'Courage' - 21/01/21
‘Real Courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin it anyway and see it through no matter what.’
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.
To kill a mockingbird is a fictional story set in 1930’s America, when a black man (Tom) is wrongly accused and stands trial for the rape of a white woman. Although innocent, because of the racial tensions and segregation, he is convicted, and the white people who support him are shunned by the townspeople.
This is truly a story of people fighting against all the odds. Standing up for someone who has no rights, even though the chances of success were extremely slim, is very courageous indeed. It draws desperately sad parallels with the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests in 2020, and the fight for racial equality that continues today.
In the bible, Moses started his journey to freedom with very similar chances of success when God gave him a seemingly impossible task. In Exodus 3:7 and 10, God says this to Moses:
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Now Moses, realising how impossible this task seemed (Pharaoh was not just going to let his slaves go free!), tried everything to get out of this task, but in the end, he followed God and through Gods strength and power the Israelites were freed from their slavery.
A seemingly impossible task, but nothing is impossible with God.
Throughout the bible, God champions the cause of the poor, the wrongfully treated, and the marginalised.
Throughout history, Christians have followed the example of their loving God and stood up for causes which at the beginning, must have seemed hopeless, but ended up changing the world for the better.
William Wilberforce, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are just a few people whose faith inspired them to stand up and campaign for Justice and for those who could not fight for themselves.
Sometimes it can feel like a seemingly impossible task to stand up for what is right; to make a difference in a world that may not want to listen. But today, be courageous, be inspired by Gods love, and be the person who makes a difference. With Gods help we can all have courage like that in To Kill a mockingbird.
'Hungry Like the Wolf' - 20/01/21
‘Seems like all I could see was the struggle,
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past...’
Redeemed - Written and performed by Big Daddy Weave
A grandad once sat down with his young grandson and told him a short story. “Y’know, I have two wolves inside of me and they are fighting each other. One wolf represents greed, anger, unforgiveness, impatience, hatred... The other one represents kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, patience, love…“ The young boy looked at him intently, “Grandad, which wolf is going to win?” His grandad’s answer was short and full of wisdom, “The one I feed is the one that will win”.
Our thoughts and feelings can sometimes become overwhelming. Some days we can have irrational fears, and another day we can have huge regrets. Some of us may live and breathe anger from the moment we wake up each morning. And maybe there is an argument that we had with somebody, possibly years ago, that still plays on our mind and continues to cause negative thoughts and feelings.
Putting it quite simply, we become what we dwell on the most.
That grandad was wise and gave his young grandson a valuable life lesson about feeding wolves!
Paul in the Bible, knew all about negative thoughts. He had once lived with enormous hatred and anger and resentment. Jesus helped him not just turn his thoughts around, but his whole life around. Paul wrote these words,
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”.
Paul achieved more in the years of right thinking than he ever did in the years when his mind was filled with anger and hatred and unforgiveness.
Life is so very short, let’s recognise the wolves inside of us and make sure we feed the right one. Let’s make every day the very best we can.
'Make a U-Turn When Possible' - 19/01/21
Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise you are only fooling yourselves.
James Ch1 v22
Many years ago when I took my driving test there was a section of the test that required you to know your Highway Code. When I say you had to know your Highway Code, I really mean that you had to familiarise yourself with it – just enough so that the driving examiner could wave a few flashcards at you and you could tell them what you thought they meant. How times have changed! When my daughter took her driving test, she had to do a separate theory test before they would even allow her to take her practical test. She had to study the Highway Code in quite some detail before sitting her test. While revising she would often ask me what various signs meant and to my shame I often couldn’t tell her the answer!
To have access to the Highway Code but not understand it or follow the instructions makes it a fairly useless tool and potentially puts the driver and those around them in harm’s way. I could study and know my Highway Code inside out but if I then actively choose to ignore the rules of the road, what’s the point? It exists for my benefit and for the benefit of those around me but I need to put it into action.
In the same way, if we read or hear God’s word and then choose to do nothing with that – what has been the point? Nothing has changed. We need to listen for God’s voice whether that is through the Bible or through those he has placed around us and then we need to do what it says – then everything can change.
I am hopeless when it comes to directions and depend quite heavily on my trusty SatNav. She works very hard at finding the best way for me to go, mapping the journey out and calling out timely instructions to me. If I take a wrong turn she calmly advises me to make a U-turn when possible or finds another route to the same destination. It is pointless if I enter the postcode for my destination but then refuse to follow the instructions – who knows where I would end up! I need to listen for her voice, follow the advice she gives and trust that she understands the map much better than I do. In God’s own words “For I know the plans I have for you” says the Lord, “plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope”. Let’s listen out for God’s voice and then let’s follow his instruction, after all, he’s the one holding the map.
'Such a Little Space' - 18/01/21
The average human brain is about six inches long (Einstein’s was slightly smaller but bits of it were bigger than average), but look what it can do. We are currently witnessing the battle between Covid-19 and science and it looks like science may win, watch this space. We have satellites 200 miles above the earth yelling at me if I miss my roundabout exit; we have nuclear energy and we get power from wind and waves. Scientists know what’s at the bottom of the ocean and under the icecap. You can add to this list many more examples of how mankind has used this astonishing piece of equipment tucked away in our heads. Go on Google and look at buildings around the world; if you’re like me you will be constantly stunned at what goes on inside our skulls. Have you noticed how many quiz programmes there are on TV? We started counting and reached 15; such a need for knowledge! We even have two Melling quizzes each week. And there’s no escape for young people today, despite Covid they study online at home, and many parents are having to dust off their mental cobwebs to involve themselves in home schooling. Our children know so much more than their parents did at the same age. Don’t mention grandparents!
But sometimes we can see gaps in people’s education; there’s often a lack of respect and manners when shopping, a definite lack of verbal restraint at sports events, and if there’s a Bible question in one of the many quizzes, the almost total lack of knowledge is sometimes shocking to us. The Bible says a lot about wisdom and knowledge, it tells us to, ‘Respect and obey the Lord! This is the beginning of knowledge.’ The most important lesson in life that we can learn is that God should be our teacher. And we should pay attention. We all know don’t we that while knowledge can be a good thing, it can be damaging to a person and there’s something more important than cleverness, ‘Knowledge makes us proud of ourselves, while love makes us helpful to others.’ While knowledge is great if handled properly, we should always have a sense of perspective, God says to us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Let’s see if we can squeeze into our little brains the truth that God’s is bigger.
'Everywhere' - 17/01/21
There is a Fleetwood Mac song called ‘Everywhere’. The lyrics are a little repetitive and seem to say “I want to be with you everywhere” rather a lot; you could even say that the writer is being a little obsessive !
In Celtic Prayer there is a lot of stress on God being with us in the ordinary. Another line from the Hymn ‘Be thou my vision’ is this: “I ever with thee and Thou with me Lord…”. Whether we want Him or not, Jesus is with us. However, that is not enough. He wants us to be with Him, to notice Him, to invite Him into our ordinary spaces, the dinner table, the washing up, our lockdown walks, our everyday chats. In the New Testament we read of Jesus often turning up in unexpected places and ways. If we do not see Jesus, is it because we are not expecting to? Maybe we need to go back to our Christmas readings as a reminder.
Matthew 1 verse 23:
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When He is with us, the common, every day ordinary stuff of life is given great significance simply because He is there…even in lockdown.
'Bring Me Sunshine' - 16/01/21
The news can often be a bit depressing, can’t it! When we spend time relaxing, we may try to be uplifted by documentaries about how people overcame something in their lives, or try to distract ourselves watching something fictional, a romantic drama or a murder mystery or an action film. Sometimes , and I think more so lately, the news try to provide uplifting news stories to encourage us and spur us into action. Recently, there have been a few key stories of people shared to encourage us, Sir Captain Tom probably the biggest. Mostly, these people are not doing these things to make news or to grab attention and be on the telly, they simply decided to do something positive to help others. It was not selfish or motivated by greed or desire, just to help someone else.
It is very often the case, that when you do something uplifting for others it helps you feel good too. Laughter can be infectious, a smile can be infectious, kindness can be infectious, love can be infectious.
I have long been a fan of Laurel and Hardy, and their friendship went through troubles on and off screen. But they remained friends through it all. They brought laughter to each other and to others. There are some scenes where Stan will start to laugh and it becomes infectious to the whole group.
Morecambe and Wise are known for their song,
Bring me sunshine
In your smile
Bring me laughter
All the while
In this world where we live
There should be more happiness
So much joy you can give
To each brand new bright tomorrow
During these times when we are fed up with the news, fed up with people greedy for power or self promotion, when we hear talk on the TV of how the virus is impacting our families, friends, communities; think of how we can be a positive infection, can we be a positive distraction for someone else.
The bible encourages us to love each other in the same way that Jesus loves us. In Romans 15, the Christians were given this message:
'Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status.' Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”
That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.
So let’s help each other out, put a smile on each other’s face. I always finish a MBCH zoom call with a smile on my face, let’s see how infectious we can be with our love for each other and a smile.
'Building' - 15/01/21
We are living in strange and uncertain times. The Coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of abating and the virus has changed its behaviour; which means that we must change ours if we are to remain safe. We are getting used to making adjustments. We have modified how we do almost everything in order to adjust to our new circumstances. We are adept at wearing masks, keeping our distance, washing our hands and interacting virtually. We have made the required changes to conform to the revised standards of our society.
But, I’m going to suggest that we have done more than that… much more. Here in Melling, we have built a community. Now, that is not to suggest that a community didn’t already exist – after all, you are reading this message on the Melling Baptist Community Hub website; the clue is in the title! What we have done is to build upon the foundations that existed. We have changed our behaviour to adjust to the situation we found ourselves in and adapted and expanded our community to ensure that none of its existing members were left behind and that we remained open to any who might wish to find a home within our ranks. It is, I believe, a model to which any society should aspire and you can be proud of whatever part you have played in its development.
We are not the first. The early Christian church was very similar. We read in the book of Acts how this group of like-minded believers built their community. The book of Acts is more properly called the book of The Acts of the Apostles. It tells of what they did; what actions they took. It speaks of how they built the early Christian church, but it doesn’t speak of bricks and mortar, it speaks of community. They too lived in strange and uncertain times. They too had witnessed an event that would change their world forever. They too needed to adjust their behaviour to address this new reality. The event they witnessed brought about the greatest change to society that the world has ever seen – you need only to look at your calendar to realise that this was the event from which all human history is now measured.
What did they do to cope with it all? They built upon their existing foundations whilst embracing the change. They ensured that nobody was left behind and newcomers were welcomed. They looked after each other. They cared for one another. They looked first to God for guidance and they lived out Jesus’ teachings to love God and their neighbours.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
They built a community. Today we call it a church.
'Choose Happiness' - 14/01/21
‘I would always rather be Happy than Dignified’
Jane Eyre, from the book Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre is the story of a woman’s journey through life, dealing with struggles in a 19th century society that insists that women behave in a certain way. In fact, the author Charlotte Bronte originally published the book under a male pseudonym, as writing was not one of the professions deemed suitable for a woman!
This quote reminds me of a man running. This may seem strange, but in the bible, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. The son takes his inheritance and heads for the high life, but his father, deeply shamed by this, still waits and watched for his son to return. When his son finally comes home, in a mess, with his money and friends gone, to beg his father’s forgiveness, his father responds in this way, in Luke 15:20
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."
Now in Jewish Society, older men did not run. It was considered undignified, and not appropriate for older men to run in public. It would have brought shame on the family, and the neighbours would have talked. The father in this story didn’t care about that. He chose to love his son above all, despite all that he had done, he was just so happy to have him home.
Jane Eyre cared more about her happiness than following social convention, just like the father in the prodigal son. Jesus explained that God is just like this father, he would choose love over dignity every time so that we could get to know him better. Jesus died an undignified brutal death so that we could have a way back to God. He chose love and happiness over dignity as well.
We may also have done some pretty daft things this year for love or happiness. We may have sat in five layers of clothing in a cold garden or park to see our friends. We may have chosen to go for rain walks to see family rather than sat inside with a nice cup of tea, something we wouldn’t have dreamt of doing a year ago!
So, let’s choose love and happiness first, and follow the example of Jane Eyre, the father of the prodigal son, and God himself, lets love each other and God, and not worry too much about being dignified!
'You Can Count on Me' - 13/01/21
The wonderful upbeat song, ‘Count on Me’ by Bruno Mars, is full of encouragement and promises to ‘his friends’ that in the most difficult of times he will be there for them. ‘You can count on me, like one, two, three, I’ll be there.....coz that’s what friends are supposed to do....’ And he goes on to stress that he can count on them to do exactly the same for him. It’s a lovely, positive song that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy!! But can we really sing those words and mean them? Can we really be counted on to ‘be there’ to encourage and support? Or can we be counted on to not encourage, to complain, to always find fault?.....
I once knew somebody who I could count on to criticise pretty much everything I said and did. Not once would I get a call from them to just ask me how I was, or to give me a tiny word of encouragement. But I would get phone calls and knocks on the door to criticise the way I’d said something, with instructions for what I should do next time. Their ‘need’ to continually tell me how I’d got it wrong was really hard work.
We all make mistakes. I make many! And we all need encouragement and to know who is there for us.
At this particular time there’s a lot of mixed emotions! Laughter and fun, chaos and noise, loneliness and deafening silence, anxiety and stress, short tempers and boredom, irrational behaviour and definitely heightened frustrations. Each day brings its own set of challenges to each one of us. How are we going to respond to eachother? We all have our bad days, that’s when we need to know we can count on others to encourage, support and be a friend.
The Bible has heaps to say about how we should treat one another, ‘bear one another’s burdens’, ‘encourage eachother’, ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep’, ‘do for others as you would have them do for you’......
How amazing it would be if we can all allow for each others mistakes and encourage eachother with kind words, forgiveness, support and understanding. And let’s thank God that despite our mistakes and bad moods and frustrations, each and every day He says, ‘You can count on me, I’ll be there for you’.
I'm All Ears - 12/01/21
You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.
James Ch1 v19-20
How many times have you been having a discussion with someone and you’ve heard yourself say something that you immediately regret? Please tell me it’s not just me that’s done that! The livelier the debate the more likely we are to start saying things that are perhaps unfounded or even just plain mean and even if we regret our words immediately, they’ve still been said and those words can live long in the memory of those who heard them.
When James wrote this advice you could argue that life was somewhat simpler – he was talking about those physical interac
tions that we have with one another. The conversations that were shared in person which, on occasions, could lead to disagreement and cruel words being said. Bring that up to the present day and you have to include those things that are said on social media, text messages or even phone conversations. All of a sudden we are given a voice without the need to look anyone in the eye when we speak - we can’t see the misunderstanding we have created or the hurt we have caused. We suddenly find ourselves with a voice that doesn’t need to pause to hear a reply and sometimes this can be used to purposely incite hurt and pain. Ask the many teenagers who have been on the receiving end of cyberbullying or watch the news to discover how a relentless voice can be given undeserved authority to incite anger in others.
How valuable a lesson it is to learn how to pause before we speak and pause before we press ‘send’. Have we stopped to listen – and not just listen, but to understand the opinions and views of those around us? Will our words improve someone’s day?
Ghandi put it like this, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence”. In other words if you’ve paused and thought about you words and feel that they still need saying, then that is the time to speak. There are injustices that sometimes require our anger in order to change things for good but that should never be a heated anger driven by the need to prove ourselves right, but only ever a measured anger to speak out against injustice and for those that cannot speak for themselves.
Let’s set our children and grandchildren an example – not one that says we all have the right to have our say regardless of hurt or consequences, but one that asks: is this kind? Is this helpful? Is this the justice that God desires?
