outfit on, they became that character, they adopted the personality and with it came the confidence that they could do everything that that particular character could do.  You would think that they would become disillusioned once they realised that they couldn’t really fly like Mary Poppins or didn’t have the strength of Superman, but no, as every 4 year old knows – it’s just the adults that can’t see them do it!

Strangely, the Bible also asks us to dress up.  In the book of Ephesians, Paul asks us to “put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.  Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armour of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared…hold up the shield of faith…put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” 

When we clothe ourselves in God’s truth, righteousness, peace and faith we too can face our day with the confidence of a 4 year old knowing that God is protecting us through every battle that we might have to face.  The battles will still come and we will inevitably have times of difficulty and weariness but by wearing God’s armour we have the assurance that we will still be standing at the end of it all.

Whatever today may bring for you, let’s face it with the confidence of a 4 year old superhero with the assurance that God is with us and protecting us through it all.

Should Have Gone To...- 24/08/20

Are you one of those people who keeps a draw full of old specs and twelve cases of various sizes, styles, and colours? Many of us have a long history of wearing spectacles, and if we could put all our old ones in order, we would have a record of our eyesight health over many years. Many people find that one pair is not enough for their needs today. Some people have trouble seeing things close up, while some struggle to see things down the road, and some strain to focus at every distance. I have trouble at both ends so I wear varifocal specs which, if you practice, allow you to get away with just one pair, so mine meet all my needs, but if I ever lose them I’m in big trouble.

 We are very blessed in the UK to have easy access to opticians who can fine-tune our eyesight and also warn of certain health conditions. It’s important to remember that you can return your old specs to many opticians and they will send them abroad to be available to people who cannot afford to pay. Their lives can be totally transformed by receiving your old specs. It’s time to empty that draw. Please don’t throw them away!      

 Sight is such a wonderful blessing; let’s not take it for granted. How awful it must be to lose your sight and how important must be the memories that you are left with of people and places. What do people who were born blind understand when we thoughtlessly talk about colour or shade, light and dark?

 The Bible reminds us that sight is a gift from God; ‘The poor and the oppressor have this in common: the Lord gives sight to the eyes of both.’ In the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus we read that He often restored people’s sight without resorting to opticians or specs, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” ‘Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.’ The really good news is that all those who follow Jesus will have 20/20 vision for all eternity without paying any bills. In the last book of the Bible we read a description of Heaven, which includes the words, ‘The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him and they will see His face.’ What an amazing gift from the God who created sight, that we will have eternal vision after we finally close our eyes.

God's Collection- 23/08/20

Many people are collectors and it’s amazing the range of items that they accumulate. Quite often you can understand why particular products are collected, like small pottery horses or beautiful glassware. These things are the result of a talented individual’s skill and artistry, and many of us wish we could do what they do, but we can’t so we collect these items instead of making them. Then we put them on display in our homes so that visitors can see how sophisticated we are. On the other hand some people collect the most bizarre and often unattractive products that lead people to mutter words of sympathy and scratch their heads before walking away. For instance, 18th century screwdrivers or Victorian policeman’s whistles. It’s unlikely that these will be put on display or have any resale value.

 Sometimes the driving force behind the collection is emotional. I know a veteran photographer who has been building a collection of vintage cameras for years, but recently his wife discovered the extent of it, and when I spoke to him last week he was in the process of selling them on EBay. He’s not happy but his wife is. Then there are the hard-headed business types whose only reason for buying anything is to make a profit, then buy another car. This reminds me of the man I met who owns five mansions around the world and his hobby is collecting Aston Martin cars. Wouldn’t you like to be in his shoes? The slight drawback for him is that he suffers from depression and he collects bottles of rum which he then drinks, and his doctor has told him he will be dead inside five years.

 It’s interesting the value we place on things and our reasons for it. Jesus met religious leaders who valued their position and reputation in society more than they valued the safety and rights of ordinary people. He met Pilate who valued his job more than justice. And when it comes to people, who do you value (love) most and why? Paul told the church in Rome, “God showed how much He loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.” God values us so much that He gave His only Son so that we can join His collection of people.

 And He won’t be selling us on for a profit. He will keep us safe for eternity.

Shapes- 22/08/20

So with a title like ‘Shapes’, what am I thinking about? Could it be the need for people to get back to the gym? People who are looking at new cars are often comparing shapes. If you go to buy a pair of shoes, shape is as important as size. I have a pair of shoes that are the right size for me but not my shape, so they’re uncomfortable. But I’m not thinking about those important aspects of our lives, my thoughts concern the really vital subject of dog biscuits. I bet some of you thought of that as soon as you saw the word ‘shapes.’ Winalot Shapes are an essential part of a dog owner’s armoury. With these in your pocket, you know your pet can be let off the lead because he/she will risk life and limb to get back to you if you hold one up and yell “bikkie”. I walk a black Lab so I know what I’m talking about. There are five different shapes; heart, house (maybe kennel), bone, star, and fish. And there are five colours, but I have discovered that Louis doesn’t care about appearance or flavour, he has no preference, a bikkie is a bikkie, it’s his top priority and he will run a mile to get one.

 What will we ‘run a mile’ for, what’s important to us, what really matters? When we can all meet together again it would be interesting to ask each other what our top five priorities in life are. There would be some obvious replies, but I’m sure there would be some surprises too. Someone is bound to say, “Chickens” or “Cats”, “Formula One” or even “Football”. Personally I would be tempted to say “Photography and Badminton”, but I’m not sure they will be in my top five. Our priorities should provide us with a foundation for living so that in the gales of life we stand strong.

 Jesus told a story of two men who built their own homes. One built his on sand and it fell down in a storm. The other man found a rock to build on and his house survived the wild weather. Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock.” It clearly would make sense for us to check out the words of Jesus and make them our first priority. So what are your other four?

 I’ve got three Shapes left, one heart, one fish and one house (or kennel). First come first served.

