Have you ever wondered what the meaning of your name is? I am fascinated by names. Choosing names for my girls was like a military operation. I spent months working my way through baby name books until I found a name that I liked, and also had a great meaning. I once had a friend called Innocent. He was a prison chaplain. On his first day he walked in there and said, ‘I am Innocent’, to which the reply came, ‘We all are mate!’ My name, Joanne, means ‘grace of God’. I’m assuming Jo, means ‘grrrr’!? In the Bible, names were massively important. Names had meaning and often gave an insight in to the person’s character. There was one man, in the book of Acts, whose name was Joseph....but his friends called him Barnabas! Seems a bit weird! Let’s not call him by his name, let’s call him something else! Barnabas means ‘son of encouragement’, the name was given to him as a compliment! Joseph was such an encouragement to people that they started to call him by what they saw. Ooooo, that got me thinking!! What if, we were all given names that reflected our characters? What would we be called? Happy? Dopey? Friendly? Greedy? Gossip? Loving? Jealous? Sarcastic? Provoking? Generous? Gracious? Miserable? Two-faced?.....I could go on, but you get the picture?! When people watch us, listen to us, observe our lives, both in the good and the bad times, what do they see? The bible puts it like this, in Matthew 17, ‘by your fruit you shall be known’. And so, I look at the life of Jesus, the all perfect, good life of Jesus. I want to be like Him. I want to get to know Him more and more each day and for His good ways to influence me. I hope and pray that when people observe me, they see far more ‘grace of God’ than they do, ‘grrrr’.
And if so, all thanks God and His amazing grace.
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises.
James Ch5 v13
Exactly 12 months ago I wrote my first sunrise which included the following words:
The sun is shining, the camellia’s are blooming, the blue tits are nesting and Edward, our local neighbourhood squirrel, has just visited.
Do you know what, as I sit here today, the sun isn’t exactly shining at this moment in time but the camellia’s are blooming, the blue tits are nesting and Edward has just visited. We’ve come full circle. It’s been a really trying time with many moments of weariness, sadness and grief but it’s also been a joyful time of friendship, laughter and community at its very best. Over the last 12 months, we’ve been able to come alongside one another (socially distanced of course!) sometimes with requests for help, sometimes with words of encouragement or kindness, sometimes with a joke and sometimes, when there are no words, it’s been said with flowers on a doorstep. We’ve shared the good days and the bad days with one another but the point is that we didn’t have to do it alone.
As we come to the end of our reflections from the book of James, the above verse felt like a really good one to finish on. We didn’t make it through the last 12 months alone; we didn’t even make it through just as Melling Baptist Community – we made it through with Emmanuel, God with Us. God has been part of our journey and has been invited into every aspect of it. He’s shared the tough times and our bi-weekly prayer meetings have taken all of the requests for prayer to him, but we’ve also had the privilege of taking our praises and thanks to him as well. God wants us to share every aspect of our lives with him from our requests for help for others and for ourselves to our thanks for the big and small joys to be found in every day.
1 Thessalonians says it quite simply: Pray without ceasing. That doesn’t mean spending every moment on your knees, it simply means allowing God to walk through every moment of every day with you. It means keeping the line of communication open so that he can share the hardship along with the joy. It means enjoying the companionship our father God.
As I look out and see the signs of spring I am filled with hope – hope for warmer days, hope for gatherings of friends and family, hope for a post-Covid world. But most of all I’m filled with hope because I know that I can share it all with God.
‘Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness’. Desmond Tutu.
A few years ago during a choir practice one Monday evening, an elderly lady turned up to listen to us. She sang, clapped, and beamed from ear to ear. At break time she dashed over to the urn and began making cups of tea and coffee for the ‘Lovely Choir’ members. That was our introduction to Vera. And ever since that evening she has been our amazing and ever-faithful choir tea lady! I was chatting to Vera the other day on the phone. We were having a catch up and laughing...and singing! As our conversation was coming to an end, Vera, now in her 90s, announced to me, “don’t worry Jo, the bag is ready for when choir practice starts back.” Vera was simply letting me know how excited she is to re-gain her role has choir tea lady, just as soon as we are able to return. Neither Vera nor myself has any idea what tomorrow may bring, but there’s hope.