Planting Trees - 11/01/21
Let me introduce you to Jadav Payeng. He lives in Assam, India. The discovery of dead snakes on the sandy banks of the Brahmaputra River’s Majuli Island transformed his life and the island. In 1979 when he was 16, as he walked along the island’s barren soil, he came across a number of snakes that had died there. He realised why they were there and why they died. In the recent floods these snakes had been washed up onto the neglected coastline and had died in the heat of the day due to the lack of shade on the island. He was very moved by their suffering and death and at the age of 16 he decided to dedicate his life to transforming this river island. How would you do this? Maybe apply for a grant from the local authority or start a fundraising campaign on Twitter? The local authority had ‘better’ things to do and Twitter didn’t exist in 1979. We’ve been thinking about making resolutions in recent days haven’t we, but I don’t think we would have gone along with Jadav’s decision. His master plan was to plant a sapling in the sandy soil every day. I know what you’re thinking; ‘That’s not going to make much difference to the land or the snakes.’ Wrong!!! Today after forty years of planting every day, there is a lush 550 hectare woodland. But more than that, it attracts elephants, rhinos, deer, vultures, Bengal tigers, and of course, snakes. Jadav says he didn’t do it all alone, he explained that, ”If you plant a few trees they eventually seed and the wind knows how to plant them and the birds know where to sow them.” He is now known as The Forest Man of India.
What’s this got to do with us in Melling? Surely it tells us that great things can start tiny, remember little acorns and big oak trees! The Bible is full of examples of individuals who achieved amazing things. Noah built an ark, Abraham started a nation, Moses led two million people to safety and Jesus has transformed the lives and futures of thousands of millions across the world. We are only a small group of people but we are planting with God’s help. Let’s believe that we can achieve great things if we imitate the birds and the wind in India and all make a contribution.
Jesus told His followers, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” Let’s continue planting trees in Melling and give God the glory.
What are You Thinking About? - 10/1/21
Every 4 years in January, Celtic Prayer will focus on the words of the hymn, ’Be Thou My Vision’. One of the lines in the first verse of that hymn is:” Thou my best thought…”
When we wake up in the morning (and often in the night) our first thoughts can be a complete jumble of worries, questions, to do lists, guilt, sadness, joy and even anger. Amund Karner wrote that when we turn our thoughts to Christ, “ it is as if the conductor takes his place at the rostrum: all the discordant sound, the tuning up & fidgeting, turns to silence;& then a melody, a full bodied score in many parts comes & replaces the chaos and confusion.”
Somehow, God is able to put all the messed up, muddled up thoughts into their rightful place. The mountains can become molehills again. Perspective returns. Hope peers over the windowsill and into our mind.
Philippians 4 , verses 6-9 puts it like this: “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.Summing it all up, friends, I’d say 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 things to curse.
Be thou my best thought in the day and the night
Waking or sleeping
Thy presence my light.
Powerless... or are we? - 9/1/21
Our current situation can sometimes bring us to feeling powerless to deal with what is happening around us. The pandemic is happening all around the world and we are having to live through many restrictions on what we can do and who we can see. The transition of power in the USA has seen unprecedented scenes this week with many anxious about what may happen in the coming weeks. Sometimes the events unfolding around us can feel overwhelming; the depth of what is happening can sometimes feel enormous; we don’t feel we have the ability to deal with the emotions or actions of those around us. Sometimes, these things are not something we can easily do anything about and we can focus on what we can do.
We can all do something if we focus on the areas we can affect. It’s our actions that we can control, it’s our response that we can control, we can affect or impact those around us that we can reach out to.
There is a story I often recall about a boy walking along a beach where thousands of starfish had been washed up during a storm. As the boy walked, he would pause to pick up a starfish to throw it back into the sea. A man approached and asked, “What are you doing? There are thousands of starfish washed up! You can’t save them all”. The boy picked up another single starfish, looked at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference for that one!”
The actions we take can influence those around us, even if it is only with a few people, “receive an act of kindness, pass it on”. There will have been many people in our lives who have had positive influence on our lives and how we behave. We may not remember their name, but we remember the act, we remember the kindness.
The early church believers needed encouragement and the Christian Jews were sent these words of encouragement in Hebrews 10v24-25
"Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. Let us not give up the habit of meeting together. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more"
As we continue our journey in the coming weeks, lets remember that the simple acts of kindness and love that we can offer to others may seem a small thing to us, but to those who receive it, it can mean the world. Don’t feel overwhelmed, there are individuals around you who are ready to help.
Today - 8/1/21
So, the first week of 2021 is behind us. How are your New Year’s resolutions coming along? I can honestly say that I have never broken a New Year’s resolution. How can I be so confident in that assertion? Well, quite simply, because I have never made one. I don’t see the point.
From what I can tell, every New Year’s resolution is an attempt to improve ourselves. An attempt to lose weight, or take more exercise, or be more patient with people, or eat more healthily, or drink less alcohol, or to make more time for others etc. etc. In short, an attempt to be a better person.
If that’s the case, then why do we wait for New Year’s day? Surely we want to be a better person now! Why wait for some arbitrary date to get our act together? How many people do you know who fail to maintain their annual good intentions within a few weeks of January 1st and therefore give up, because it was a New Year's resolution, so it doesn’t count now that February has arrived? What will they do now? Presumably wait eleven months and give it another go.
Now if you are reading this on the 8th January having already eaten the chocolate you promised to forgo back on New Year’s Day, don’t feel bad. This little missive is not intended to make you feel guilty. It’s intended to point out the folly of pinning everything on one attempt and to suggest that you have a second chance. Okay, so today you didn’t stick to the energy bars and whey protein shakes and you sneaked in a round of toast. Tomorrow you can start again!
The trick is to be honest with ourselves. No matter what the date is, today is the day that we can make a change for the better. Today is the day that we can do the thing that we feel we should do, or stop doing the thing that we know we shouldn’t. If you know the right thing to do, then do it. It doesn’t matter that you meant to do it yesterday, but didn’t get round to it. Do it today.
Every day is a new day. Every day we are faced with an opportunity to do better. Every day we have a God who offers us a second chance. A God who is happy to forgive our shortcomings of yesterday. A God who offers us a fresh start today. Let’s take Him up on the offer and start again.
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Small Acts - 7/1/21
‘Some believe that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love’.
Gandalf, The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
This quote from the hobbit is a wonderful reminder that each one of us has a part to play in supporting and loving one another, and how important that is.
In the book The Hobbit, these words are spoken by the wizard Gandalf just before he, a hobbit and a company of 13 dwarves are setting off to embark on a great journey to slay a dragon and claim back a mountain which is the homeland of the dwarves. It’s a huge endeavour. But despite all the adventures that happen in this book, what enables them to succeed in their quest is how the group of adventurers love each other and take care of each other. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have got very far at all. The small everyday acts of love and kindness was what kept hope alive, and enabled the group to persevere, and complete the task set ahead of them.
Now it is unlikely that we will be asked to slay a dragon today, but we are at the beginning of another national lockdown. The world around us can indeed seem very dark at the moment. The road towards the lifting of restrictions can seem a long way off. But we can all give each other hope, by loving each other, caring for each other, looking out for each other. A phone call, a smile, a caring text, a bag of shopping are all ordinary everyday things, but they can mean such a lot to people.
Jesus knew how important it was to love and support one another. He often spoke to his disciples about this. In John 13:34-35, during the last supper, the last meal he had before he was arrested, Jesus said “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
So, whatever we are doing today, lets love each other with simple ordinary acts of kindness, and keep the darkness at bay.
Mother Teresa puts it like this ‘not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love’.
I love a lot of styles of music. I’ve mentioned before about our lively, noisy household with music coming from every corner. But when it comes to songs that instantly make me want to get up and dance, that’s quite a specific selection! One such song is ‘Islands in the Stream’, the hit single for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers in 1982. The song is a catchy, love song with a country feel! Clearly written by seasoned country singers! WRONG! It was actually written by the BeeGees. Up until 1979 the BeeGees were hugely popular across the States. It would seem that things couldn’t get better for them...but they could get worse! Due to a turn of events in 1979, disco music became the music to despise, and the BeeGees became caught up in a national ‘disco revolt’ which resulted in none of their music being played on radio stations. Their success was coming to an end in quite a cruel, deliberate way. After a few years of having no music and few loyal fans, they were approached and asked about writing music for other artists to perform. And the rest, as they say, is history! To this day the BeeGees are known more for their songwriting abilities than their own performances. Who’d have thought that out of such a difficult and upsetting time would come something better than before?
When we first went in to lockdown there was the temptation to see only the negative, to see only what we had taken from us. And let’s be honest, it has been so very, very difficult for some people in particular who have lost so much during this time. But here we are now, almost ten months later, and maybe, just maybe, we have gained things that we may not have done, had we not been through this tough time? Friendships have been strengthened. We’ve taken the time to get to know one another better. Neighbours are looking out for eachother. Families have had to slow down and spend more time with eachother. Dare I say, for many of us, our priorities have changed for the better?
There isn’t one person I know who has welcomed and enjoyed this tough time. The BeeGees certainly didn’t enjoy their years when they were stopped from performing. But out of bad times can come good, can come blessings.
I can’t wait to meet up with our family, friends and whole community again, to come out of this tough time. But I thank God for the lessons learnt and the community of people who have joined forces to bring good out of such dark days.
Paul in the Bible knew all about the toughest of times but he also knew that he needed to thank God and recognise the good in those around. He wrote, ‘Therefore encourage one another and build eachother up, just as you are doing’. Let’s head in to our day, acknowledging the tough time but seeking the good that we will go on to remember and be grateful in much brighter days.
The Gift and the Giver - 5/1/21
Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.
James Ch1 v17
Over the coming weeks, our Tuesday Sunrise will come from the book of James. If you get chance to read this book in its entirety, do so, it is an incredible guide to how to live life well – not how to make life easy, but how to live well.
Like me, I’m sure you received some lovely gifts for Christmas. Some gifts were practical items that I had possibly happened to mention in a timely fashion that I needed, others were maybe not so useful but particularly beautiful – all, however, are treasured because of the givers. But Christmas is over now for another year and homes have been found for the new items and what is ahead of us are the cold, dark days of January. This can be a difficult time for many people when the bright and colourful lights of Christmas have been put away and the warmth of the spring sunshine seems so far away. However, when we take the time to stop, there are gifts to be found every day – the beauty of frost on a leaf or dew on a spider’s web; the snow drops beginning to poke their heads above the ground; the infectious sound of a child laughing or a friend calling us to see how we’re doing. These are just some of the perfect gifts which can’t be bought and wrapped up but are given to us by God to remind us that he’s still there, he’s still with us as we face the challenges of the day. God doesn’t hibernate for winter or fall asleep beside the fire, he remains beside us watching over us and sends us these little reminders of his presence.
Of course, having just celebrated Christmas we can’t talk about gifts without mentioning the ultimate and perfect gift that God sent in the form of a baby. A new baby is always a gift but this baby brought us the gift of love, peace, joy, hope and new life for us all. It was a gift like no other and one which can’t be replicated or bought but one which is offered to everyone regardless of social or financial standing, education or age.
Gifts are made special by the giver and the giver of that amazing baby that first Christmas is the same giver of the sunshine and the rain, the same giver who puts the warmth into a hug and the joy into friendship. Let’s try and take a little time to pause today and actively look for the gifts around us that remind us that God is still with us and let’s treasure those gifts because we know the giver.
Who Needs Cheese? - 4/1/21
What makes you smile? Maybe a kitten half way up your curtains, or the wisdom of a five year old, or your old bike repaired and ready for the road, or a football result, or Strictly. Smiles come from different directions and for different reasons. Something that amuses or pleases you may leave me unmoved or even baffled. Smiles are often our response to good news or the removal of stress. Looking back over 2020 there must have been many reasons for smiles despite the obvious turmoil and tribulation. Ask yourself what caused your ten biggest smiles last year, it will cheer you up instantly and will probably surprise you to find out how many there are to choose from. Try it now with a cup of coffee and you can come back to Sunrise in a few hours, it could take that long. And you will feel great!
People seem to think that the Bible is a serious and forbidding book without any light relief but just imagine that amazing night when people surrounded the house where Jesus was and He healed every sick person who was brought to Him. Can you see the look on Joseph’s face when he was reunited with his brothers? And the smile of relief as Mary gave birth to Jesus, and the smile of total joy lighting up her face and wiping away her tears on Resurrection Morning.
Solomon wrote, ‘A happy heart makes the face cheerful.’ Pro 15.13
The Bible is full of smiles and full of reasons to smile. We read that God loves everyone in the world without exception. We are told that Jesus is preparing a place for those who love Him. We discover that God is always present with those who wish Him to be, David wrote, ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil because You are with me.’ St. Paul talked about a person being led by God’s Spirit and the difference it made, ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.’ If we see these characteristics in a person it will cause us to smile, and if someone sees them in us, then we are responsible for putting a smile on their face. How good is that? So next time you are having your photograph taken, think of God’s goodness and you will smile without having to say “Cheese.”
If you asked me to build you a boat I’m afraid I think you would be very likely to sink. If you asked me to design you a house you would be wise to keep your hard hat on as bits of it would be likely to come down on your head! If you asked me to explain the quantum mechanics of x-rays you would probably have to wake me up because I’d drifted off after ‘quantum’! There are so many things that I just can’t do. Some of them are things that I would love to learn to do such as play a musical instrument or cut my own hair (handy right now!) but there are also many things that just don’t really interest me like fixing the car when it breaks down or understanding gravity.
Don’t misunderstand me, it isn’t that I don’t place a value on those things - when my car breaks down I really appreciate the person that is able to fix it and I definitely appreciate gravity, it’s just that my gifts lie elsewhere. I can organise things really well; I can bake a decent cake and I’ve learned how to knit a tea cosy – I may not be in the running for a Nobel prize but in my small corner of the world, there are things that I can contribute. There are things that we can ALL do well - but thankfully, they’re just not all the same things.
Somebody once said “Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.” If you put me in a room full of scientists discussing how to create a vaccination for Covid-19 I would feel incredibly stupid but if you asked the same room full of scientists to make a gingerbread man with a ‘snap’ that was the envy of Mary Berry, then I might suddenly be in the running!
God created each one of us different, not some better than others, just different, so that we ALL have something to offer. The Bible puts it this way: “Be generous with the different gifts God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.”
Let’s share our gifts generously with one another giving freely from our strengths and receiving humbly in our weaknesses.
And if you want to know who said that we are all genius’ – it was Albert Einstein! So from one genius to another Albert, you keep an eye of gravity – I’m off to bake a cake!
I’m quite sad this morning; I watched some of the remembrance services on TV during this weekend and I became very conscious of the medals on show. All sorts of people seem to have them; obviously there are many veterans and members of today’s armed forces, police officers and fire brigade staff; I noticed politicians displaying medals on their duffle coats and there were many others. Some just have two or three but some individuals have a whole row of them. I counted fourteen on one man’s chest and I found myself wondering if he could remember what they were all for. So why am I sad? Because I haven’t got one, not one, and I want one. I was too young to be in the last war and I am too old if there’s ever another one, so my chances of being presented with a medal are tiny. I’ve had badges of course; my first one was to tell the world that I was a member of the Junior Magicians Club of Great Britain, but they never gave me a medal. I studied photography in Manchester for four years and gained the appropriate certificates but no medal. I belonged to an international business association and had a lovely metal badge that I still have, but it’s not a medal. I am doomed to be medalless in my life.
Looking at all these people displaying their history and achievements, I began to think of those twelve men who chose to follow Jesus no matter where it led. Jesus did warn them, “If the world hates you, remember it hated me first.” For most of them it led to their violent deaths without even one medal between them. Maybe I’ve got it wrong; could it be that medals are OK but there are other ways for courage and compassion to be rewarded? It’s unlikely that we will ever see a Melling Medal for services to the Community, but that’s OK because the gratitude of people who are helped is much more valuable. It’s not restricted to one day a year and you’re not going to lose it because you have forgotten where you put it. In his life the Apostle Paul was beaten and whipped, thrown into prison and out of cities, sent to Rome for execution and he never saw a medal. It didn’t seem to bother him; he said, “I have fought well, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. So a crown will be given to me for pleasing the Lord. He judges fairly, and on the Day of Judgment He will give a crown to me and to everyone else who wants Him to appear with power.” Hmm, a medal or a crown, that’s difficult, not many people will get one of those but we will if we can say with Paul, “I have kept the faith.”