Being There- 21/08/20

The American criminal justice system appears to be more about winning and losing than seeking justice. Perhaps it’s because the important jobs within it, the likes of District Attorneys and Judges, are elected positions. The better your track record, the more chance you have of landing the job. Achieving a favourable verdict; “winning” if you will, is therefore uppermost in the minds of those arguing the case. This can lead to some dubious verdicts and wrongful imprisonment. I read of one such case this week.

A young man, Jonathan Irons, who was convicted of serious assault and burglary had his sentence overturned and was released from prison. He had been there 23 years. What brought his story to national prominence was not the fact that the prosecution had won the case, in part, by failing to disclose important information at the time of trial that would have cast serious doubt on the conviction – it was the fact that a famous sporting star had been instrumental in facilitating his release. Maya Moore put her basketball career on hold two years ago to focus on fighting Irons’ cause. This is not just any basketball player. Moore has won the Women’s National Basketball Association title four times in her short career, been voted the league’s Most Valuable Player and has two World Championship and two Olympic gold medals to her name. Put simply, she is probably the best the women’s game has seen. She set it all aside to fight for justice for a man that she met whilst working with her family in prison ministry. She became his voice, his advocate. She worked with his defence lawyers to demand a retrial and finally got one. She kept going. She put her life’s philosophy into practice, “Keep showing up”. Eventually, her efforts were rewarded. She can now go back to her life in basketball, whilst, at the age of 40, Jonathan Irons can finally start his life.

We too can be the help somebody needs. We may not be faced with the challenge faced by Maya Moore, but to the person we support, we are just as valuable. It might be as simple as lending a listening ear, or it might be something practical. You don’t need to put a promising basketball career on hold to be there for somebody - which is good news, because I for one don’t have a promising basketball career - you just need to keep showing up.

It’s not a new idea. In the book of Matthew; Chapter 25, Jesus makes it clear that this is something that is to be part of our Christian way of life. He speaks of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing those who need clothes, caring for the sick and visiting the prisoners. We may not be in a position to do all of those things and certainly not all of the time, or all at once, but we can do what we can, for who we can, when we can. Simple acts of kindness in many cases. Things that often require us to simply be there for somebody. To simply keep showing up.

The Reindeer Can Stay- 20/08/20

So, Rudolph remains firmly fixed in our lounge. We’ve decided to keep him there until after Christmas. After all, Christmas is only 18 weeks away! But I continue to think about all the things I’ve the potential to un-see. Yesterday it was the wonderful gifts we can take for granted. But today I’m thinking about the wrong things that over time have maybe crept in to our lives. Bad habits and practices have a way of creeping in, little by little, and finding their place, well and truly, in our daily lives. They can be subtle. And we may be shocked when we realise that they’ve gone un-seen for so long. Maybe our health is being compromised by what we’re now eating or drinking? Maybe we’ve given up on a daily walk? Or the monthly gym membership is money being wasted? How about that friend that you used to have? The one who hurt you? And the hurt continues to build up around you, like a brick walk, and without realising it you spend so much of your time and energy bearing grudges and keeping others at arms length? Maybe you’ve made a mistake with finances and found yourself in mounting debt that is easier to ignore than address? Or how about that interest or hobby you wanted to take up? ‘I’ll do it tomorrow....and tomorrow....and tomorrow. And you’ve not noticed how long you’ve been procrastinating? 

We all have bad habits. Every one of us. We are massively influenced by our circumstances,  the friends we have, the things we choose to look at and listen to and follow. Every poor habit starts with some kind of poor thought. A lazy thought, a negative thought, unforgiveness, carelessness, revenge, apathy, worry....

Jesus said, 

‘I have come that they (that’s us!) may have life, and life in abundance’. 

Our lives matter, every day is a gift to us, every moment is an opportunity to think and say and do something good. 

Paul wrote, 

‘...you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst, the beautiful, not the ugly, things to praise, not to curse....’

And so once again I’m thankful for the forgotten Christmas decoration on my wall. It has reminded me to be thankful for the things I’ve ‘un-seen’ and taken for granted, and it has reminded me to look at my habits that have become ‘un-seen’ by me. My reindeer can stay, my bad habits can go!

Big Rudolph- 19/08/20

About one month ago I was sat in my lounge with my girls and as I looked up I noticed, on the wall, a large 2 foot reindeer head, complete with antlers and a big red nose! I stared at it wondering what it was doing in my lounge in July!! As me and my girls chatted and laughed about it, we came to realise that it had been there since the start of December! How could such a big decoration go unnoticed? It was next to the conservatory door, so we have walked past it countless times in the last seven months. And not once was it noticed. Not once did I look at it and realise it had been missed when taking the Christmas decorations down. There it was, staring us in the face, every day, and we didn’t see it.  

But as I think about big Rudolph and how I shouldn’t be able to un-see him every day I realise just how often I un-see other things around me. Other things that really matter. Other things that I simply take for granted. Every morning when I wake up, I get out of my comfortable bed and get washed with hot water. I look out of my window and see neighbours that are kind and lovely, trees and flowers that insist on growing despite my lack of skill, the beautiful sky and the sun that turns up every day without fail. I have clothes to wear and shoes that fit my feet. I open my fridge and find food to eat, and I’ve never got to go far to shop for more food for my hungry kids. I have a family that loves me, an old car that keeps going, and a home I feel safe in. These gifts are all around me. I see them every day. But sadly, like Rudolph, they can sometimes go unnoticed. Unappreciated. A forgotten, unnoticed Christmas decoration has caused me to recognise, all over again, how much I have to thank God for. My life is far from perfect. I have upsets and struggles just like the next person. Life has been sooooo tough at times. But when I stop, really stop, and recognise all that I’ve un -seen I’m led to a place of huge gratitude to the God who makes the sun rise. The Bible says, 

‘Give thanks in ALL circumstances’, 

even when life feels terrible and the pain is unbearable, Jesus, who went through such awful suffering has promised that He will, 

‘never leave us nor forsake us’. 