Today is special; it’s the day when congregations either in churches or on Zoom, and many others around the country, will stop talking for two minutes. That’s quite an achievement for some people, but the silence is important and we need the peace to express what words can’t.
On Remembrance Sunday we are invited to look back in sadness but with gratitude as we consider the sacrifices made by men and women in wartime to protect our nation and provide safety for subsequent generations. It will be different to all previous years of course because although our brave forces protected us from invasion, nobody could protect the UK from the invisible invasion of Covid-19. But we will remember all those who fought on our behalf; for some people it will be very personal because they lost a friend or a family member but most of us have been excused that level of regret. In addition to looking back, this special day encourages us to look around our nation and celebrate how fortunate we are because of battles fought and won. Many people around the world wish that they lived where we do. Having looked back and around, we can also look forward with a measure of hope and anticipation. Covid-19 and Brexit will leave us with significant financial issues and possibly political consequences, but most of us will still be able to work or enjoy our retirement in safety.
God often told the Israelites not to forget what He had done for them in the past, ‘Be careful that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ You would think they would always remember that but we read, ‘But they forgot the Lord their God.’ Some time later, David gave himself good advice, ‘Praise the Lord my soul, and forget not all His benefits.’ On this special day when we rightly remember the sacrifices of brave men and women, let’s also remember that many of our blessings come from our God who said this, ‘Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart you rebels....I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me.’
So let’s look back, let’s look around, let’s look forward, but let’s not forget to look up. And remember, every day is special because of our blessings.
This past week it has been almost impossible to avoid the US Presidency elections. For months, in between the relentless news reports about Covid, we’ve been fed all the news on who has said what about who, the arguments, fights, slander and personal attacks, it appears to have just gone on and on. Not to mention President Trump‘s Twitter account!!!! I’ll be completely honest, I am completely confused!! It is absolutely shocking that this most powerful of nations can have such public displays of anger and criticism and personal attacks on others. Not just from leaders but also from the public. I have been reading about the need for security to be massively increased for Joe Biden as the anger and hatred of protesters reaches dangerous levels. This is absolutely outrageous. And let’s be clear, this behaviour is not unique to the United States, it is becoming increasingly common, and accepted, throughout the world.
Last night I watched a recording of George Bush’s speech he gave on the night that Bill Clinton won the election in 1992. President Bush was calm, polite, gracious and encouraging. His views differed with Bill Clinton’s. He stood for different things. But he showed respect, good manners and dare I say there was a sense of admiration and support. It went a long way. Whatever political side people were on, they had to admire how President Bush behaved.
The Bible has a whole lot to say about how we should treat one another!
‘Encourage one another’,
‘Be kind to one another’,
‘Forgive one another’,
‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear’,
‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’,
‘Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles’,
‘Let all that you do be done in love’.
There isn’t one person in this world who deserves to be here more than others. We each have gifts, skills, abilities and value. And we have a loving God, who created each one of us and calls us by name. Whatever our colour, race, beliefs, language, job, bank balance, political views and lifestyle choices, we are all part of this great big family called the Human Race. So let us remind ourselves that we all need each other, that we all deserve our place on this planet, we all have gifts that can help and enhance and bless. So let’s choose, every morning when we wake up, to make a difference.
I’ve spent a lot of time at the beach since the Coronavirus pandemic began. It is an open public space and therefore meets the criteria for a place to exercise or enjoy recreation. It’s also a good place to meet up with people, because it’s easy to maintain the social distancing requirements.
More than anything, it’s just a wonderful place to be! It’s different every time. The sea and the sky are constantly changing. Both the weather and the time of day alter the colour palette of the scenery; often with spectacular results. Sometimes you can see as far as the Lake District in one direction and the mountains of Wales in another. On other occasions, the wind, rain, or sea fog are such that you can’t see more than a few yards ahead of you. You can go and watch the hardy souls who regularly swim at high tide – one of whom recently wrote a Sunrise article about her encounter with a seal – you could even join them if you were foolish enough! You can collect shells, fly kites, build sandcastles, or just sit and watch the sunset. Perhaps I’ll see you there one day.
I was recently looking at the shells that had washed ashore on the tide and was reminded of the story of the starfish. It goes something like this.
A man was walking along a beach the morning after a severe storm. The violent waves had brought with them a variety of debris that now littered the sand. In the distance he saw what appeared to be a small boy, frantically running back and forth from the water’s edge. As he got nearer, he could see that this area of the beach was covered in thousands of starfish, abandoned by the previous night’s unusually high tide. It was these starfish that were the focus of the boy’s attention. Again and again the boy collected starfish and ran to the waters’ edge and threw them into the sea. Despite his efforts, the beach was still covered with too many starfish to count. The man approached the boy and asked him what he was doing. The boy explained that if the starfish were not returned to the sea, they would shrivel and die. Feeling sorry for the boy, the man explained that, no matter how hard he tried, he was fighting a losing battle. “There are simply too many… what difference will it make?” he said. The boy looked him directly in the eye, held up a starfish and said, “To this one, it makes a difference”. And the man turned and began to help the boy throw starfish back into the sea.
Sometimes things seem overwhelming; sometimes the task looks too big, but that should not deter us from doing what we can. The Bible has these words to say on the subject; “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act”. We may only be able to do a small thing; we may only be able to help one person, but to that one, it makes a difference.
I Can Do That - 05/11/20
It’s amazing the skills people have that they keep to themselves or never broadcast, not because they are selfish or lazy but just because nobody asks them what they can do. It’s obvious what some people are good at because it is, or was, their job, so we know what a car mechanic or a plumber can do. But we may not realise that the lady who worked in an office for thirty years is a great cook or the man who works in W H Smith’s worked as an electrician for twenty five years before he got bored with his job. It’s interesting that there are all these talents around us not being used. I read somewhere of an organisation set up to encourage people in their community to share their skills. So one lady taught extra maths to the children of a man who agreed to look after her garden, and a single man decorated people’s homes in return for meals; and nobody charged for their services. I read about a man who was in his nineties who knitted woolly hats for homeless people. He had been confined to bed for fifteen years and had made 8,000 hats! He started because he couldn’t go anywhere, so rather than lie in bed and become a liability to society, he looked beyond himself and his circumstances and thought about the needs of others rather than his own.
In our Sunday morning thought on Zoom we are looking at the people Jesus went out of His way to meet because He was aware of their needs and wanted to help. He frequently talked to individuals who nobody else was interested in and made wonderful changes to their situations. We can’t go to the lengths that He went to, dying on a cross, but we are invited to imitate His attitude and look around to see if we can help others, and not get too anxious about our own needs, ‘In your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.’
We are surrounded by people with needs, some of whom we may be able to help, and who knows, there’s probably someone out there who could be helpful for us. The Bible talks about the very early days of Christianity and how everyone worked for the benefit of their community, ’All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. They would sell their property and their possessions and give the money to whoever was in need.’ We don’t need to donate our house but maybe a few hours a week will transform someone’s situation.
Yesterday I braved the supermarket! I hate food shopping at the best of times, but with all of these added restrictions it’s even less fun. People were bustling around, all with masks on and keeping reasonable distance from each other, but there was a sense of urgency in the air. No one was taking their time! Get in! Get out!
I collected my trolley and walked through the doors. Moments later I discovered that I had a rogue trolley! As I went one way it wanted to go the other! It pulled me in directions I didn’t plan on going. (I should be used to this with four daughters and a dog!) I kept tight hold and navigated through the fruit aisle! So far, so good! At one point I audibly congratulated myself on my ‘driving’ skills, much to the amusement of an elderly couple who assumed the roles of ‘supporters’ and cheered me on past the bananas! All was well. I began to relax. ‘I’ve got this trolley under control!’ I thought to myself. As I smiled to myself turning the corner, the trolley gave one great big lunge and headed off towards the cucumbers! With maybe a second to spare I avoided a serious cucumber incident!! I was only in the second aisle and already I sensed a rise in stress and blood pressure! And then I heard it! It wasn’t quiet at all. Raucous in fact! The elderly couple who had been so kind as to cheer me on just a moment earlier where now laughing so hard that I feared they would pass out behind their masks. They wandered over to me with tears streaming down their partially covered cheeks and despite all attempts to compose themselves, they couldn’t. The laughter was infectious. It doesn’t take much to make me giggle...and so we laughed, and we laughed! After what seemed like several minutes, this wonderful couple found the breath to say Thankyou to me. ‘Thankyou? Why are you thanking me?’ They went on to tell me about the struggles they’ve had recently and their desire to see family. They said they were struggling to find the good in their days, something to smile about. Until now. Our chat was brief, and beautiful. They went on their way with their well behaved trolley, still chuckling and smiling and enjoying. I spoke to my ‘teenage’ trolley sternly and then it dragged me off in another direction.
Life is really tough at the moment, for many. Some suffering far more than others. But laughter truly is an incredible medicine, even if it provides you with just a few moments of distraction! Give me a wayward trolley and a shelf full of cucumbers any day if helps somebody laugh.
The Bible says,
‘Happiness and laughter are great medicine’.
In these uncertain, difficult days, let’s keep trying to find little things, daft things, to laugh about. We all need that good medicine.
I will never forget the occasion when, on a wavy swim at Formby, I came face to face with a seal. The waves were a little bit like a gentle roller coaster so that as you swam over one, you could not see what was on the other side as you swam down it. I swam up and over and on the other side of this wave was a seal. Not sure who was most surprised-him or me but suffice to say, we both swam quickly in the other direction.
In Celtic spirituality questioning when facing the unknown is encouraged. Not knowing what is around the corner can be a time when we really begin to grow spiritually. It is sometimes, one writer says, that “… when we dare to peer into the unknown that we find God peering back at us.”
The times ahead may be unknown. We may be questioning what God is up to. It may feel like swimming over a big wave and not knowing what is on the other side, but , in the words of Psalm 56:
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.
In 2005 John Stone gave corrupt evidence against Peter Boswell who found himself convicted of a crime he didn’t do, and he spent four years in prison, during which he lost his job, his wife, children and home. He vowed to find Stone when he got out and “hurt him.” Just as he was about to be released, Stone’s lying testimony was uncovered and he too spent time locked up and he lost most of his treasured possessions. In 2015 they were both shocked to come face to face, having been employed by the same company. How on earth would they deal with this? In a nutshell, Stone said “Sorry” and Boswell said “It’s OK.”
Not only did they share the same experience of being locked up, but both men whilst in prison became Christians. And
life changed and so did their attitudes and behaviour patterns. Stone discovered that God could forgive his lying if he was truly sorry and asked for forgiveness, and Boswell discovered that he could forgive the other man his sins because God had forgiven him his sins also. St. Paul wrote, ‘God loves you and has chosen you as His own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.’
These two men are now best friends; they’ve lost so much and found so much. And they have a joint mission now to let the world know that, “If you’re holding something against somebody, let go of the bitterness because it’s like you drinking poison and hoping it’s hurting the other person.”
These are difficult and trying times, let’s be grateful that in our Community there is nobody planning to hurt us and we are supporting and encouraging each other. We are all in the same boat, struggling to stay upright, so let’s continue to show each other the patience and grace that God shows us.
Most of us know the story of Anne Frank from her diary entries describing the years she and her family tried to hide during World War 11. She eventually found herself in a Nazi death camp. We don’t need to go into details here. People who came into contact with her said that “her tears (for them) never ran dry,” and she became “a blessed presence for all who knew her.” One historian said that she “never displayed compassion fatigue.” I’ve just spent a confusing half hour looking at bar charts and graphs which apparently tell us why we are going into lock down again. Everybody has something to complain about; I’m glad I’m not a politician, whatever they decide to do, is wrong or too late or too early or too expensive in many people’s opinion. My immediate reaction was to think, ‘here we go again.’ I remember the first lock down and how exhausting it was for many family members, as well as those wonderful people who went out of their way to help lonely and frightened individuals. I wonder if they will be as committed to helping others this time as they were earlier in the year or will compassion fatigue set in. We will soon find out.
It was never a characteristic of Jesus to walk away from problems, we read in Matthew’s gospel, ‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ The needs around us in 2020 are not only matters of ill health, hunger, and lack of money, but also mental and spiritual damage. Jesus came to meet those needs and He prayed that His Father would provide people with compassion, ability, and willingness to respond to the variety of needs around them. In our Melling Community we are blessed with people who can and do provide help where it’s needed. We could be God’s answer to people’s prayers for help. Let’s not give up and assume or hope that someone else will take our place. Maybe we could be ‘a blessed presence for all who know us.’
It was about 25 years ago when I had my first encounter with a coriander leaf. I was living down south and out for a meal with friends. We decided to go to a Thai restaurant. I’d not been to one before and looked forward to a fun night out. When my meal came, it was quite simple really, I took a big bite of whatever it was, grimaced slightly at something that didn’t taste so good, felt very ill very quickly, turned a very ugly shade of green and remember nothing more about the evening. Putting it bluntly, coriander is seriously bad for me!! Lemongrass has the same effect on me!! How I survived working in Thailand for two months I’ll never know! These days I can spot it instantly. The smell alone is enough of a warning to keep my distance! As I was chatting to a friend the other day who was with me at that Thai restaurant all those years ago, we were reminiscing about all the mad things we got up to. They were an amazing group of friends, I’ve lost touch with most of them now, just because life has moved on for us all, but those friends were good for me. Remembering my coriander incident got me thinking though, some people can have a very similar effect on us. I guess we’ve all met in our lives, that person, or those people, who drag us down, cause us harm and would eventually destroy us if we let them? Maybe their words are always putting us down, comparing us to others, fuelling negativity and stealing our joy? The Bible is very straight on this...’Bad company corrupts good character’ and James has a whole lot to say about how poisonous our words can be. Just like coriander is to me, so words can destroy a person. The Bible tell us to, ‘...encourage one another and build one another up...’ What an amazing world we would have if we all practiced that more. If we put aside our anger and bitterness and jealousy and judgement, and actively chose to see the best in others.
So today, let’s recognise the ‘coriander’ in our lives and choose to hear other voices. The good ones, the ones that encourage and cheer on and bless. And when you do encounter those toxic voices, wish them well and walk on...just like I do with a Thai restaurant.
I recently noticed that Channel 4 are showing re-runs of one of my favourite comedy shows; Cheers. Some of you may remember it. It’s the ongoing story of a bunch of disparate individuals who meet in a Boston bar every day. It was full of great characters; Sammy, Woody, Cliff, Carla, Diane, Norm and of course Frasier, who went on to have an equally successful spin-off show. When it first aired in the early 80s, we didn’t have any means to record the show, so if you were out at nine o’clock on a Friday night, you missed it. Now, I simply set my digi-box to record all the episodes and the entire catalogue will appear for my delectation. So much time has passed that I can’t remember which ones I missed, so I’ll probably end up watching them all again. I don’t have to wait until Friday, I can watch it every day of the week!
People often comment on the show’s theme song, “Where everybody knows your name”. The lyrics paint a picture of a warm, welcoming place. A place where you can be with people who know you, people who listen to you and take time to understand you:
“Making your way in the world today, takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go…
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came.
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same.
You want to be where everybody knows your name.”
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The problem is, it’s not like that. I’ve been to Cheers (yes, it’s a real bar in Boston) and nobody knew my name. More to the point, if you watch the show, you’ll find that the behaviours exhibited by the characters don’t mirror the sentiment of the song. They might know everybody’s name, but they are not terribly sympathetic or understanding towards one another. In actual fact, they spend most of their time mercilessly ridiculing each other and making jokes at the other’s expense. Now for the purposes of a comedy show, this is both hilarious and necessary, but if you were really treated that way, you wouldn’t be in a rush to go back.
Contrast that with the wonderful community that is being built by the Melling Baptist Community Hub. Many of us have only met through Zoom and everybody didn’t know my name, but they could cheat and read it on the screen. I know that, whenever we meet, I am assured of a warm welcome and will be greeted by a sea of faces that seem genuinely pleased to see me. It’s a place where people laugh together, cry together, quiz together, buy cakes together, play bingo together, learn about God together, pray together and feel that they belong together. A place that people will want to go to in person when the whole Covid pandemic is over. Each time I drop in I am reminded of Paul’s words in the Bible; “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. I’ll take that over Cheers every day of the week!
How Are You? - 29/10/20
We’ve all done it and continue to do it every day of our lives. It’s very British apparently although I don’t know how it would be different in other countries. It’s that two-way conversation that we are obliged to engage in. You meet a friend in the street and the conversation goes like this, “Hi how are you?” “Fine thanks, how are you?” “I’m OK thanks.” Job done so we move on. We weren’t asking for information, good grief we don’t want information and we simply were not prepared to talk about our bunions. If the other person did stop and tell us how they were, that they had been laid off, the car failed its MOT, their card had just be rejected by Lidl, but it didn’t matter because they had just won the Lottery and were moving to Florida, would you be happy to hear all that? Often our apparent concern for other people and their welfare is simply a matter of good manners that we don’t expect will cost us anything in either time or money. But if there’s a real need and real tears, do we spring into action or run for the bus? If you and I were honest with each other when the question was asked, “How are you” would the world be a better place even though a little slower?
Jesus was walking through Jericho when He passed a man called Bartimaeus who was sitting on the floor begging. This was because he was blind and the only route through life for him was to ask other people for money for food and clothing. Probably nobody asked him how they could help; his need was obvious; he needed money. People brought him to Jesus who looked at him and asked a daft question, “What do you want me to do for you?’ It didn’t take a genius to realise that he needed money. But the answer He got back was as daft as the question; “I want to see.” Of course Jesus knew that but He wanted Bartimaeus to tell Him the truth and not just be polite and ask for a coin. Bartimaeus on the other hand, believed that Jesus cared and could help, so he said what was on his mind. ‘Jesus told him, “You may go. Your eyes are healed because of your faith.” Immediately he could see, and he went down the road with Jesus.’
That was a very brief, direct, and simple conversation that turned out to be life-changing. Are we are missing something as we bump into each other on the street?
Let’s not ask questions we don’t want the answer to, and if we were asked, “How are you?” would it be the right time to be honest?
Christmas is Coming - 28/10/20
A couple of days ago I was doing some shopping and walked into one particular shop and not only was I greeted by their display of Christmas decorations but they were also playing Christmas music! I love Christmas. I love the lights, I love the decorations, I love the excitement and the shopping, I even love the music. The moment we get to December, my decorations and Christmas lights go up and my husband begins his annual moan that it takes 20 minutes just to go up to bed while we go round and turn everything off! However, no matter how much I love all things ‘Christmas’, I don’t want it to be Christmas in October – I’m not ready!
There is a temptation for us to rush towards those things that we think will make us happier or times we believe will be better than we are experiencing now. This year has been a tough year – it is very tempting to just put our heads down and wish it away - let’s just get to 2021 when things will be better! But no matter how many bright lights we put up or jolly songs we sing along to, we can’t get there any quicker.
From the beginning of December we start the period of advent. This is the time when Christians all around the world begin a time of preparation and waiting before the great celebration of Christmas day and the birth of Jesus. Advent isn’t about getting to Christmas as quickly as possible, it’s about the preparation we do while we wait. Yes, for me that includes putting lights up and decorating Christmas trees, but it’s also about preparing our hearts to remember and recognise who that little baby truly was – “Emmanuel … God with us”. The same little baby who grew to perform miracles; the same little baby who grew into the man who was nailed to a cross and conquered death and who will return again one day. Are we preparing for that?
Isaiah 40 says “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint”. We’re all feeling a little weary now but Christmas lights won’t renew our strength – for that, we need to wait on God. Let’s enjoy the preparations, let’s not be in too much of a hurry to get to Christmas day, let’s use this time to prepare our hearts so that we can recognise the baby.
Thick and Thin - 27/10/20
In Celtic Christianity there is a tradition of so called ‘thin’ places, where heaven & God seem to be so much closer. The island of Iona is one such place. Aa you step onto that island you can almost feel that there is something special and deeply spiritual about the place. It is understandable I suppose as since the time of Columba way back in history, there have been monks, pilgrims and hermits praying day and night on the island. It would be wonderful if the communities that we live in could be like that. However, true Community is not like that at all. It is a ‘thick’ not a thin place. True community requires a level of sacrifice and selflessness. It can be noisy as everyone tries to get their voice heard. It can be messy, as things often are when human beings live and work with each other. It can be uncomfortable and require that we welcome interruptions to our neatly planned schedules, when that is the last thing that we want to do. Few of us are called to live in beautiful ‘thin’ places. Even if sometimes, being a hermit sounds like an attractive option(at least you would get some quiet!) Most of us are called to live & serve in towns, villages, suburbs, workplaces, churches, pubs, coffee shops or busy streets and all whilst juggling family, jobs, commitments ,money and a hundred and one other things. In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus tells us; “ You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth…”.
We are called to do that wherever we find ourselves today.
A Real Man - 26/10/20
I think I’m more impressed and moved by sculpture than I am by paintings. If you go to an art gallery and view classical paintings, they can be very powerful and moving; if you have ever tried to paint, you will appreciate the enormous skill, dedication, and patience required to produce these masterpieces. I can admire the composition, colour distribution and the depiction of light and shade. But as a photographer I can do nothing with it. I can of course photograph it but all I will produce is a copy of someone else’s work. I can’t put that in a competition or on the wall, anyway that’s where all paintings finish up, on the wall, so there’s not a lot of scope for me. Having just written this, I’ve had an idea, remember you heard it here first; if I could take paintings out of the gallery and photograph them in various locations, I may produce something that could add to the image on the canvas. I’m not sure what painters would think of that, it might be interesting to find out. Sculpture however is a very different thing because it is three dimensional. You can walk around it and you can view it from below or above, and its shape will change and it can look totally different as you move. Also as you circle it, the background changes producing another variation. Finally you can transform it with lighting.
People are often like paintings, they can be beautiful but no matter how many times you see them, they are always the same. Irrespective of what is happening in our world or community, they have nothing new to offer and you are never surprised by them. They are two dimensional characters.
The individuals in the Bible are real three dimensional people, they are happy or sad, inactive or violent, weak or powerful, and as we look at them we get different pictures and different messages. For instance, we see Peter attacking a man with his sword then standing in the dark weeping!
When we are talking about Jesus, we are not talking about a cartoon character or an image fixed on canvas, but a real life three dimensional man. We read that He was both gentle and violent, He wept and got tired, He was angry and sad. He taught and He healed. When they whipped Him He bled, and when they crucified Him He died. Three days later He was back and they thought He was a ghost, but His response settled that for all time, ‘He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” The disciples were probably not art critics, but they recognised a real three dimensional man when they saw one. Let’s understand that we do not worship a painted image, but a real man who is really God.
The Stationmaster's House - 25/10/20
I wonder how lucky you are with level crossings? In my experience, if I returned to Maghull from Melling via the station I had a 90% chance of being held up and having to wait for the two trains to pass, one for Liverpool and the other for Ormskirk!! It was hardly surprising therefore that I began to notice an old broken-down two-storey house which I assumed had once been the satisfactory home of the then stationmaster. Why else would someone live so close to the noisy railway? There was so much damage to the outside and inside that, at first inspection, it looked virtually collapsed and ruined, but also so much structure was left standing, an outline and image of the original design. I don’t know why but I began to pray for its restoration. Eventually, not only was it totally restored but three new properties were added on some adjoining land. The creativity and resourcefulness of some entrepreneur had presumably made this possible. To me that person was divinely inspired!! The Divine hallmarks of restoration and new life were evident. (And in childhood a month-long holiday next to the Metro in Paris had already proved to me that we humans can screen out much noise……which meant that somebody could buy this house and expect to be happy).
Now it may seem like a bit of a waste of prayer. Why would a God in Heaven be concerned about such a project? Maybe I should go back to praying about people? Yet restoration is His business (Joel 2:25 gives a promise from God “I will restore unto you the years that the locusts have eaten”), and local Community is His passion (1 Corinthians 13 is a whole chapter devoted to building loving relationships. St. Paul says “If I have no love, I am nothing”). Now in human terms we can easily understand a restored building, perhaps a mended marriage or a flourishing of a neglected friendship, even a return from financial despair and general economic downturn. We might dare to pray for any of these. However, from the above quotes we learn that God can do the impossible**, which is to give us back the time we have lost ….. or wasted or not appreciated. He calls us to a brand new life with his Son Jesus in our hearts. In this Life we experience lost opportunities coming back, or the enthusiasm and energy we once had being channelled into new directions. We are able to start again. This promise of hope is needed now in our ‘plague of viruses’, our invisible locusts, which attack life and health, work and finances, closeness and love. It is a promise from our Heavenly Father who knows every hair on our heads and every thought before we think it. We are all in some way experiencing this community of love, of restoration, of comfort and compensation, and of pinpricks of light and hope. Just don’t let go. If you sometimes can’t hang on, then ask to be held. Perhaps one day just go and look at the Stationmaster’s house. It is truly inspiring, because it is whole again and hopefully will soon contain a loving dynamic.
**https://www.thegospelcoalition.org ‘God Can Restore Your Lost years’
If I Could Turn Back Time - 24/10/20
In 1989 Cher’s new song, ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ was released. The song tells of a person’s deep regrets and the desire to turn back time and do things differently. With the lyrics, ‘I don't know why I did the things I did, ‘I don't know why I said the things I said‘, Cher tells the story of someone living with the consequences of their poor judgement, poor behaviour and unkind words. This is probably a song that each and every one of us can relate to in some way. The conversation, or maybe argument, where in the heat of the moment, words were said that were cruel, untrue, and damaging? Or maybe a situation or incident where you did something you weren’t proud of and living with the consequences is crippling? If only we could turn back time! Hindsight can be truly wonderful! If only it took place first! The Bible is jampacked with normal people who said the wrong thing and did the wrong thing and had to face the consequences. King David is just one of these people. Guilty of some outrageous behaviour, he sought out God’s forgiveness. ‘O loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon me and take away the awful stain of my errors. Oh, wash me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again. For I admit my shameful deed—it haunts me day and night’. David couldn’t concentrate on the present and the future because his past haunted him day and night. He needed to say sorry in order to move on. Maybe there are things in our lives that still haunt us? Things that are holding us back because of our deep regret and guilt? Maybe there is someone we need to say sorry to? The Bible tells us that we all make mistakes. But it also tells us of an incredible God who can help us learn from the past and leave the past in the past. ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, great is His faithfulness’. In the absence of a time machine, let’s look at our past and choose to learn from our mistakes, seek forgiveness for the wrong we’ve done, and thank God for His new mercies every day. And as for turning back time?… The clocks go back tonight everybody. But just one hour.
A Cast Iron Hope - 23/10/20
We’ve just bought a chiminea. In case you’re wondering, it’s a cast iron, wood-burning stove. I believe they originated in Mexico.
Now those of you who have been to my house will be thinking that I have a perfectly adequate central heating system and have no need of supplementary heating devices. That would be correct, but this is to use in the garden.
Again, those of you who have been to my house will be thinking that in addition to perfectly adequate central heating, I have comfortable furniture and have no need to sit outside. Also correct, but this is something different to do on those cold winter nights when we have nowhere to go because of lockdown.
Now, I’m a man, and the gender stereotype dictates that men like to play with fire… ever notice that men always do the cooking at a barbeque? It’s not because we like to cook, it’s because fire is involved. In this instance, the gender stereotype is correct. Fire is fun!
At this point I feel I should include a disclaimer that the disregard for political correctness and cavalier attitude to health and safety are entirely the responsibility of the author.
Okay, back to the plot. Sitting in the dark in the garden, watching the flames twist and dance and feeling the warmth from them gently singeing my legs, brings a feeling of satisfaction that the time spent carefully building the pyramid of fire-lighters, kindling, small twigs, bigger twigs and very big twigs has all been worthwhile. Even greater satisfaction is achieved by throwing on some cardboard. This provides a double endorphin boost, because not only do the flames spectacularly engulf the entire chiminea and anything within two feet of it; satisfying the male pyro maniacal sensibilities, but it means that the mountain of cardboard boxes, kindly supplied by Amazon over the past six months, can be reduced to a heap of ash.
So, like I said, fire is fun. I will doubtless extend an invitation to join me one evening to sit in my garden and be entranced by this new plaything. Oh, wait a minute. I can’t. We’re all in Tier Three lockdown and we can’t meet in gardens. But that’s the thing about our chiminea; it’s a testament to hope. Once we move back to Tier Two and beyond, we can have people round to join us. The chiminea was bought in anticipation of just such a time. It’s a cast iron hope.
Throughout history, people have endured various troubled times and those who have come through those troubles have needed hope. That hope has always been there. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Why? Because the Bible says this, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” We too can rely on that faithfulness, because God is our cast iron hope.
Emmanuel - Not Just for Christmas - 22/10/20
As I sit in my lounge, drinking a good coffee, and trying to teach myself to sit still for five minutes, my eyes have landed on ‘mini me’! Let me explain. Last Christmas I wanted to get each of my four daughters something personal and special and well, something that would just be lovely! I went on the internet and found ‘mini me dolls’!! These are stuffed dolls, shaped a bit like a gingerbread man, about 20 inches long, and you send the company a photo of your face and that gets put on the doll!! Voila!! How much fun is that?! So, I ordered four of these dolls and a week later, there I was, sitting at home while all my chicks were out, staring at four little ‘me’ dolls!! I’ve got to say, in addition to them being very funny, they’re also terrifying! When my chicks go away somewhere, (not going anywhere at the moment!!) I put them in their bags, with a message ‘mum is watching you!’ I don’t deny it’s creepy really, but very funny.
My chicks are getting older and like any doting parent I have to be able to ‘let go’ and let them grow up. It’s only right and natural for them to gain more independence, but, well, I still want to be there for them, and protect them.
And in this time now, isn’t it difficult not being able to go and spend time with family and friends and neighbours? We want to be with them, check on them, be there physically for them....and, well, we can’t.
But! God can be there. God is there. David wrote in a psalm, ‘Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast’.
I’ll be completely honest, my mini me dolls do not bring comfort! Anything but! And as humans, we are restricted and limited in where we can go and what we can do. But today, may we find comfort in knowing that God can reach us in hospital, in school, in the loneliness of our homes and the busyness of our lives. Wherever we are and however we are feeling, may you know ‘Emmanuel - God With Us’
Planning for the Future - 21/10/20
I am not much of a gardener probably due to being impatient for results and I do not like waiting. However, in the Celtic tradition of prayer, waiting is something which is very much encouraged. One of the Celtic saints, St Hild of Whitby, spent a huge chunk of time just praying and waiting. She is said to have encouraged her followers to prepare the ground by praying. Then she said that you should plant promises that those who come afterwards will recognise. She argued that we do not need to see the results of our planting because God was the keeper of the plans, not us.
As our harvest week approaches, in amongst the fun, the quizzes, the baking and the eating, let us not forget to pray. We may never see the impact of that praying or even of our fundraising; but that is okay. Someone else in Beirut, Lebanon, will reap that harvest of Gods promises. So, if we need some inspiration, one of Gods many promises to us is from Philippians 4:6-7 :”Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Now, where can we plant that today?
It's all in the Preparation - 20/10/20
Over the course of last weekend while we had some lovely autumn sunshine, we spent some time out in the garden tidying things up a bit, cutting back some of the dying foliage and raking up fallen leaves. I’ve taken delivery of the allium bulbs I ordered and they’ve been strategically planted out, ready for spring. Edward, our friendly and increasingly brave squirrel, has been busy collecting the nuts we put out and presumably storing at least some of them away in various places (he now has a couple of friends that have joined him but as we can’t tell them apart they’re now all called Edward!)
It’s that time of year isn’t it when preparations are made ready for winter. The luscious green of summer turns to beautiful shades of red and orange which in turn will eventually die and leave the garden looking rather barren and dead and we all retreat indoors to stay dry and warm. In some ways it feels as though the garden is reflecting a bit of the situation we currently find ourselves in - our usual activities continue to be halted and we must all retreat from each other and hibernate away. But hibernation isn’t about doing nothing, hibernation is about preparation.