I know your lives aren’t perfect either and each one of us has our struggles. But maybe take some time out today to just stop and look around you. What is there that you may have taken for granted? What, AND WHO have you started to un-see? And when you discover them all over again, thank God for them. And thank God for God and His relentless love for us. May He be bombarded with our thanks! And maybe, who knows, you might just find a Christmas decoration staring you in the face. 

3 Little Letters- 18/08/20

Last week saw the traditional revealing of the A level exam results, except that this year was anything but traditional.  Thousands of 18 year olds waited anxiously to discover what grades they had been awarded during these exceptional times.  Due to lockdown, no exams were taken and so results were awarded according to teacher predictions and the application of some very complicated algorithm which I’m not going to pretend to understand.  Chaos ensued as students and teachers alike protested against the unfairness of a system which downgraded so many results simply by the application of a computer programme.  Does the computer know each student personally?  No.  Does the computer know how hard any particular student was working?  No. 

As I write, the government has agreed that this system was unfair and disadvantageous to so many young people and have agreed to trust the teacher’s knowledge of their students.  There has been so much anxiety carried by so many young people over the last few days including those awaiting GCSE results later this week.  Plans had been made; there were hopes and dreams that were being built on an envelope that held 3 letters within it.  Many may now be feeling relief but for others there is still disappointment and anxiety over what the future holds. 

Psalm 139 tells us “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  When God looks at us he sees so much more than exam results or IQ; when he looks at us He sees so much more than any teacher can ever see – He sees the incredible work of His hands and there is no computer programme that can limit or downgrade what God can do with us. 

For all of the students out there that are facing anxious times trying to work out what their future will look like or for any of us worrying about health problems, finances, anxiety over jobs or anything else that life might be throwing at us right now, let’s remember that the Bible tells us to “seek first the Kingdom of God” and when we do that, everything else will fall into place.  All of our problems won’t just disappear but we will have a new perspective on them. 

As I sit and write this the most beautiful rainbow has appeared outside my window with every colour strong and bright, reminding me of God’s promise of hope and faithfulness.  I discovered this week that rainbows are not actually an arc shape but are in fact a full circle – we simple can’t see the rest of it, but God can.  We see only a bit of the picture but God sees it all and he will never reduce us down to 3 letters in an envelope – to Him we are worth so much more!

Out of Sight- 17/08/20

Yesterday’s Sunrise reminded us that when we look at people we don’t see the complete picture like God does. It can be very unfair and damaging to relationships if we make judgments based on insufficient information. Everyone’s life is complicated and personal, when I look at you, what I see is tiny compared to what I don’t see. Imagine a driver breaking all the rules. He was travelling at 40 mph in a school area limited to 20mph. He went through two sets of red lights, then proceeded down a one way street the wrong way, crossed over the central reservation, turned sharp left into the ‘Exit Only’ lane of the local hospital, and finally stopped under the sign that said ‘Ambulances Only’. If you had seen him speeding or driving through red lights you may have been tempted to report him. But his dangerous and illegal driving saved his friends life by getting him to the hospital just in time. You would probably do the same. Often when we see a friend and ask how they are, we are told, “Fine thanks.” We presume that means we can now proceed to explain at great length how difficult it was to get your TV fixed. You don’t notice that his eyes have glazed over as he considers how he’s going to tell his wife that he’s just been made redundant.

 Jesus was quite outspoken when He considered how people make judgments about each other based upon our ignorance and maybe our feeling of superiority. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite...” When someone is grumpy or not interested in your opinion of the government or the local team, don’t judge them, they may be dealing with issues you have no idea of. There must be times when your personal concerns, invisible to others, cause you to appear to be rude or thoughtless. Let’s remember, only God sees and understands our fears and sadnesses, and those things we hope nobody notices. “From Heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind.”

 So let’s leave the judging to the God who sees, and we can practice patience and tolerance, just like we hope others will do for us.

It's Fading- 16/08/20

I’ve been looking at artistic x-ray photographs. I know, it sounds weird but someone has to do it. It works on anything, flowers, butterflies, animals, water creatures (crabs are great), snakes, seashells, vegetables, and of course people, (and teddy bears). Photographers use it to make the point that a simple photographic image only shows surface detail and tells us nothing about internal complexity, health, or conditions that cause stress. Our ideas of beauty discourage us from producing x-ray portraits; nobody wants to look at a pretty skeleton!

 Our sad 21st Century culture has caused huge numbers of people to spend a fortune plastering their faces with gooey stuff, removing their eyebrows so that they can draw artificial ones, and masses of teenagers spend more time pouting in the mirror than they spend doing homework. (Rant over). I don’t care how lovely a person appears if they’re ugly inside, and I’m not bothered how unattractive someone looks if they are beautiful inside. Let’s be honest, our external beauty is temporary, it’s fading while you read this, and if you believe that age has nothing to do with appearance, boy, are you going to be a sad and disillusioned old grump.

 So let’s think about the important things in life. I’m sure we already know that God is not impressed with the brand name of smelly stuff men and women use, or the attention to detail we insist on to make our hair perfect. He could get agitated when He sees how much money we spend on our appearance, when children around the world are dying for the lack of a few pennies. But He gets much more agitated when our lifestyle and our choices indicate that we think He smiles when we look good. He doesn’t notice and He doesn’t care. When Jesus met Peter for the first time, the Bible simply says, ‘Jesus looked at him.’ But the original words indicate that it was a long penetrating gaze that didn’t notice Peter’s beard or his powerful build, but Jesus saw the man inside the body, and He knew that Peter could do the job God had planned for him.

 I’m very happy that God is not interested in my appearance, but when Jesus gives me that long lingering look, does He smile or cringe?

Now that’s important.

A Nail in the Wall- 15/08/20

I’ve started a new study in the back bedroom: tidying the first study is ongoing! One benefit of an empty nest I suppose? On the wall I have a beautiful watercolour (not by me) of five boats in a peaceful harbour. I use it as an icon to remind me to pray for my Five Plus, that means my five family members, plus one grandchild, plus extended family, plus our circles of influence. I hate to miss anybody out! I pray that we all may reach ‘safe harbours’….. Jesus is my safe harbour but I don’t need to verbalise that all the time because I do want them to still visit me!! Virtually or otherwise.