The bulbs I’ve planted may be hidden from sight but they’re not doing nothing; they’re gathering nutrients and establishing good roots so that they will be ready when the time is right. The perennial plants aren’t dead, they’re just preserving themselves so that they will be ready when the time is right. The trees losing their leaves isn’t a sign of death, but a way of helping them conserve their energy so that they will be ready when the time is right.
This year has been a strange year, different to any I have known in my life-time, and at times you may have felt like hiding away and telling someone to wake you up when this is over but would that have helped to prepare you for next year? Some people refer to this year as the year we lost, but while it’s been different to anything we have known before, we didn’t lost it – each and every one of us has changed in some small, or maybe significant, way this year. Some of us have learned that we can be more resilient than we ever thought; some of us have learned that we truly do have good friends we can depend upon and some of us have learned that we can be a good friend. None of that is wasted, it’s preparation for the community of people we will be when we are all back together again.
And while we’ve been preparing and growing this year, Jesus has also been busy. He’s been working in us and through us and the Bible also tells us that he is busy preparing a place for us: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”
Let’s use our time well and prepare ourselves to be the people that God would have us be – ready when the time is right.
Friends and Friends - 19/10/20
I’m sure this is something that we all know; there are friends and there are friends. They seem to belong in different categories depending on your lifestyle. You could have friends in all kinds of places; - work, golf club, church, gym, scouts music society, etc. Some friends you see several times each week, some on dry days when you play golf, or every second Friday night in the month at the music society. One may be the friend who sits in the season-ticket seat next to you every home game. You may only know him as Billy and you have no idea where he lives or works, but he’s still a friend. If you’re on Facebook or Instagram, you might tell me you have 597 friends, but you have never met 458 of them. Some friends you chose, some of them are just in the same place as you, like the office or the football match. And they’re all different; - sporty or arty, philosophical or noisy, male or female. Some of course may be family members, but that’s not always the case. Do you have degrees of closeness? Are some good fun but that’s all they are? Have you had deep and personal conversations with any of them? Could you trust any of your friends with secrets? Here’s an interesting question, if you were seriously worried or frightened, and you had to talk to someone at 3 in the morning, how many friends have you got?
King Solomon had thoughts about friends, “A friend loves at all times.” Do you have a friend who will tell you the truth? Solomon said, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” These words really reinforce the reality that there are friends and friends. In a conversation with the Disciples who considered themselves to be followers and servants of Jesus, He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” This sounds like promotion with conditions, but all Jesus was saying was that He knew what was good for these men in this life and the next, and He wanted them to have the best of both worlds. There is no time limit on this and we have the same choice. As we are building friendships in our community that we can trust, let’s learn to trust Jesus as the ultimate friend. He will never let us down or leave us because He’s found different friends. And we can talk to Him about anything.
Even at 3 in the morning.
Light My Fire - 18/10/20
I’m sitting here quietly by myself looking at photographs of matches, I bet you’re not. It sounds like a strange thing to do but I have a good reason for doing this rather than watching Michael Palin on TV. It’s all to do with our camera club ‘Shoot’. We have a new theme each month and our excellent members submit their interpretation of the given subject for assessment. During our recent lock down when we were confined to barracks, our themes could be created in the safety of our homes. This particular theme was ‘Close Up’ and many different approaches were applied. Strangely two members, without talking to each other chose to photograph matches. This does sound odd I know, but a few years ago for a different theme two members photographed the same street lamp in the centre of Liverpool. Photographers are interesting people! Back to the matches; one picture shows an extremely close view of five match heads. They are twenty times bigger than life-size, and the matches are like works of art; very deep red with texture like orange peel and a beautiful shape. The other picture is also, oddly, of five matches but these are just normal scale. These matches however are lit; so one photograph depicts their appearance and the other indicates their purpose.
I spend some of my time talking to children in a junior school and I’m always impressed with their energy and smiles, but mostly by their potential. They are like the close up image of the match heads, lovely and interesting but not yet fulfilling their hidden promise. This reminds me of Bible characters like Joseph, David, Mary, or Peter; people couldn’t tell by looking what they would be like when they exercised the ability God had placed in them. When that happened, they were like the lighted matches, giving out light and warmth. And they were noticed. Many people comfort themselves by thinking that what they believe in is all that matters. But God expects the match to be lit. But other words hearing the words of Jesus, even remembering them, is not enough, we must exhibit the light and warmth that comes from God.
In the Bible, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote this, “Someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.”
Our days are not getting easier at the moment, but in our Melling Community we are learning to rely on each other’s generous actions, which demonstrate our mutual concerns. But remember, God would love our actions to be an expression of our faith in the One who planted our potential.
How Great Thou Art - 17/10/20
It was 1998. I was on my way to do a few weeks of AIDS education and training in Thailand. On my way there I stopped off in Malaysia for a few days and spent some of that time working in a home for destitute women. The majority of these ladies had been horrifically abused and were both physically and mentally harmed. The stories I heard from the carers, and some of the sights I saw upset me enormously. During one afternoon I went for a walk, on my own, with just my tiny cassette player for company. I had a new cassette that I had picked up in a store and hadn’t yet played. I had no idea if it was any good or not. As I walked around a large park, trying hard to compose myself and asking God to help me be of some good to the ladies I was serving, a song started playing that instantly distracted me. The words were familiar, but I’d never heard it sound so beautiful and so moving as I did then. The words poured out the mouths of a large choir with such power and emotion.
“O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy Hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow with humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art”
As I wandered back, I thanked God for the rescue home that cared so beautifully for these ladies. For the smiles and laughter that were gradually appearing in such broken lives. I went in and played them this beautiful song and we danced and giggled like little school girls. Separated by language, but on that occasion it just didn’t seem to matter. After they’d danced, and swayed and danced a bit more, they all collapsed in a heap, laughter was everywhere. My friend took out her bag of cheap nail polish and we spent the rest of the afternoon painting finger nails and toenails! Much to the delight of all!
I left Malaysia with a dream. ‘One day I’ll be part of a choir that will sing music that is that beautiful, and they too will bring laughter, smiles, tears, encouragement, and above all, hope, to the people who hear them. Hope in a God who loves us, who can restore the broken hearted, who can place us in families, who can do the impossible‘.
Melling Community Gospel Choir is 9 years old today. Happy Birthday to the most amazing choir, who love, who care, who help to restore, and are family. May God bless us with many, many more years together. And when life gets challenging and our problems seem overwhelming, let’s remember those beautiful words, ‘...my God, how great thou art’.
“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.”
You need to read this in your best movie trailer voice. You know the one; deep, growling, filled with the promise of menace and adventure. “Imagine a world filled with fear. Fear of contamination. A world where your every waking moment is spent avoiding those who are unclean; those who are contaminated. A world where you must prove that you are able to participate in the clean society; where you must dress to show that you are avoiding contamination. A world where the unclean are isolated, excluded, vilified. Welcome… to Covid.”
Okay, you can stop doing the voice now… it hurts your throat after a while. How long do you think it will be before Hollywood comes up with the movie? It’s perfect for a dystopian future epic… except that it’s not the future, it’s now.
It’s also the past. In biblical times cleanliness was very important. Rules were in place to monitor the clean and unclean. People were fearful of contamination. Leprosy was a common disease. Lepers were to be avoided. They were sent out of the local area, declared ritually unclean and isolated, excluded and vilified. Just as today, the rules regarding cleanliness were there for sensible reasons. They were there to keep people safe, but they took their toll.
There are those people today who complain about the rules being complicated and confusing. Spare a thought then for the people of Jesus’ day. The law makers of the time, the Pharisees, took the 613 laws of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible) and created over 2,000 rules to add to them; because 613 was clearly not enough of a challenge! In doing so, they forgot the people the laws were designed to protect.
When asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself'. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus made it clear that we are to love God and, very importantly, to love people. Everything else follows on from these two basic principles. To simply give people a set of rules to follow and wash our hands of them is not enough – no pun intended.
As responsible citizens of the United Kingdom, we must follow the rules and guidelines set out to protect ourselves and others, but we should also remember that this is not the only kingdom we serve. We are citizens of God’s kingdom and we are called to fulfil the law, just as Jesus did. We are called to love God and to love others. To care for those who are isolated and marginalised. To look out for those left out, or kept at arm’s length. To be mindful of the effect of the pandemic on people’s mental health. To remember the value of relationships. To be kind. To be a friend. To be there for others.
So, if you feel fearful, fed up, or forgotten; remember that you belong to a community of people who are there for you. A community who follow the rules without forgetting their relationships. A group of God’s people who demonstrate joy and hope beyond our immediate circumstances. It’s a world you don’t need to imagine.
Don't Forget To Remember - 15/10/20
It’s funny how you can be certain that you’ve never met someone who your friend is talking about with such enthusiasm; “Wasn’t if funny when he fell off his bike into a holly bush.” or “How brilliant it was that night when he jumped into the canal to recover the football for the little boy crying on the bank.” Listening to your friend recalling events from the dawn of history, you know he has mistaken you for someone else because you have no idea who he’s talking about. Then he says, “And remember that camping weekend when a cow sat on his tent.” Ahhh, it all comes flooding back now; “Oh him, yes of course I remember, how could anyone forget?” But you did forget until something triggered one memory that led to dozens more. I wonder how many of your old school mates you ever think of now? Does an event or a sound or a sight ever remind you of someone you haven’t seen for many years? In our present situation, what does it take to remind you of someone in the Melling Baptist Community who you used to sing with in the choir or have breakfast with at Hub? Is it now a question of ‘out of sight out of mind?’ Do you think that you have been forgotten also?
There’s a Bible story about Naaman who was the Army Commander of Syria, a very powerful and influential man, but he had leprosy for which there was no cure, so he was dying. From one of his invasions of Israel he had brought back a servant girl to attend his wife. When she heard about his illness she was reminded of Elisha, a man back in Israel who God had used to heal people. She had no reason to want her captor cured but she believed it was right to tell him about the man she remembered in her own country. The outcome was that Naaman was healed, but only because the young girl he had taken from her family home was compassionate enough to care.
We read in our Bibles that God needs no reminder, He never forgets us and is compassionate enough to care. “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you.”
Do we remember those people we used to mix with or do we need a reminder? How great it would be if we called a friend we hadn’t seen for months simply because we cared enough. We read at the end of the book of Hebrews this reminder, ‘Do not forget to do good and help one another, because these are the sacrifices that please God.’
You Matter - 14/10/20
Outside the Oratory, next to the huge Liverpool Cathedral there is a Tracey Emin piece of art work that is exquisite but it is rarely noticed. It consists of a 4” bird on top of a pole. So often we can feel like that bird. Unseen, unnoticed, unimportant next to the giants of our culture like celebrities and even local heroes. We too can be guilty of not noticing an individual because they are not important enough to us. The Bible tells us that we are precious, that we matter. Jesus reminded us that we are valuable, precious. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Do you need that reminder today? Do you need to remind someone just how precious they are, not just in Gods eyes but because they are?
Out of Sight, Out of Mind? - 13/10/20
It’s that time of year again.
I was sitting on my sofa, minding my own business when something caught my eye. I was aware of movement and turned to discover the biggest spider I’ve ever seen walking up the wall (the one in front of you always seems to be the biggest one you’ve ever seen!) Now I don’t like spiders – I don’t want to hurt them and I appreciate that they have an important role to play, but I don’t want to share my living room with them. I screamed and my husband rolled his eyes before finding a suitably sized cup to put over him. The problem was, just as he was about to put the cup on top of him, the enormous spider decided to jump – yes jump! – off the wall and disappear. We moved sofas, cushions, bins – anything that could be moved to try and find him but the biggest spider in the world had simply disappeared.
You will have heard the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – I can honestly tell you that that is nonsense! Just because I couldn’t see it, that spider was very far from being out of my mind. Every time I walked into the room I would check the floor and walls, the chairs and cushions in the certain knowledge that he was somewhere … just waiting for his next venture out.
As we face further restrictions on our movements and lives, it would be all too easy to begin to think that God had stopped watching over us, that he had forgotten about us in some way and left us to just get on with things. But that wouldn’t be true.
In the Bible we read: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me… If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the depths, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.”
If you’re feeling anxious or alone right now, that’s completely understandable as these are strange times, but know with absolute certainty that God sees you and he knows you and he is with you every step of the way guiding and supporting. Unlike my spider, you’re not out of sight and are very much in God’s thoughts. What’s more, the fact that we are unable to physically see one another at the moment, doesn’t mean that we are out of one another’s thoughts and prayers either. We are part of a wonderful community of God’s people and we have been put together for a reason – to watch over one another and offer a helping hand when it’s needed. That’s something to celebrate.
And the giant spider? Well he turned up again a few days later and was gently and humanely rehoused to somewhere he can live in peace. I think we’re both happier that way.
Change - 12/10/20
I’m looking at a photograph on my wall in front of me. It’s a picture of Liverpool Waterfront, taken from Birkenhead about fifteen years ago. If anything happened to it and I wanted to replace it by taking another one, I couldn’t do it. If I stood in exactly the same place at exactly the same time of the year, the same time in the day and in the same weather conditions, the new photo would not match the first one. Things have changed, life has moved on; there are new high-rise apartment blocks, a new museum and two huge modern buildings used for large events. Almost certainly some elderly structures have suffered violent attacks from monster cranes swinging nasty metal balls. The waterfront church, St Nicholas, which used to be conspicuous, is now dwarfed by modern shapes that have rendered this famous icon almost invisible. Can you remember the Liverpool of your youth; Paradise Street before Liverpool One, the Pier Head Bus Terminal, the Overhead Railway, what about Lewis’s when it was a shop? Can you remember paying with cash? Something I haven’t seen for years is a line of local shops, closed in the evening, with not a roller blind in view. That hasn’t changed because shop owners love the sight of metal blinds, but because society has changed, not for the best. I can remember when we played out in the street and every school had a Christian assembly! There have been many wonderful changes through the years, and there have been changes which cause us to be fearful and sad. Can you predict how society will look and behave in twenty years from now?
We are clearly living with shifting styles of behaviour due to the pandemic and when it’s over, not everything will return to what we used to call ‘normal’. Bible characters lived in a world where standards and patterns of behaviour were static for thousands of years. They would be shocked at the speed of change we are trying to cope with. Nevertheless they had to live with the realities of famine, flood, invasion and more. They would view the future with fear and trembling, and the people of Israel would look to God for reassurance that He had not changed but was still the God of Creation, the God of Heaven and Earth.
As we look forward and imagine life without Covid, will it all be sweetness and light or are you nervous? Let’s be encouraged by what the Bible tells us about God, ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows’...’Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures for ever.’ Let’s give God the last word as we struggle with changes out of our control, “I the Lord do not change.”
Call Someone - 11/10/20
At this time in our history it’s very easy to be worn down by the constant supply of depressing news. It could be Covid-19 or Brexit, forest fires or floods, or something really important such as our football team losing the last three games. Often people don’t help; we read of ‘celebrities’ spending a fortune on another car, or we look at those in charge of the country and think we could do better, or as we sit having our cornflakes we resent the fact that nobody has rung us for a week. We can get into a damaging mindset that causes us to wake up expecting more bad news before we get out of bed. But maybe we need to look again at the world, but this time with fresh eyesight and a positive and grateful attitude. There are always different ways of looking at things. Like many professional photographers, De Witt Jones who works for National Geographic, uses his skill to celebrate what is right and beautiful in our world. By having a positive attitude and not rushing, he will eventually see the shaft of sunlight that penetrates the heavy cloud and transforms a drab city street into a wonderland that encourages you to jump into your car and head for Bootle before the sun disappears. But you don’t have to go to those extreme lengths, just open your door and step out. Listen and watch the magic of a flock of geese, look at that ordinary tree that’s transforming itself into a rustling golden miracle, pick up the acorn on the floor and admire the tree that provided it and remember that’s where the tree came from. Oh and that silence on your phone, why don’t you cause someone else to hear their phone ringing?
In the Bible, Job had more cause to complain about life than you or I ever will; read the first two chapters of the book of Job; you’ll be shocked. Eventually God asked him about the wonders of nature that were obvious to anyone who bothered to look, and suggested to Job that God was slightly wiser than he was, could do anything He wanted to and was still in control of the world He made for us to inhabit. “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand....Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn it’s place?....Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt?....Do you give the horse it’s strength or clothe it’s neck with a flowing mane?....Does the eagle soar at your command and spread it’s wings towards the South?"
There are lots more that God talks about; the point is that however you view the world this morning, and your place in it, God is in charge. Many places in the Bible assure us that God knows what He is doing and is concerned for those who trust Him. ‘This God-how perfect are His deeds! How dependable His words! He is like a shield for all who seek His protection.’
OK, time to get up, grab a coffee, call someone.
Here Comes SpiderMan! - 10/10/20
Last week I was in a supermarket trying to get my shopping done as quickly as possible. I reached the queue and found myself stood behind two young girls. As I stood there I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. It started with one girl making a comment about the person in front of them being too slow. The other girl responded in agreement and then went on to criticise the persons shoes. The first girl laughed and added to the insult by commenting on the ‘ugly clothes’. The conversation grew more insulting with every comment. Every word more toxic than the last. Until, after just a couple of minutes they decided they’d waited long enough, dumped their unpaid-for goods and stomped out of the shop, pushing past the bewildered customer in front. Thankfully, the customer hadn’t heard the comments and was saved from feeling hurt and embarrassment. I came away from the shop feeling angry and sad that humans could speak with such cruelty. It was deliberate and unprovoked!
The Bible has a lot to say about this! It makes it clear that what we choose to think about and dwell on, will eventually come out in our speech. It gives us huge warnings about the dangers of wrong thinking and the immense damage that our cruel and toxic language can cause. It says,
‘...the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A great forest can be set on fire by one tiny spark’.
As I walked towards my car, there was a little boy in a SpiderMan costume walking with his mum towards the shop. He looked up at me and said, ‘Hello, I’m SpiderMan, and SpiderMan says hello to everybody!’ What an amazing contrast in the space of just a few minutes!
I don’t know why those girls were so cruel, I don’t know what kind of experiences they’ve had themselves, and every one of us is guilty of speaking out of turn at some point. Proverbs says,
‘Some people like to make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise soothe and heal’.
SpiderMan may have only been about 3 years old but his words were simply beautiful! So today, and every day, let’s be more like SpiderMan!
Buongiorno - 9/10/20
I’m currently learning Italian. Not because I want to learn something new for lockdown, but because I want to feel less ignorant whilst abroad. Italy is my favourite tourist destination, but I am linguistically challenged and find it embarrassing that every waiter seems to speak perfect English, whilst I am left floundering with even simple phrases of Italian.
I once asked a charming, elderly Italian lady for directions - having studiously rehearsed the appropriate phrase. She listened carefully to my beautifully modulated enquiry and proceeded to give me a full and detailed set of instructions to find my required destination. You might surmise that this encounter was a success, until you realise that I didn’t understand a word of her answer. I simply thanked her profusely and continued wandering about aimlessly.
Though I say so myself, my progress has been remarkable. Only thirty-three days in and I am already able to assert that I am indeed the man in possession of an apple; “Io sono l’uomo. Io ho una mela”. Should ever you find yourself in dispute with a greengrocer in Milan, please feel free to give me a call.
My tutor is a little green owl who regularly rewards me for my various stellar achievements. Now before you think that lockdown has affected my mental health, let me explain that I am using an App on my mobile phone and the little green owl is the animated instructor. He rewards my progress with jewels and crowns. I get some for correctly answering questions, some for correctly completing entire exercises and yet more for learning on consecutive days. I’m able to, “spend” the jewels to allow me to continue learning when I have run out of chances to progress - due to too many wrong answers. It’s a little like being able to carry over the accolade from a previous good deed to deflect the disapproval of a current misdemeanour. I’m not sure what the crowns are for, I only know I’ve got fifteen of them. I’m sure I’ll be told at some point. Of course, my rewards are virtual and I’ll never actually get to see the jewels or wear the crowns, but it’s nice to have somebody tell me that I’m doing well… even if it is a little green owl.
Alongside the language App on my phone is a Bible App. I noticed that my tally of consecutive days reading is eleven. Not as impressive as my language App tally, but I do tend to prefer the dog eared paper copy that sits on my bookshelf. Neither one offers me rewards for reading it. The reading of it is reward in itself. Whichever version I choose to read, it tells me that I don’t need to, “cash in” my good behaviour to atone for my bad. I simply need to come to God and say I’m sorry. He is “a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love”. I’m also told that, if I keep the faith, a crown of infinite value is awaiting me, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day”.
I’ll keep up my language learning and continue to receive my virtual rewards, but, more importantly, I’ll continue to keep the faith, assured that one day I will receive the greatest reward of all. Grazie a Dio.
Rocking And Creaking - 8/10/20
I’ve got a rocking chair in my front room, I’ve had it for years. Someone in my family is going to go mad when I tell you that I can’t remember when or why I got it, or who gave it to me; I don’t think I went round the shops searching for my chair, but if I did I have no idea how we got it home, it’s big and heavy. It’s beautifully made and finished; it’s golden and shiny but I’m not sure what kind of wood it is. It could be Beech or Ash I suppose; what wood do they make rocking chairs out of? I’ve got a feeling someone is about to tell me. Anyway, when I’m in a thinking mood, I often retreat to my rocker and in case my wife walks in I have developed a very good thoughtful expression. I think most men have done this but I guess that not many wives are fooled. A few days ago I was gently rocking and I was genuinely in a pensive mode but something kept interrupting me but I was only vaguely aware of it. Eventually I was forced to pay attention to my thought intruder and I realised that my lovely rocker had developed a creak. Every time I rocked forward then back there was a whisper from my chair down by the carpet. I can’t find anything loose and all the joints seem firm. I intend to continue my relationship with my rocker, but I’m worried that it might be warning me of trouble ahead.
At this time in our history we are all fully aware of our society creaking, caused by Covid-19. We have survived more than six months and we thought it was going away, but now it seems to be fighting back and we are all worried that there may be trouble ahead. The Bible is full of stories about people who were fearful of the future; Noah, Abram, Joseph, Elijah, and many more. They all were comforted by the belief that the future was in God’s hands and they all demonstrated concern for those who were struggling.
‘We who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves....Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other.’ In our Melling family let’s continue to meet each other’s needs as we have done this year, bringing friendship and hope for the months to come. And let’s pray that the creaking stops soon.
One Big Family - 7/10/20
All around my house I have photos of my girls! Photos from when they were tiny, right up to recent. I look at the earliest photos and am instantly transported back to that time. Nappies, bottles of milk, nappies, baths, no sleep, nappies....I seemed to have spent years without any sleep. Only one of my chicks liked to sleep. The other three were up all day and all night. I try and tell myself that it was because I was so much fun they just didn’t want to miss anything! It’s more likely that God was allowing me valuable lessons in patience!! When they were little they all had very long, dark hair; they watched the same tv programmes, played the same games and had a very similar dress sense....well, I chose their clothes! They were my little Russian dolls. But as they’ve all got older they’ve very definitely developed their own characteristics, their own likes and dislikes. One can play beautiful guitar and loves all things blingy; another lifts weights at the gym, loves Billy Joel and gets seriously excited about algebra; another is our style guru who has to match every item of clothing and can chat all day and all night to anyone; and my other chick is loud, noisy and has the ability to take over the world! Putting it bluntly, all my girls are completely different and I have to treat them all differently. Each one of them has strengths and weaknesses, frustrations and enjoyments, good days and bad days. And I love each one of them more than I can say.
As we look at our own families, friendship groups, WhatsApp chats, Zoom groups....we will see such a huge array of different characters with different skills and hobbies and dislikes. Some skills and hobbies we can totally relate to and some that complete baffle us! But one thing is certain, everyone is equally important! How boring life would be if we were all the same. God created us all different, on purpose!! It’s no mistake!! I’m so thankful for all the amazing people I know who are blessed with such incredible gifts and skills. I couldn’t do without you!!! And as for your weaknesses...well all I can say is Thankyou for being patient with mine!! When we look at others, let’s choose to see the positives! Let’s encourage and bless and accept one another. There’s enough bad news in the world, so let’s start with our friends and families and create some good news!!
‘ So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it’.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
The Sound of Silence - 6/10/20
In Celtic prayer there is a tradition of being silent. Our world is very noisy and sometimes it really can drown out the whisper that God speaks into our souls. Even Jesus took time out to be alone , away from the noisy crowds: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)
I love these words that were written by Francis J Roberts:
“Listen to the silence.
It will teach you. It will build strength.
Let others share it with you.
It is little to be found elsewhere.
Silence will speak more to you in a day than the world of voices can teach you in a lifetime.
Find silence. Find solitude, and having discovered her riches, bind her to your heart.”
When I was teaching( a very noisy occupation at times) I would leave the staff carpark, turn up my stereo and last out Bon Jovi or Springsteen to anyone in the vicinity. It was my way of destressing. However, after reading the words above, I once challenged the staff to drive home in silence. If you don’t drive, just turn off the TV, the notifications button on your phone and unplug the radio. Try it for 10 minutes to start with and build up to an hour. Then listen. I even dare you to pray…but silently.
Keep It Or Throw It Out? - 5/10/20
I’m sure you have found yourself in the same situation as my wife and I. We are in the process of de-cluttering a room, just one. We couldn’t possibly move house within the next ten years, even if we have finished this room, there are many others but they are bigger. We have hundreds of books, some read from front to back, some half read, some we’ve dipped into and so we haven’t even started. It is going to be very difficult to decide what goes and what stays. One of the problems is that frequently we disagree so the book stays. Another problem is the transfer of books to somebody who would look after them, it’s like giving your dog away! Yes it is. But the biggest problem by far is the 1000+ photos going back to before our children were born, and some of them go so far back we have photos of ourselves when we were children. Yes they did have cameras then. It’s almost impossible to throw out photos of your parents or friends who have died, it’s like rejecting them and saying “We don’t need you anymore.” There’s a real danger that we may just re-pack them into tidier bundles and put them all back. So I still won’t get my much needed desk and my wife will have nowhere to put her new exercycle that she doesn’t know I’m going to buy her.
We sometimes keep things, feelings, and experiences, from the past that we really need to free ourselves from. Remember that nasty comment you received from the arrogant person you last saw in 1996? Do you think it’s time to put it in the bin, you can’t give that to anybody and you don’t need it, it still irritates you now? And what about the time you left your handbrake off when you parked the car on a gentle slope. Remember how the owner of the Rolls Royce made you feel when you came back three hours later? There are still days now when you feel as tiny and as inadequate as you felt then. Let it go!
We are not required to live in the past, God would like us to be free of those feelings and events. He wants us to know how important we are to Him NOW! ‘The angel of the Lord surrounds those who fear Him, and He delivers them.’
And we need to understand that despite things in our past that threaten to drag us down, we are important to the people around us NOW!
‘Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.’
The Bible reminds us, ‘These are evil times, so make every minute count.’
READY STEADY GO!
You Never Know... - 4/10/20
A man saw a snake being burned to death in a fire and decided to get it out. When he did, the snake bit him causing excruciating pain. The man dropped the snake and the reptile fell right back into the fire. So the man found a metal pole and used it to remove the snake, saving it's life. Someone who was watching approached the man and said "That snake bit you, why are you still trying to save it?" The man replied "The nature of the snake is to bite, but that is not going to change my nature ,which is to be kind and help if I can"
Do not change your nature simply because someone is unkind to you
You never really know the true impact you have on those around you.
You never know how much someone needed that smile you gave them.
You never know how much your kindness turned someone's entire life around.
You never know how much someone needed that hug or talk.
Don't wait for someone else to be kind first.
Just be kind, because you never know how much someone needs it.
We are told in Ephesians 4 : 11
" Be kind and compassionate to one another"
Why don't we all give this a try.
Slow Down, You Move Too Fast... - 03/10/20
Even as I write the words from this Paul Simon song I am starting to sing them in my head. In Celtic prayer, there is a lot of emphasis on living or dwelling richly in the moment. Ann Lindbergh put it like this: “Hurry is an unpleasant thing in itself, but also very unpleasant for whoever is around it. Some people came into my room and rushed in and rushed out and even when they were there they were not there – they were in the moment ahead or the moment behind. Some people who came in just for a moment were all there, completely in that moment. Live from day to day, just from day to day. If you do so, you worry less and live more richly. If you let yourself be absorbed completely, if you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.”
In Psalm 31, David wrote these words: ‘But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God. ”My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.’
We may not find ourselves being pursued by enemies, but deadlines, pressures and general life can squeeze us so that we stop living in the moment and lose out on the blessings that God is trying to give to us if we just slow down.
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.
Throughout the year we held on to a hope that things will get better, this year there is more of an idea of where we may be heading with vaccines being rolled out. But its still not going to be an easy path through the coming months.
We have learned that time for each other is more valuable than many other things, though we have missed our “normal” way of life, we have embraced our Melling community. Our relationships with friends have strengthened and we have made new friends.
As we enter 2021, our path is uncertain but we can approach it knowing we have support of the friends around us. We may not know all the places we may visit or the things that may happen but we do know we won’t be alone.
When driving to a new place, we may now use a SatNav that tells us each step we must take to reach our destination, but before that I trusted in a navigator sat in the passenger seat. They held the map and could see the whole journey, could see the roads and the places that we would pass. As the driver, I would just know the next turn and only encounter new places as we arrived.
Whilst the Israelites were still trying to find their place, the prophet Jeremiah sent them these words from God, in Chapter 29,
"I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.
When you come looking for me, you’ll find me."
We have a hope that things will improve this year, lets build on our community and remember that our time and support for each other is what has brought us this far. Let’s trust God, the great navigator, leading us step by step and inspiring us to help each other through this journey.
What a great way to start the year, I don’t mean Brexit, (that might be great or it might not, we’ll find out), I’m talking about the vaccine! Actually we now have a choice of vaccines; it’s a bit like number 19 buses. So let’s line up; I’m one of the first, that seems reasonable to me, then in succeeding months we should become safer as the year moves on. If we live for another fifty years, none of us will forget 2020. I sometimes struggle to remember birthdays and anniversaries, not my own of course, but I will always remember the past year and the number 2020. Of course some people will remember it, not because they survived but because someone didn’t. Let’s be careful as we celebrate a new year to understand that some of our friends have very mixed feelings about moving on. Thankfully for Christians there is the belief that people will meet again in a better place. Jesus told us, “I am going to prepare a place for you.....so that you will be where I am.”
We have learned a lot in the past twelve months about patience, tolerance, friendship and hope. How shocking it will be if we all revert to our previous lifestyle of rush rush rush. I’m looking forward to a more orderly lifestyle which will give me more time for more people. Maybe even a little time for myself! Is that allowed? During the separation forced on us last year, we managed to keep up with each other and share our hopes and fears, and we attempted to meet each other’s needs. As we move on towards Spring and Summer, shopping trips (remember shops?), family days out and hopefully holidays, let’s remember we are a community who walked through 2020 together. We laughed and cried together, we asked for help and we offered help; nothing must change, we still have our strengths and needs, we still must work together. In the Bible accounts of the early days of the Christian church we see the most amazing community at work; ‘All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions and distribute their money among all, according to what each one needed.‘ We may not achieve that standard of community, but we can learn from that principal and move into the future together. Roll on Choir, Hub, Shoot, Crafty, Watercolour, Church, Housegroups!