Anyway, I recently took the picture off the wall to share with another group on Zoom and so exposed and dislodged the two hooks holding it up. There were two hooks because I couldn’t find the larger type in my box. Now there are only two nails remaining, plain and simple, firm and capable and keeping the picture in place, so calming my worries about those I love, reminding me to pray and reflecting the beauty wrought by another person’s skill.

It’s funny that the Bible talks of a nail in the wall (Isaiah22:23-25). The passage seems to refer to a man called Eliakim who was to replace a bad leader and be a father-leader to the nation. He would control their larger destiny and the smaller details of daily life. It predicted that like a nail in the wall everything would hang on him, although eventually the sheer weight of the load, the responsibilities, would drag him down, pull out the secure fixture. At first I wanted to encourage everyone to discover in what way during Lockdown they were being a ‘nail in the wall’ for someone else, because I am sure this is true. We sometimes only discover years later (or never) what our caring meant to someone else: how our steady plodding on, our brilliant flashes, our self-forgetfulness or our unplanned words of wisdom plucked from the air have rescued them in their moments of weakness. And it’s mutual.

Yet as I Googled again today I discovered that in secular terms to nail (one) to the wall means ‘To punish, berate, or hurt one in a very severe fashion for a wrongdoing or transgression’. So I’m right back to Jesus again: my wrongdoing linked to his severe punishment, his being nailed to a tree. Great in this crisis if you can be ‘the strong one’ all the time …… and even great if you can do it for some of the time ……. But if and when you do run out of strength, when you take a tumble, remember to focus on that ‘Someone Else’ who was a nail for us, in our place ….. and when he fell, remember that it only lasted three days. Then he rose up again and came back to be our constant and permanent and immovable nail in the wall.

Disturbing the Peace- 14/08/20

The world is consumed by protests at the moment. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are regular questions being asked regarding the handling of the Covid 19 crisis; particularly in America. Whilst these questions are usually asked by politicians and journalists and are generally quite measured, the response from those being questioned is, in some cases, quite startling.

There are marches and rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign. Again, whilst the protest may be dignified, some of the events have descended into violence due to the response of those who disagree with the point being made. Most recently, two Major League Soccer teams who, in unison, “took a knee” to demonstrate their support of BLM, were booed by supporters and had water bottles thrown at them.

The recent dreadful explosion in Lebanon was the catalyst for protest against the corrupt government. The government ministers have all resigned, but it remains to be seen what difference the protest will make in the long term in a country that has suffered from successive failed regimes, each unwilling to govern in the interests of its citizens.

These are just the current, high profile protests seen on our screens every day, but when the public lose interest in them there are others that will take their place. It was ever thus.

Those protesting are simply highlighting a particular injustice within society and they are seeking redress. Those who’s firmly held beliefs are called into question by the protest, feel that the protestors are to be resisted. At best, they are disturbers of the peace, at worst they are agitators who must be put in their place… and the methods employed to restore the status quo are not always peaceful.

Jesus was a disturber of the peace. It seems odd to say it when He was known as The Prince of Peace, but think about it for a moment. A disturber of the peace is somebody who, “unreasonably disrupts the public tranquility, or has a strong tendency to cause a disturbance”.

Everywhere Jesus went, He caused a disturbance. Think of the crowds of thousands who gathered to hear him speak. He often disrupted the tranquillity of the public. Nobody who heard him speak went away unchallenged. Jesus came along and shone a light on the injustices in society and the behaviours of the people He met. He took no account of the status of the individual, He simply spoke out about the iniquities He was confronted with. For some, the light He shone illuminated a truth they had not previously seen and their lives were transformed. For others, it revealed aspects of their behaviour and character that they would rather keep hidden. To these people, His actions were unreasonable. To these people, He was to be resisted. To these people, the barbaric method used to restore the status quo was justified.

What they didn’t realise was that they could not extinguish the spark that Jesus ignited. In the book of John, we read that, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.

Jesus is still disturbing people today, because He shone a light on the truth. The truth of God’s love. The truth of a world that is possible. The truth of the change that needs to happen. It is that truth that disturbs people and it is that truth that, once accepted, brings about everlasting peace.

Just a Cup of Coffee- 13/08/20

I absolutely love coffee! When I say coffee I do mean the proper, filtered coffee. I’m afraid a jar of instant just doesn’t do anything for me! It’s got to be strong and not burnt, oh and with hot milk, if I’m having milk! I wake up every morning very grateful that God made the coffee bean! If you ever come over to our house, (and you’re very welcome!) I’ll be delighted to make you a very good cup of coffee, or a decidedly average cup of tea!

Yesterday I woke up to no coffee. It was a tense moment! It was stressful! Tea just doesn’t do it for me first thing in the morning. 

I was reminded of caffè sospeso. It’s Italian for ‘suspended coffee’. Over a hundred years ago in the working class areas in Naples the practice of caffè sospeso was born. If someone was  fortunate enough to have a little bit of spare change one day, they would go into their little local coffee shop, pay for two coffees but only take one. If someone was unable to buy themselves a much-needed coffee that day, they could go into the shop and ask for a ‘caffè sospeso’, This practice of paying for two and taking one, was a simple act of anonymous charity. And a much appreciated one. In recent years I’ve heard that this practice is not so popular anymore. I’m not sure why, maybe for financial reasons, maybe there’s less of a community spirit now. I don’t know. But it seems a shame.

As far as I know, Jesus didn’t make any hard and fast rules about a cup of coffee, but He did have something to say about our attitude....

“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them”.

Paul, some years after Jesus said, 

"Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus...”

A simple cup of coffee provided for someone who couldn’t afford it, was a beautiful gift. But why should we stop at coffee? We all have gifts and skills to offer. Things that maybe we take for granted and think little of, but to someone else they could be an enormous blessing. 