Look out 2021, here we come! Moving On - 30/11/20
It’s so good to know that in just one month we will vacate 2020. We started off brightly enough with good intentions, and possibly resolutions to boast about. Personally I never make resolutions because you only have to fail once and you shatter them, and you feel a failure, which is reasonable because you failed. Because I’m very wise (and old) I have discovered that targets for the year are much better, because you are allowed to fail occasionally but you can still carry on aiming for your target. Most of us probably started the year with hopes of good health, happy families, sunny holidays, and bacon and coffee at the Hub. That went well didn’t it! But it doesn’t matter now because 2021 is on the horizon and we know that when we wake up on that very special Friday morning it will all be behind us. Honest, trust me. We will be able to rush out into the street and hug complete strangers, practising for when we find our families and friends. Three days later choir starts and two days after that Hub opens, just follow the aroma. It’s probably best to confirm the dates with Jo in case she’s not organised, but she’s never failed us yet. So life will start again with no sign of Covid-19 because it’s a new year and we all know that everything will be brand new.
Although the past is behind us and we cannot undo it, it tends to travel with us into our futures. Our experiences help to make us who we are and this year has helped to make many of us more caring and more aware of others situations, sadnesses, and fears. God did not promise His followers an easy life but He did promise His company on the way, “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” As we all struggle to make the right decisions in the difficult months ahead, Christians take great comfort from knowing that God is always with us and is better equipped than we are. We read in one of Paul’s letters, ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’
So armed with compassion and new wisdom gained from this year’s journey, let’s face 2021 with optimism and confidence because we know we can have the presence of God to help us to move on toget
This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos and goodbyes. Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers, requiring that we give the best of ourselves.
The mystery to everyone is....we do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So we must live in the best way we can ; showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness ,goodness ,faithfulness, gentleness, self control, known as "The fruit of the Spirit" and of course forgiveness. It is important to show these attributes to our fellow passengers because when the time comes to step down and leave our seat empty, we should leave behind beautiful memories of someone who has done all they can to show God's love to those who will continue to travel on the Train of Life.
In the Bible, God says in Jeremiah ch 29: v 11
"For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future"
I wish you a joyful journey for the coming years. We need to include God in our plans and thank Him for the journey.
Coming up on my screen were the unusual words: “Your hearts are full again. You are ready for new lessons”. This would not have surprised me if I were looking at a Biblical Prophecy website or some ready-made sermon resource, but I wasn’t. This message came up on my Duolingo screen where I was battling with the Spanish language!! Interestingly, they have mysterious symbols like crowns, lingots, streaks and hearts. Mostly I don’t understand them, but it doesn’t matter to me as long as I can go on learning. Well it seemed my Duolingo ‘hearts’ were full and it was time to go to the next level.
This made me wonder though if our real hearts were getting full in any other way. I for one felt really touched by the nation putting me into Lockdown just because I was seventy. (I wasn’t pleased a few years previously to hear 65-yearolds described on the radio as ‘the elderly’……. I was actually quite cross, but I’ve mellowed since then). I wasn’t asked to shield, so it wasn’t too tough, and I got quite a lot of fun out of what was left to me: the daily sunshine walks, the time for hobbies and husband, and all the sharing and humour on our chats. So long as I could see still see family even from the doorway I could cope and even thrive. I could get spiritual support without leaving my home …and in a way got to know people better because we had all slowed down and had a common purpose, survival!
A TV newsreader recently stated casually, when anticipating some return to normal after the vaccine, that we had all been changed by the Pandemic. For some there were brutal experiences, which might harden them or break them: we weep for these. For some there were new friendships, new acts of love and new connections. There were things to learn, gifts to grow or transformations in our homes. Our hearts really are quite full. There were of course anomalies, so that I couldn’t see my daughter properly in Tier Three but I can now in Lockdown! Who thought that one up? It seems like a good reason to stay in Lockdown Two. But where is the rest of my reluctance to emerge coming from? Why do I feel a little edgy about the idea of a return to normal life, about new lessons to learn? Why do I feel like Abraham being asked to “Leave your country … and go to a land that I’m going to show you?” [Genesis 12:1]
Abraham’s journey took him to “the sacred tree of Moreh” (the holy place at Shechem) and later to “the sacred tree(s)* of Mamre” (the holy place at Hebron). On his journey he took these times to worship, to say thank you, to keep his focus on God. After these pauses, there was a big battle to face, a nephew to rescue, and a priestly blessing. High drama indeed, but at the end we are told “Abraham put his trust in the Lord, and because of this the Lord was pleased with him”.
During this year of 2020, we have also had our personal adventures, our hard lessons and battles, perhaps friends and relatives to rescue, but also worship, blessings and promises. Very soon things are going to change again. There will be some sort of ‘Tier’ to get accustomed to, some sort of Christmas to create from the scope/relaxation we are being given. I for one will also have to “put my trust in the Lord”. It’s a very good job then that now we realise “our hearts are full again and that we are ready for new lessons”, we can call to mind God’s promise to Abraham: Do not be afraid. I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward. I for one am looking forward to a third tree in this story, my own personal Christmas tree and my Christmas time of celebration and worship.
*[Some scholars say there was only one tree, a big oak]
'Tis the Season... - 27/11/20
So… we put up our Christmas tree on Tuesday. I say, “we”, but, in reality, I play no part in the event, other than dragging the eight-foot-tall monster out of the loft. The decorating is undertaken with expert precision by my wife. As always, she has made an excellent job of it. It is a monument to tasteful elegance… you can tell I’m hoping for a really good present this year!
Of course, the question that is on all of your lips is, “Why so early?”. Normally it is a question that I would ask myself, but this year is different. There used to be a rule in our house that Christmas could not even be mentioned until December 1st. No discussion of presents, no thought of decorating the house and certainly no time for the premature adverts on television.
Why then is this year different? Well, quite simply to brighten the days. We have all been a little gloomy of late. Various lockdowns have taken their toll and it is nice to have an excuse to lighten the mood. Not that we really need an excuse. We have already bedecked our gardens, front and back, with enough lights to give Blackpool council a run for their money. They have nothing to do with Christmas – they just look really nice and give us the chance to sit out in the evening without constantly tripping over the plant pots, or each other. The opportunity for early tree dressing simply provides more cheer and a further drain on the National Grid.
People will assume that it has come about because of the oft heard cry that, “Christmas is cancelled because of Covid, so we better get in early and enjoy what we can while we can”. Or perhaps that it is an expression of relief that, as the lockdown measures look to be lifted, “we have been given back Christmas”. No; it’s just a bit of fun at an otherwise mundane time.
Now, the thought that Christmas can be cancelled is, in itself, absolute nonsense - as is the notion that it has been returned to us. I’m sure an extended lockdown period throughout the whole of December may have prevented people from celebrating Christmas in their usual way, but it wouldn’t have cancelled Christmas. You can’t cancel Christmas! The clue is in the title; Christ – mas; a celebration of our saviour. Nothing can stop us celebrating the fact that Jesus was born and that He came to save the world.
We choose to celebrate his coming on December 25th, but that is not the anniversary of His birth. We don’t know for sure on what date His birth occurred. So pinning all our hopes of celebrations on this one date is arbitrary at best; we should pin our hopes on what we are celebrating.
We choose to give presents at Christmas because the tradition evolved to commemorate the fact that the wise men brought gifts to Jesus. We know that the wise men didn’t arrive on Christmas day, so that too is arbitrary. What is important is that we have all been given a gift; “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”. It is the greatest gift of all, “… they will call him Immanuel (which means "God with us)”. A gift that was given to us on an unknown date more than two thousand years ago still resonates today. God was with us on that day and has remained with us ever since. Now that’s something to celebrate every day!
Wonderful Variety - 26/11/20
Flour, Sugar, Eggs and Butter. Four very simple ingredients, but combine them in the right way and they are transformed into the most amazing and joy making creation, CAKE! I have never met someone who doesn’t like some sort of cake.
There are so many different types of cake, some with added extras like chocolate or nuts or citrus, but they all start with those basic ingredients. I find it amazing that to alter the ingredients slightly produces such a different type of cake, and that the possibilities for different cakes are limitless. And of course we all have our favourite type of cake.
I love the joy that cake brings, whether its at a party, or just with a cup of tea, or to raise money for a worthy cause, it brings joy.
Cake reminds me of people. We are all made with the same basic ingredients, but we are all so completely different. As we go through life and experience different things, this changes us and shapes us into the people we are. And we are all capable of bringing great joy to others, whether its in a very simple way, like having a cup of tea with a friend, or in a very lavish way, like being part of a great party for someone, or planning a fundraising event. We all have different gifts and abilities, and we all use them in different ways.
This is just the way God planned it to be. God knows that the world is a better place with each one of us in it, using our gifts and abilities to bring his Love and Joy to others, just like all the different types of cake bring joy in different ways to different people.
In Romans 12:4-6, Paul describes the way that God uses all of our different abilities not in terms of cake, but in terms of a body.
"For just as each of us has one body with many parts, and these parts do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each parts belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us."
So today, whether you see yourself as a chocolate fudge cake, or a lemon drizzle, lets spread Joy and Love to those around us, and work together with our wonderful Melling community to support one another.
Now who fancies a piece of cake?
Strangers in The Night - 25/11/20
In the book (and film) Lord of the Rings, there is a scene where the hobbits meet Aragorn for the first time. If you have not seen the movie or read the book, you need to know that Aragorn is a goodie,( In fact, for the real geeks amongst you, he is symbolic of Jesus Christ, as Tolkien was a Christian ). Anyway, back to the scene. Aragorn is going by an alias and is called Strider. It is a scary sounding name, and he approaches the hobbits as a tall, cloaked horse rider coming in from the mist on a dark stormy night. It is quite a scary scene. Despite having no understanding of who he is, he protects the hobbits & the hobbits decide that they must trust him.
In Celtic prayer there is a lovely short meditation based on this scene. It says that the hooded stranger emerging from the mist need not assumed to be the bearer of ill. Just because we do not know what is ahead of us, or do not understand what is happening to us, we need not assume that the scary unknown is to be feared. We must try not to let our fear of the unknown, stop us from trusting for the future. We do not know what the next few weeks and months will look like but we do not need to fear them.
These familiar words from Proverbs chapter 3 sum it up:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
My Rock - 24/11/20
Throughout December the Sunrises will be slightly different which means that this will be my last Sunrise of 2020. I can’t finish the year without reflecting back and what a year it has been! I don’t think that any of us could have imagined 12 months ago what lay before us. All of the normal rhythms of life that we are used to were taken away and we felt like the rug had been pulled from under us. We’ve had birthdays celebrated on doorsteps; weddings postponed or at least drastically reduced; anniversaries have passed us by; rites of passage such as proms and graduations – cancelled, and let’s not forget the celebrations of lives lost during this time which have unsatisfactorily had to be marked from a distance. We’ve learned to wave from 2 metres away rather than shaking hands and symbolise a hug rather than making physical contact. We’ve learned new technological skills that we never knew we could and ‘zooming’ has become something of a social life-line rather than something a small child might do around the playground!
It will go down in our memories, and indeed history, as the year when everything changed and everything became a little less certain and a little less secure than it had felt before.
However, in the midst of such uncertainty, turmoil and insecurity I read these words: “I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.” These may sound like the words of someone living in peace and certainty but King David was surrounded by powerful and devious enemies, however, rather than living in fear, David took his strength from knowing that God was his security; his sure and certain footing, his protection and safe place to go. Those words remain as true for us today as they were for David then. It may feel like 2020 was the year that changed everything, but it didn’t change God. In Hebrews we are told “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” and what that means for us is that whatever else has changed this year we can live in the secure knowledge that God remains the steady and unmoving rock on which we stand and when life gets tough, as it has been for so many this year, he waits for us to take shelter in his care. This isn’t a promise to make life easy, but it is a promise that we can draw our strength to take the next step from God.
I don’t dare to imagine what 2021 may hold, but I will face it with the hope that comes from knowing that my God goes with me. Thank you for being such a huge part of this year for me, now let’s go together into next year sure-footed and unshaken.
Thank You - 23/11/20
We’re getting close to that time when people start saying “What do you want for Christmas?” or am I a typical bloke who is already two months too late? I drive my family nuts because when I’m asked this question it’s as if nobody has ever asked me that before in my life. It’s the same with my birthday, if they never bothered to raise the issue I would carry on with life without noticing the date. They could save themselves a lot of money by not asking the question. It reminds me of my time in the Scouts when their motto was, ‘Be Prepared’ but nobody ever told me what I should be prepared for. And it’s happening again because I haven’t got a clue what I want people to spend money on for me. Well actually I would like to change my car but I don’t think that’s going to turn up in my Christmas stocking.
We tend to think of our own needs and wants when we hear the question, but I’ve got a feeling that this year it may be different. If we could ask 100 people on the street “What do you want for Christmas?” how many would say “A cure for Covid”, or “I want to hug my dad in hospital”, or ”I would like my job back so I can feed my family”, or “I want to see my consultant next week not next year.” Maybe DVD’s and mobile phones are not the first things people are worrying about this Christmas. Possibly some people would say, “I want to see an end to child abuse”, or “Abortion” or “Slavery” or “Persecution of Christians and other faiths.” What’s top of your list this year?
I believe God has a wish list for humanity in 2020. I think He would say, “I would like the world to remember that on the first Christmas I gave you my Son.” Businesses and organisations are attempting to wipe the greatest Christmas gift of all time from the records because it makes some people uncomfortable and they don’t know how to say, “Thank you.” The Bible tells us that, ‘God loved the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him will have eternal life.’ That’s two presents in one! How many people out of a hundred this year will be pleased to accept God’s gifts and learn to say “Thank you?”
Its A Gift - 22/11/20
When M. and C. were vicar and curate (in the old days) there was an awful lot of fun and an incredible amount of joking around. We did pantomimes, day trips to Wales, Spring Harvest and Pop Concerts. I was on a protein diet and could convince most people that everything was a vegetable! After all, even chocolate is made from beans. It started when the vicar tried to explain that my jacket potato, my lunch at Spring Harvest, was carbohydrate! I thought I had made a healthy choice and was quite affronted, firmly asserting that it couldn’t possibly be carbohydrate because it was a vegetable. Most things can be vegetables if you analyse properly. “It’s a vegetable!” became a catch-phrase.
Similarly, if any one of us messed up, burnt toast, sang out of tune or spilt coffee down our fronts, or even crashed a computer, someone would pipe up “It’s a gift you have”. [C. once ate a daffodil to illustrate a Mothers’ Day sermon but later vomited over the school wall. I wasn’t there and I never wanted that gift]. As with vegetables, we could recognise gifts anywhere. Of course we were teasing and eventually got fed up with the jokes. However, it perhaps helped to see things differently, to do a bit of ‘Lateral Thinking’? Maybe it was good to turn things around, view from a different angle, alter the angle of the light? It was certainly good to have a sense of humour. Somehow we were stating that even our weaknesses could be someone else’s strength, a way for them to show kindness, to help that person in real ways. It was a gift to them; it was their opportunity?
Recently we were told about the Parable of the Talents, how each person can have varying amounts and different kinds of talents or gifting's, none of which are to be despised and certainly not to be buried. They are to be cultivated (oops, slipping back to vegetables there), polished, displayed and shared. They can be decorative or functional but let’s have them ‘out there’ please. The fudge cake we acquired at our Community auction recently was so beautifully rich (not soggy) that I could only describe the icing as ‘chocolate mud’. I meant that as an enormous compliment!! Thanks to the Team that holds together our Melling Community where we and our gifts are nurtured.
To me time is a valuable gift. I think about the gift of an extra hour when we put the clocks back …. It’s the only time I’m early for church, even as it happened once, an hour early. Then the almost universal day off on December 25th: what we find within those twenty-four hours is so vital to our sense of identity and well-being. My gratitude to those whose profession won’t allow them to partake fully (nurses, doctors etc etc): but I also adore Boxing Day, another free gift, actually free of cooking because it was cooked on Christmas day. A special gift to the cooks and frontline workers in our families. Then there are the unexpected gifts, like the little goodie bag handed to me as a surprise just before a talk on ‘Gifts’…. Because that gave me the perfect illustration.