I eventually got my coffee yesterday! And it was wonderful! And so was the chat I had with the lady serving me in the shop. She’d had a long, difficult day. But she was so very lovely. I was encouraged by our conversation. I hope she was too. We have no idea what our words and actions do for others. May God encourage us to treat others as we would like to be treated. We will all be blessed!

Hunting For Joy- 12/08/20

My wife has a book called, ’99 Things That Bring Me Joy’. It’s a list of activities, places, food, people, etc, and you fill in what you feel is appropriate. For instance some of the page headings are: - Things I collect / Things I think are cute / My favourite meals / People I am proud of / Friends I can count on /, and so on. I’ve looked all through this book and there is no reference to me. To be fair, she hasn’t really started listing her favourite things, sights, people; but I’m still not absolutely convinced I will be in her top 99 things that bring her joy. But of course I will be there and at the top of the list. Clearly I bring her joy, in fact more joy than anything or anyone else in her life. Of course I do. I think.

 In our society right now, joy seems to be in short supply. Everyone is on the hunt for it, but it can be elusive. We find things to do or places to go, and that brings some escape from our reality but it usually disintegrates before the end of the day. So tomorrow we start our search again. Surely joy should last more than a few hours in the sunshine or sitting round a restaurant table. Maybe we should ask ourselves if we are looking in the wrong place.

 The Bible tells us that we find joy in the presence of God. Despite all his trials and hardships, David could write, ‘You fill me with joy in Your presence.’ This indicates that a relationship with the eternal God brings joy into the lives of individuals. Peter takes it further when he speaks about placing trust in Jesus; he says, ‘Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you trust in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.’ You don’t get this from Nandos! Joy is not a fleeting emotion based on an activity or an event, it is a permanent condition, despite our circumstances that try to drag us down. Joy is the result of God’s presence in our lives and because God says, ‘I will never leave you, I will never forsake you’, joy is always available.

Are We Nearly There Yet?- 11/08/20

Some years ago when our children were still small, we set off in the car for a few days away.  The journey was about 4 hours long but while we were still on the M57 we heard the words that make every parent’s heart sink, “are we nearly there yet?”  We were 10 minutes from home with a long journey ahead and already our children were bored and grumpy!  That journey remains in my memory as one of the more difficult ones we had to make – there was crying and complaining, bickering and endless toilet stops, road works and traffic jams.  We eventually arrived a number of hours after our expected arrival time, exhausted from hours of stressful games of I Spy and repetitive singing of children’s songs – I have to admit, we were the grumpy ones by then!

I would love to have the ability to snap my fingers and arrive at my destination.  To be able to avoid the traffic jams, the queues at the airport, the lugging of luggage and the stress of having to arrive at your destination by a certain time – wouldn’t it be good to just magically arrive?

On occasions we can get really hung up on schedules and direction of travel and we might wish the journey over but sometimes the journey itself is just as important.  In the Old Testament God set Abram off on a journey, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” It was the start of a journey that was to last many hundreds of years before Abram’s descendants finally arrived at their destination but the journey with its twists and turns became every bit a part of their story. 

A friend reminded me recently of the children’s story book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen.  Each time the family come to an obstacle they realise:

“We can't go over it.
We can't go under it.
Oh no! We've got to go through it!”

Five months in to this pandemic and it has become clear that our journey isn’t over yet, there is more ahead of us and the reality is that we can’t avoid it, “Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!”  We may be feeling weary, but sadly there is no end just yet.  The good news, however, is that we’re all in this together and with patience, persistence and determination we can encourage one another to keep pressing on.  We’re not alone.  1 Thessalonians reminds us “He died for us so that … we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 

2020 will not be the year that we lost, 2020 will be the year that we went on a journey together, sometimes with laughter, sometimes barely clinging on but this journey of perseverance, support and encouragement will always be part of our story together.

Precious Smelly Julie- 10/08/20

Julie smells. Sometimes. I can’t deny it. I wish I could say I was lying. But I can’t. She’s often found lying on the ground, face down. She looks battered and used and messed up. If you met Julie you wouldn’t want to sit next to her, and you’d definitely not want to touch her. She’s a pathetic sight. But Louis, my black lab, loves her. Julie is Louis’s beloved teddy. He’s had many Julies. (yes, they’ve all been called Julie!) He would love them at first. But then, one day, maybe weeks after lulling then into a false sense of security, he would turn on them, pull their little glass eyes out and then through the little gaps where the eyes used to be, he would pull out all the stuffing and scatter it across the room. A teddy bear crime scene! But this Julie is different. He adores stinky, pink Julie. He loves her even though she’s wonky, a little bit ripped, one arm is longer than the other, and, well, she’s imperfect. 

When I take her to wash, Louis comes with me. He watches for the entire time she’s being washed and then faithfully sits next to her while she dries. He looks at me, waiting for the moment I tell him, ‘You can have Julie now’. He grabs her quickly, runs to a quiet corner and happily chews her leg. It’s love!

I was walking through a rough part of London some years ago. I was volunteering with a homeless shelter.  It was late night and the streets were crowded. I saw one person after the other stepping over a homeless guy. They were busy going for trains and meeting up with friends. As I got closer to him he looked up. I smiled at him and asked if he was ok. Never in my life had I seen someone look so sad, so alone. As we got chatting he told me I could sit down if I liked, on his blanket, next to his dog. Chris had been homeless for over a year. He was young, intelligent, educated, polite, considerate, and broken. He had found himself in a difficult family situation, things got out of hand, he moved out from his family home into a rented property and then was made redundant. Within a month he found himself on the streets. And then he said to me, ‘y’know the worst bit about being on the streets Jo isn’t the cold or the hunger, although they can both be bad, it’s the looks you get from people. They stare at me, loathing what they see. They laugh at me. They show disgust. And occasionally I get rubbish dropped on me. My dog is my best friend’. We chatted some more and even managed to laugh a bit. His dog was beautiful and showed such adoration for Chris. As I was getting up to go, Chris gave me a hug and thanked me for the chat. Walking away from him that night I felt broken-hearted that we could treat fellow humans with such cruelty and contempt. Chris had got into a big mess, but he was no less valuable than anybody else on that street. It didn’t matter what he looked like, what he’d done, what clothes he was wearing or how bad he smelt. His life mattered. He mattered. And his dog knew it. 

Jesus talked about feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and He summed it up by saying, 

‘whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me - you did it to me’. 

I still think of Chris, all these years later. I hope and I pray that he is alive and well and knows how valued he is, how important he is to God, that he’s not a mistake, that his life is precious. Let’s be more like dogs! Let’s not judge outward appearances. Let’s be kind to one another. Our world needs more kindness, more care, more sacrificial love. 

Julie smells, she’s a mess, but Louis loves her.

I Need A Break- 09/08/20

How do you relax? Why do you need to? Do you need a break if you’re physically or mentally weary, or both? Does relaxation look different depending upon your type of tiredness? If you’re mentally tired do you relax by slumping onto the settee, watching TV, and eating chocolate biscuits, or if you’re physically worn out do you lie on your bed and listen to music, and eat chocolate biscuits? How on earth can anybody relax without chocolate biscuits? Many things can disturb our relaxation; mum’s break is shattered if the kids wake up (if they ever went to sleep). An employee’s weekend rest is destroyed if the boss keeps ringing up. Most of us find relaxation is easier if we can get away from our daily routine and people, even people we love! Relaxation usually means ‘Me Time’.

 Many people view Jesus the way they view Super Heroes. Stopping a storm or feeding lots of people – no problem. Healing a blind person or raising the dead – no problem. Teaching like no one else could or predicting the future – no problem. But the Bible tells us that He became like us, completely human. So He experienced hunger and thirst, He was tempted in all the ways we are but managed not to succumb. He got fed up with some people’s attitudes, occasionally got angry and physical, and just like us He got tired and needed a break away from people. We read that when Jesus arrived at a town called Sychar He was tired and sat down by Himself while His disciples went to buy food because He was hungry like they were. Along came a lady to draw water from the well and Jesus asked her for a drink because He was thirsty. Tired, hungry, thirsty. Totally human!  He became so popular that people would not leave Him alone and we read that, ‘He withdrew again to a mountain by Himself.’ You can almost hear Him saying, “I need a break.” But He hardly ever got one. He just kept meeting the needs of the people around Him.

 During our pandemic many people are weary of constantly doing good deeds and helping others. Like Jesus, we can get tired and sometimes a little fed up with people. Remember He understands how we feel. So let’s just keep going. Like He did.

Have A Good Day- 08/08/20

Time is a funny beast, it’s so difficult to tie down. What do we mean by ‘time’? If we talk about a ‘good time’, do we mean that brief moment when our team scored a goal, or that week we had in Paris, or our five years in senior school, or our fifty years of marriage? And what do we mean by ‘good’? What makes time good? Is it success at something, or lack of stress? Is it good health or good relationships? Could it be a good time in health despite a tough time in work? Is it possible to have a totally good time, or must there always be something that niggles away in the background? And how is it possible for people around the world to be in different sections of their day, all at the same time? Very early one morning I was chatting to a lady in Chile who was still in yesterday, and an Australian man who was just finishing work before I had gone to bed in the morning of the same day? Weird!

 To make matters more complicated, the Bible tells us that God is outside time so He looks at things from a different perspective. We read, ‘With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ Because God is eternal He existed before He created time for us by rotating the earth and giving us a sun to revolve around. So we can count our days and years and watch them mount up. How many days have you seen? Be honest! Remember ten years equals 3650 days plus a few. I’m not telling you what day I’m up to but it’s more than 3650 plus a few. Many people, as they get older, get a little nervous, but we don’t need to be, because God gives us no end of good days. We read in John’s Gospel, ‘Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects Him will ever share in the life, and God will be angry with them forever.’ It’s possible to have so many days and a guarantee that you will never run out of them, that you can give up counting because you will run out of numbers, not time.

Precious Cargo- 07/08/20

I am blessed with four lovely grandchildren. They are uniquely gifted and have their own wonderful idiosyncrasies. There is the one who can role play for days on end and has a growing band of imaginary dogs. Then there is the one who is besotted with the film Frozen – and its sequel… and the songs. Another, can and will climb anything put before him without a moment’s hesitation and views falling off merely as an occupational hazard… and finally, there is the sweet little one with the twinkle in her eye that suggests the possibility of mischief.

Every one of them is full of fun and a delight to be with. They view the world as a new and exciting adventure every day. Their attitude to life is contagious and spending time with them lightens my soul and allows me to treat the world as a playground, if only for a short while. On occasion, their parents entrust them to my care, which is a scary thing. I’m now the grown-up in this scenario. I’m the one who has the responsibility to ensure that nobody comes to any harm. The one that has to maintain discipline. The one who must watch them like a hawk in the play park, so that they don’t fall off the climbing frame or walk in front of a swing, or fall foul of any of the other heart-in-mouth horrors that play parks present to adults. I need to make sure none of the other children pick on them, whilst not being over protective. Sometimes we go out in the car and I think to myself what a precious cargo I’m carrying. I need to take care of them, I need to do the best for them, I need to steer them in the right direction, practically as well as metaphorically. I don’t simply have a responsibility for their physical care. Like their parents, I too have a responsibility for their spiritual wellbeing. This cargo has to be safely guided on its journey through life.

Jesus felt the same way about us. He was concerned that we would be shown the right way. That we would know the path to follow. He was uniquely qualified to demonstrate how to live a life that demonstrated all the good things that I would want to show my grandchildren, but, despite His obvious advantage, He didn’t take that responsibility lightly. He prayed for us and spoke to God, His father, about us. He was concerned that those whom God had entrusted to His care were indeed safe. That none had been lost. That He had set a good example and ensured that those given to Him had been told of God’s goodness and mercy. In the book of John, Chapter 17, we read of Jesus’ prayer, “While I was with them, I protected them…”. He is referring to His disciples, but He goes on, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…”. That’s you and me. This is Jesus telling His father how important we are. Telling God that He has done everything He can to protect His disciples and set them on the right path, asking God that we too, as believers in Him, should be kept safe and confirming that He considers us to be His precious cargo.