So going beyond all of these gifts, what about the gift of Eternal Life? Jesus said “I am come that you might have Life and have it more abundantly.” As far as I can understand this Life that He’s giving away is beyond, above and also surrounding time. Eternity is another dimension: if time is the Fourth Dimension, then Eternity is the Fifth. I’m told I received Christ when I was three (but I don’t remember). It has meant survival to me, but that’s another story. Since then I have messed up so many times but His Life is there every time I reach for it. I come through dark times but when I call out to Him there is the same Gift bubbling up inside me. Is that where the Fifth Dimension exists… inside of us?
My Dad - 21/11/20
Time for a great children’s poem by the poet Steve Turner. Great words and great images! Enjoy!
My dad’s bigger than your dad. My dad’s as tall as the moon, as strong as the wind,
as wide as the sky.
You should see my dad!
He’s got stars in his fists.
He bends rainbows on his knee. When he breathes, clouds move.
He’s good is my dad.
You can’t scare him with the dark.
You can’t scare him with guns or sticks. He makes bullies say sorry
just by staring.
Big green monsters fall asleep on his lap. Ghosts start haunting each other.
My dad’s been everywhere
but he says he likes the world. Earth people are fun, he says.
My dad knows more than teacher. He knows everything.
He knows what you’re thinking, even when you try to trick him by thinking something else.
If you tell a lie
my dad says he can tell
by the look on your face.
My dad’s the best dad ever.
I say I love him
a million times a million
times a million times a million trillion. My dad says he loves me
a billion trillion times more than that
My dad likes to love.
My dad made the world.
When The Dog Bites... - 20/11/20
“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favourite things”.
I’m sure some of you will recognise the words of St Julie of Andrews quoted above. It’s from the film, The Sound of Music, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1965.
It’s a feel good musical romance that never ceases to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. Yes, I’m just a big daft romantic at heart. I’ve even been to the sing-a-long at the Empire Theatre. Now, that’s a strange experience! Perhaps I’ll tell you about it someday. What is often forgotten is that this happy tale is set against the backdrop of a country being slowly consumed by the tyranny of Nazi rule. Still, there’s nothing better to ward off the terror of totalitarianism than a good old sing song.
Now, whilst I’m being rather tongue in cheek here, there is a serious point to be made. We are not in the process of being overtaken by a military conflict that will engulf more than half the world, but we are living through a time of difficulty that involves all of us. How encouraging then to find ourselves surrounded by people who lift our spirits.
I can honestly say that despite the various states of lockdown we have found ourselves in and the effect that that has had on our physical and mental wellbeing, I have been constantly buoyed by the people involved with the Melling Baptist Community Project. I thank God for you all.
Despite everything, or maybe because of it, I have regularly been given cause to smile and many times to laugh because of some of the people reading this article. They have kept me cheerful and the Bible tells us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine”. I haven’t needed a spoonful of sugar to help that go down.
So, thank you to all who have contributed to my enjoyment of this time… to my fellow Sunrise scribes; to those who have joined in Zoom church on Sunday mornings and the bi-weekly Zoom prayer meetings; to our wonderful and faithful WhatsApp quizmaster who has regularly kept us on our toes with his questions; to our bonkers bingo caller and her gnome centric prizes and to all who make it possible for the necessary media to run smoothly. Without all of you and the many others who have involved themselves in so many activities, this would have been a bleak time, but because of you we have all been able to face the day knowing that there are people out there to share the experience with. The things we have shared should be added to the lyrics of the song I began with, because they have indeed been some of my favourite things.
“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun”.
Take A Look Around - 19/11/20
I don’t know about you, but I love ‘behind the scenes’ programmes. Particularly about films. I love learning about how things are created, and a little about the people who have the imagination and creativity to create the films, special effects and characters we know and love.
I happened to be watching a behind the scenes documentary about animation the other day. There was an interview with a character designer about how she creates her characters. The answer was quite surprising. She replied that she often got stuck and didn’t know what to draw/paint. When that happened, she would take herself outside, and just take time to have a good look around. She explained that stepping back and looking at things from a different point of view often inspired her and motivated her to keep going, and it was after such occasions that she did her best work.
Often some of the most amazing poetry in the Bible was written when the writer stepped back, and took a second look at the world around them.
King David, when he wrote Psalm 8, did just that. He took a step back, looked up at the night sky, and was inspired to write these words about God
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.
These verses have inspired many millions of people over the years to take a step back, and look at the world from a different point of view, with our wonderful loving creator God in mind.
So, whatever you are doing today, if you are looking forward to it or dreading it, take time to step back, and look at the world with God in mind, remember that whatever you have to do, you do not face it alone. Today, let’s all be inspired by that loving creator God.
Hello! Bonjour! Ola! - 18/11/20
Did you know that on Saturday (21 November) it is World Hello Day? If you did then I’m quite impressed because if I’m honest, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Apparently it was started in 1973 as a response to the conflict between Israel and Egypt and it’s all about using dialogue and communication in order to achieve a more peaceful world.
The idea is that during the course of the day people from all around the world are encouraged to say hello to at least 10 people that they meet. These could be friends, family and neighbours or complete strangers that you meet on your socially distanced walk or essential shop. Sometimes some of the most interesting conversations (and sometimes the most wonderfully bizarre ones!) start with a simple ‘hello’. There was the lady in the park who seemed to just need someone to pause long enough so that she could tell me all about her newly diagnosed MS or the one in the post office who was ready to go back to bed because she had been up since 4am to open up.
So often we rush around with our heads down and avoiding eye contact because we just don’t have time to give to others but what might it be like if we just allowed a little space in our day for the potential of giving someone the opportunity to speak – especially in this time of lockdown and keeping to social distancing, you might be the only person they get to engage with that day.
The Bible puts it like this: “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry”.
We all have the potential within us to be a blessing to someone by simply showing them that we are happy to give them a little bit of a time, a quiet tongue and an open ear. When we do that it is surprising how often we find that the blessing is returned and we receive as much as we give.
The Bible also tells us to “keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it!” I can’t promise you angels but who knows who you may find yourself talking to, you may lift their day more than you realise but you might also find that your day takes a surprising upturn too.
Let’s not restrain our ‘hellos’ to just one day a year, let’s use them freely and start a ‘hello’ revolution!
November the 16th is the first day of Celtic advent. Like Lent, it is 40 days of preparation but, unlike Lent the focus is not so inward looking. We do not give up anything you will be glad to hear, so your chocolate stash is safe!
It is meant to be 40 days that should be filled with joy, thankfulness and light.
John 8:12 says this: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." In Coventry Cathedral there is a window called the Baptistry window. Look it up; it is stunningly, breathtakingly, beautiful. It is designed not to see out of, but to let light in. When the sun shines through it, the whole floor of the Cathedral is turned into a carpet of colours.
As we head towards a vastly different Christmas this year, some of us maybe finding the whole idea of Advent and Christmas just too difficult to cope with. So here is some advice from John Piper, who designed that beautiful window: "Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God and embrace the life you have."
Dr. Paul Brand was a medical missionary in the early days of the twentieth century. He had seen at first hand the stigma associated with leprosy and the appalling mental damage inflicted on sufferers caused by the rejection of people, even family members. During his early days working in India, whilst treating a man with the dreaded disease, he touched his patient to reassure him that he was treatable. Instantly the man burst into tears and Dr. Brand was confused. An attendant explained the tears saying, “You touched him. No one has done that for years. He didn’t expect it, they are tears of joy.”
We read in our Bibles that in His first year travelling through Palestine, Jesus was approached by, ‘a man suffering from a dreaded skin disease, he knelt down and begged Him for help. “If You want to” he said “You can make me clean.” Jesus was filled with pity, and reached out and touched him. “I do want to” He answered “Be Clean.” On many occasions Jesus simply healed by speaking, but this man’s needs were more complicated, he was ill but he was also rejected by society. The touch from Jesus
told him he was not rejected by God.
Our five senses of which touch is one, are totally wonderful gifts from God, David reminds us that, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
During these strange days that we are living through when the leprosy of Covid is keeping us apart from each other, most family members and close friends are living for the day when we will have permission to actually touch each other. Can you imagine how our arms will ache the day after we are let loose? In the meantime we are still able to ‘touch’ each other in different ways. We can touch someone who is lonely or fearful with a phone call. I got a letter through the post that touched me. We can send photos of loved ones to each other, not the same as a hug but pretty good. Wearing a mask we can deliver food to those who are captive in their own homes. That will touch them. Many of us are regularly touched by meeting together on Zoom on Sunday mornings. We are not the untouchables, nobody is! Enjoy your week, reach out and touch someone.
We have a new Hoover! I bet you’re excited about that. Well we are although it’s not a ‘Hoover’ but it does the same thing; but differently. Our old vacuum cleaner must be at least fifteen years old but I wouldn’t be surprised if we bought it last century and it still works, even after I have repaired it. So why have we got a new one? Well we noticed smoke coming from it and the boss said it shouldn’t do that so she switched it off. She also said we shouldn’t use it again because it could burst into flames. That was a challenge for me so I ‘fixed’ it and it works fine but now sounds like Concorde. My wife was not convinced that it wouldn’t take off so we bought one recommended by our daughters. It’s very light and bendy, can go under our furniture without having to move anything, and it’s battery powered so cables don’t get tangled around our feet. It’s almost a pleasure to use. Almost. It made me think about all the things we have done for decades that we still do now but in a different way. We still take photographs but not with film. We still shop but increasingly on line. We still play music but when did you last see an LP? We still work for eight hours a day but we don’t leave the house. These and many more things we do, but differently. This year has seen massive changes in our lives and how we live. We can still talk to each other face to face but only on Zoom or our mobile phones. We can still show people how busy we have been in our gardens but only if we take photos. We can still give each other presents but only if we keep our distance.
But some things never change, whatever happens in our world. God tells us, ‘I the Lord do not change.’ We read in the Psalms, ‘Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures for ever.’ And St. Peter tells us, ‘The Word of the Lord stands for ever.’ As we struggle to survive, St. Paul reminds us of other things that never fail, He says, ‘These three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ As we wake up on Monday morning, let’s decide to explore and develop our faith, let’s celebrate our hope in an unchanging God, and as we try to express the love of God to those around us, let’s remember that even if we express it in new ways, it’s still God’s love and it’s not going away
During this past week, I read about a person who asked on social media about how they go about ordering a sandwich from a national takeaway chain. They were incredibly anxious and wanted some advice. This could appear to many as a ridiculous question. And it could have been met with much ridicule and cruelty. The very thing the person with anxiety would not have benefited from! But instead, within moments, somebody had replied with kindness and great advice. There wasn’t a hint of frustration or ridicule, and the guidance took the person through the steps required to order the sandwich. It was this care and concern that caused the post to go viral and people praised their kind actions. For many people, ordering a sandwich is easy and straightforward. But for others, it can be paralysing. We all have a weakness, a fear, an anxiety. And whatever they are, they’re real to us. There is so much truth in the saying, ‘be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they are facing’. Let’s show patience and kindness towards one another, even if we don’t quite understand each other’s battles. Let’s also remember that we can take our anxieties and fears to God. ‘Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you’.
And as for the person who asked for help the other day....well, I applaud you! You were brave! And I hope you got yourself one amazing sandwich!!
Presidents come and go and our memory of them is often coloured by a single significant event or comment during their term of office. In my lifetime we have had a President thrust into the job following the sudden and tragic demise of his predecessor. A two term President was forced to resign over clandestine surveillance of the opposition party and his successor is best remembered for falling down the steps of an aeroplane. A peanut farmer was replaced in the White House by a Hollywood cowboy, who in turn was followed by a man best remembered for his definitive statement, “Watch my lips – no new taxes” … before he brought in new taxes. We have had a serial womaniser and a man who brought us, “The war on terror”, before, at the 44th attempt, the first black President in the nation’s history.
Of course, every Presidential term has its good points and its bad points; its highs and lows. In most cases, we can only take an objective view of an administration through the lens of history. We may feel that it will take a very long lens to see any good from the present outgoing regime, but in a hundred years from now, historians far removed from the events themselves may well ask, “How bad could it have been? More than seventy-two million people voted for him!”
King David had his highs and lows. He was considered the greatest king of Israel. His journey to high office began as a child, when he stood alone against the Philistines and defeated their greatest champion. He won many battles both before and after he took the crown and oversaw Israel’s rise to prominence. He returned the Ark of the Covenant to Israel and helped establish God’s kingdom on earth in Jerusalem, which he made the capital of Judah and later of the united Israel. Along the way, he stumbled. His behaviour was not that of a great statesman. He committed adultery, he lied and schemed and had people killed to cover up his wrongdoing and it was this killing that led God to deny David the opportunity to fulfil his plans to build the great temple of Jerusalem.
Despite all his faults, the Bible tells us that God considered David to be a man after His own heart. David was certainly far from perfect, but his faith and zeal made him the standard against which all future kings of Israel would be measured.
Of course, Kings and Presidents have their lives documented for all to see – at least that portion of their lives during which they are Kings and Presidents. Our history books are full of critiques of Presidents and their accomplishments and only Jesus is mentioned in the Bible on more occasions than David.
But what about us? Our lives are not recorded anywhere. Our actions, good or bad, are not scrutinised by the world’s press and subject to debate by anybody and everybody who feels they have an opinion to offer. Does that mean that we can be less rigorous in applying standards to our behaviour? Can we be cavalier in our attitudes towards others; thinking only of what is good for us? Well, no… but, like David and every President there has ever been, we will stumble. We will fall short of the standards we aspire to meet. But, if like David, we can remain faithful and try to be true to the calling God has for us, then maybe we will be able to echo the words of the most famous Psalm David ever wrote:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint me with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the
house of the Lord forever”.
Great news! There is hope for us after all. ‘Us’ means our local community, our city, our nation, and not forgetting the entire world from North Pole to South Pole, from the crowded streets of New York and Calcutta to the vast empty spaces in Canada and Mongolia, from massive China to tiny Fiji. Hope for 7,ooo,ooo,ooo (count the noughts) people of every culture, colour, faith, and age. What on earth am I talking about? Hope on Earth, that’s what I’m talking about. We have a vaccine!!! Well we will have soon; once again humanity has solved a dilemma that was threatening to destroy masses of people. Sadly some have already succumbed to Covid-19 but some clever scientists are wearing permanent grins because they have learned how to fight back against this global enemy. Soon lessons in schools and universities will be face-to-face, we’ll be able to travel on buses and trains without looking like bandits, football supporters will be screaming together rather than alone at home, churches will be open and we will be allowed to sing, gyms will return to sweat factories and Primark will be open. Our joy is complete. Explain 2020 to young children in ten years time and they will think you’re from another planet. So many of us around the world have accepted new ways to live; work from home, shop online, tie your hair back, accept that beards are trendy, and discover walking. There are many lessons that we have already learned, one of which is the value (even the existence) of community. The fact that life is better when we work together with and for each other has become obvious. Let’s never forget it and let’s make sure that the next generation accept it as normal.
One of the Bible writers discovered long ago that in difficult times, working together is the best way forward. Although he was writing to Christians who were struggling to survive, his words are still appropriate for all people today. This is a characteristic of much that we read in God’s book because He knows more than we do about how life was intended to be on His world. We read, ‘Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.’
At the moment, meeting together is a dream but we will wake up soon and it will be reality. Let’s be ready to sit face-to-face, encouraging and loving each other. And let’s remember that hope is a gift from God, not just for after Covid but also for after life.
The ancient monastic communities in Northumbria spent a lot of time just sitting and praying. There was a focus on creativity and worshipping God in the beauty of the natural created world. Today we will wake up to another set of charts on the news, listen to yet more experts on politics, science , economics and business and we will be bombarded with information . Celtic Christianity stresses that wisdom is more important than knowledge. Wonder is more important than information. Can you find some space and time today to get outside and look around. In times such as we are living now, our mental health really needs protecting. Can you find time today to create some head space? Can you find time to stop and wonder at the God created beauty in the world around you?
Psalm 8 has David( who incidentally, also had a lot of bad mental health days) writing these words:
“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!"
Try to recapture a sense of wonder today and as you do so, know that God thinks you are wonderful too
It’s In the Details- 21/09/20
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.
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,"
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.
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.
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.
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....
‘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.
‘...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.