Lost At Home- 06/08/20

Have you ever been lost? I don’t mean lost in the sense that you can’t find Primark, I mean really lost. You had agreed to meet friends in a strange city abroad for an evening out and no matter how many twists and turns you make, you simply can’t find the restaurant. The locals don’t speak English and your knowledge of Urdu is nonexistent, and just to make it interesting, it’s getting dark and your phone is dead. The sense of loneliness and vulnerability can be terrifying. I was lost in Munich one night when I was separated from the man who knew where we were going. I had no idea when we were supposed to meet the coach, and where it would be parked. This was before mobile phones and I was hugely relieved to bump into my friend after two hours wandering the streets.

 I was lost again last week but it was different. How could I be lost in Liverpool when I’ve lived here all my life? I had walked for hours down all the roads and back streets that I was familiar with, but then something strange happened. I stopped in one street to look around and realised that I recognised absolutely nothing. I was surrounded by buildings I had never seen before and shops I’d never heard of. Everything had changed since I was last there. I knew how I had got there of course so I wasn’t lost in a real way but it was quite unsettling.

 Recent months have been uncomfortable for most of us because although we are in our home town, we can feel lost because everything has changed. Life is not the way it used to be, and it may never be quite the same again. Most people I have talked to say they are looking forward to getting back to the Choir or Hub or Shoot etc. We will all feel more at home and safer when we say goodbye to the virus, throw our masks away, and hug each other. But that may be months away yet. Could be next year!

 There are many accounts in the Bible of people who felt lost, lonely, and fearful. King David asked the question, “Where can I go from your presence?” and came to the conclusion that God was always with him wherever he went, so even when David felt lost, God was always there. David also said, “I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me.” So in these days when we might feel lost and isolated, when the changes around us unsettle us, let’s remember that some things are permanent. God said, “I the Lord do not change.” The virus may make us feel vulnerable, but God’s not budging.

A Time To Be Thankful- 05/08/20

Last night I watched in horror as I saw the massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, displayed on the TV. The scale of the explosion was shocking. My chicks dad lives in Beirut with his whole family. Understandably we were in touch straightaway to check how they were. Thankfully they were all ok apart from items in their apartments broken by the massive vibrations of the explosion. They were ok. But many others weren’t. 

I have visited Lebanon several times. It is a stunning country with amazing food, an incredible history and aggressive hospitality!....’you WILL eat more food! It has, in the past suffered badly, and it is suffering badly again! Their economy is disastrous, people are out of work, getting angry, feeling vulnerable and fearing more violence and threat to life. It is heartbreaking to hear. And Lebanon is not the only country like that. People, the world over, are suffering horrendously and have done since before this nightmare virus struck. Corrupt governments, wars, poverty and environmental issues have played havoc with our beautiful world. This was not what God had wanted for us. And it breaks His heart.   

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

When I watched the news unfold last night, it didn’t take me long to realise, all over again, just how much I have to be thankful for. How incredibly privileged I am. This wasn’t a pretence that everything in life was perfect and that I never had bad days and some really tough times. But rather an acknowledgement of all the good that I get to experience and be part of....and my list is endless!  And, ironically, some of the most grateful people I’ve ever met are the ones who’ve suffered the most. I’ve been humbled so much by the poorest of the poor stopping to thank God for the orange they’ve just picked off a tree; by those who’ve experienced loss and tragedy in war speaking of how they knew God was with them through it all; and others who lost everything, and yet praised God. 

These are tough times for us. And the loneliness and illness and heartache and job loss is very real. I miss hugging my family and my friends, I miss the choir, my chicks have missed school (never thought I’d be saying that!!) and we’ve grieved the loss of friends. But I’m choosing to thank God for all the good in my life, much of which can be sadly and all too easily taken for granted. 

I choose today, in these uncertain times, to join with millions of people around the world and echo the words of King David, who also had known struggle, tragedy and loss, 

‘This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it’.

Can I Have a Cup of Tea?- 04/08/20

Working in a hospital A&E department I work with a huge number of other staff. Nurses, Healthcare assistants, doctors, physios, admin staff, and so many more. I love the team; everyone gets on really quite well and there’s a really friendly atmosphere about it. However, as in any job there is bound to be a few individuals who get on your last nerve. I was on a night shift the other week, running around like a crazy woman. Doris needed the commode, Nell needed blood tests taking, everyone needed to have their blood pressures done!

After a hectic few hours of one job after the other I briefly went to the nurse’s station to catch up with the rest of the team to see what task was to be done next. A young doctor who was sitting there said to me “You don’t look busy, can you do me a favour,” at which point I assumed that he needed something doing for a patient, so I agreed. “Can you make me a cup of tea?” he cheekily asked. At first, I laughed because I thought he was joking, but then realised he was serious. I can only assume that he’d seen my uniform realised I wasn’t a fully qualified nurse yet, and also noticed I was younger than him. It is my job to look after my patients, not be a barista to the doctors! Speechless, I made him his tea and then carried on with my patient related jobs. I imagine he just wanted a cup of tea, but by asking me despite it not being my role, it made me feel below him and like a less significant member of staff.

The next night another doctor was on duty assessing the patients. This doctor asked me what my name was, talked to me like an equal, and was really very helpful and friendly. We all actually had laugh at the nurse’s station meaning there was a really great atmosphere for the rest of the shift.

This got me thinking, in the workplace or in life in general you can either work with people or above people. Jesus was the perfect human being; by all means he should have had the right to behave superiorly. Perhaps in a modern-day context you could say, we should always make him the cup of tea. However, the Bible tells us that Jesus used to treat us who sin with respect. He associated himself with the likes of thieves, prostitutes, and murderers. He talked to people rather than down to people.

In John chapter 13 vs 1-17 we can read the story of how Jesus washes his disciple’s feet. The disciples were understandably confused by why Jesus, the perfect human, the son of God, was washing their feet and not the other way around. Jesus said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Jesus demonstrated that just because someone’s job is greater in rank or qualification does not mean they should look down upon their peers. He also demonstrated that to get through to people you must work with them rather than above them, that’s why he had such a significant impact on peoples lives, as he made them feel appreciated and loved!

Talk To Your Bank- 03/08/20

How many times in your life have you woken up in the morning and thought, ‘Oh flip, it’s Monday.’ In normal times (remember ‘normal times’), the weekend was a period of freedom from the boss, unless of course you were the boss. If you had managed to shop at Asda one evening during the week, you were free from the tedium of both employment and shopping for two whole days. Yippee! Time for fishing or golf or football? Or decorating or gardening or car maintenance or children's homework? Sometimes it was (or still is) a relief to get back to work. However you think of work, it happens to be a necessity unless your dad is a millionaire or a gangster, or both. As we progress in years and move from junior school to senior school, then maybe university or a job, we are constantly told by parents and teachers that we need to consider our future career and how to achieve our aims in life. For some young people this is very difficult because they don’t know what they want to do. Often they take a job they never wanted and hate, but they need the money. We all need the money! Maybe you’re past all that and whether you loved or hated your job, it’s now history and you can’t change it.

 When Jesus decided it was time for Him to go walkabout, teaching, preaching, and healing, He wanted helpers, so He started to say to men around Him, “Follow Me.” He asked for no references, no educational certificates, there was no job description, no guaranteed 37 hour week, and no wages! And no prospects! So nobody followed Him. Actually there were so many who wanted to follow Him that He could choose whoever He wanted. He chose a very mixed bunch of men, and off they went. But they always had the choice to go back home, but they never did.

 Today all over the world, even in the UK, men and women are still making the same choice to follow Jesus. It totally transforms their lives, priorities and activities. Many give up their jobs, their prospects, and their safety. They think they have the best job in the world, and they transform other people’s lives. Their reward is not measured in pounds and pennies or a pension. Jesus said to them, “Store your treasures in Heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Countless millions have moved their bank accounts to the Bank of Heaven. Their wages down here may be limited, but the reward waiting for them is outstanding. Talk to your bank, it’s amazing how little they offer.

Reasons for Writing- 02/08/20

This Sunrise is not being written at sunrise, mine never are; and in fact sunrise this morning was at 5.30am. I’m in no condition to write anything at that time, and if I tried you would be reading gobbledegook now. We all have our own daily routines and trying to impose them onto someone else will probably end in disaster. There must be someone out there reading this who is quite happy to write their thoughts in the middle of the night. That’s not me. I try to write my thoughts down in an understandable way. You may not agree with me but at least you can work out what I’m saying. So often what we write is conditioned by the events of the day or the week. On Thursday this week, I walked around Liverpool for five hours and didn’t go in a single shop! How many of you could or would do that? I was physically very tired. On Friday a group of us said goodbye to a dearly loved friend and the strain was more emotional than physical. So what shall I write at the end of this demanding week, and perhaps more importantly, why?

 Some of the Bible writers talked about their reasons for writing. The apostle John wrote, “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” And at the end of his account of the life of Jesus he says that he has written so that, “you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through your faith in Him you may have life.” Great words. Great reasons.

 So at the end of an eventful week with its ups and downs, joys and sadnesses, what should I write and why? I think I would like to tell you that however you feel at the end of a week and at the beginning of a new one, Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust also in me.” And my reason for writing these words to you is that you might have the same peace as I do, not because I’m a good boy, but because God is a good God.

 It’s Sunday morning, have a great day and week, remember who you can trust.

The Heart of the Matter- 01/08/20

Yesterday I ventured out into Liverpool for the first time since lock-down.  Everything looked the same as it had before the only noticeable differences were the arrows and signs stuck to the ground telling everyone to keep to the left (which everyone seemed to go out of their way to ignore!) and all of the masked faces.  Apart from a minority of people who, for whatever reason, weren’t wearing a mask, most people were being compliant and dutifully donned their mask.  Some masks were of the disposable variety while others were colourful or patterned.  Some were made from scarves which were simply pulled up over their noses while others looked like someone had been creative with an old pair of curtains.  The range was huge from the purely practical to the more decorative fashion accessory but all had the same result – they covered a large proportion of people’s faces leaving only their eyes visible.   

What was particularly interesting was how much expression was lost when two thirds of a face is hidden.  We use our faces to express so much without words – a smile of appreciation, a lip being chewed in anxiety or the wrinkling of a nose in disgust.  So much of our expression has been lost simply because we must cover a large portion of our faces.  It took me a while to realise that if I smiled at someone who stepped aside to let me pass, they didn’t know that I was smiling. 

It took so much more effort to look, really look, at people’s eyes to try and read what their face was saying.  To listen carefully to their words and tone of their voices to understand the meaning of what was being said.  It has suddenly become so much harder to try and comprehend the nature of any particular interaction with someone because our eyes don’t tell us everything we need to know.

The Bible tells us of a story of a man who did try to use his eyes to judge someone but God stepped in to say that’s not enough.  God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint the next king of Israel after King Saul had made a really bad job of it.  He sent him to a man called Jesse who had 8 sons – each son in turn came before Samuel each one big and strong and capable and each time Samuel thought “this must be the one”, but each time God said “not this one”.  Samuel could see only with his eyes but God could see so much more.  “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  Finally, only the youngest son was left and when he was brought before Samuel, God said “he is the one.” 

King David became the greatest king that Israel ever had; not perfect, he made many mistakes, but his heart always turned back to God.  God saw beyond his youth and his inexperience and saw his heart and his potential.

We may be struggling to read the faces of the people around us but no mask can ever hide someone’s heart from God.  Whether the wearing of a mask is causing you frustration because you can’t read people’s faces or whether you enjoy hiding behind your mask in the knowledge that people can’t read yours – let’s remember that God sees beyond our outward mask to the heart and potential of each of us.  Let’s get our hearts right with God.

© 2016 - 2019 by Melling Baptist Community Hub

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