When we finally all get back together again, whether that is at the Choir, or at the Hub, or any of our other weekly/monthly activities and events, there is guaranteed to be much excitement and laughter, and also tears and sadness. This last year we have all been through very different experiences... from some experiencing too much noise in the house to others experiencing no noise at all, from people staying well to others experiencing loss and much grief, and then there’s those who haven’t suffered financially and those who are financially broken...the truth is, we have all had different experiences and all need each other. And with each new day, we are one day closer to being back together. We weren’t made to be alone or kept apart. The bible says,
"Laugh with your happy friends when they are happy, share tears when they are down."
We would be lost without the amazing technology we have had over this last year, but nothing replaces actually physically being together and supporting one another. So as we face a new day and a new week, let’s get just a little bit excited, as we creep towards that day when we can see each other face-to-face. And while we don’t know what the future holds, may we find some comfort and help in the God who holds the future. And in the meantime I’m going to get my bag ready.
I’ve been working my way through millions (it feels like that) of old negatives and scanning them onto my computer. It means that I can then make copies for my daughters so I don’t have to print any. Clever hey! The memories come flooding back; it’s more like a tsunami, and can be quite overwhelming. You see your life before children and much more of your life before grandchildren. There are scenes which are clearly from my past but I don’t remember them, although I know my wife will, she forgets nothing which is sometimes difficult for me. There are images of people who are no longer around and even places that don’t exist anymore. Strangely, some of the most moving pictures from the past are of our failed Labrador (not quite 100% Labrador) and the cat that used to live across the road but got bored and moved in with us. We loved Dougal and Sooty, it feels like we still do. It’s interesting how we can still love people, places, and animals that are no longer with us. But when we see some of these negatives, they remind us of difficult and sad times in our past, and we experience feelings of regret as we remember mistakes that we made or opportunities that slipped through our fingers, or we are relieved that we have survived hard times.
There are lessons in this for all of us; every life has its easy days and its tough ones. Whatever our status and circumstances, we all have days when we laugh and days when we cry. It’s called ‘Life’. St. Paul tells us to, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” This may not be easy for us, but if we believe that God loves us and wishes only good for us, it helps us to realize that God is allowing our difficulties for a purpose. There are lessons we need to learn and experiences we need to go through in order that we can understand and sympathise with the people around us in their difficult days. Writing to the Christians in Rome who knew more about hardship than we will ever know, Paul said, “We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us to develop endurance, and endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” Life’s twists and turns can be unsettling to put it mildly; King David was often in serious trouble and danger but even in the worst of times he could still say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures for ever.”
Don’t be like my old films; negative.
In Economics there is a wonderful concept called Marginal Utility. It lies at the heart of the subject and helps to explain patterns of economic behaviour. It simply means extra Satisfaction ie; if I eat one more burger having already eaten 2, how much extra satisfaction will it really give me? In our consumerist society today, we tend to apply a different meaning to these words. Marginal means to be excluded, to be on the margins. Utility is about usefulness and those who are not seen as useful, are regarded as marginal. In Celtic Christianity, some of the Celtic saints chose a life of marginality by becoming a hermit. They would withdraw from society and choose to become marginal, useless. Their role changed to simply being available, walking alongside others in love and devoting themselves to prayer. We are not all called to be hermits ,thank goodness, but if Lent is about love, grace, mercy & forgiveness, surely one of the most love filled things we can do is to serve one another in love; to put the needs and wants of someone else before our own; to put our desire for satisfaction or recognition out of the way. Philippians chapter 2 puts it like this: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favour: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”
It is such a sacrificial act to become marginal but as Holy week draws closer perhaps now IS the time to give something up…our need to serve self.
I recently watched a programme about farming. I’m not particularly interested in farming, but it was a rainy Sunday afternoon and I had nothing better to do. The farmer featured in the show was a sheep farmer. His entire life revolves around the keeping of sheep. His livelihood is dependent upon the wool and meat derived from these animals. He invests a lot of time and effort in their safekeeping and care.
You would think, therefore, that he would have a fondness for these woolly money makers. Not so! The sheep caused him nothing but problems; largely due to their relentless stupidity. He made the good natured, but exasperated comment, “I spend my life trying to keep these animals safe, but they will find a million different ways to put themselves in danger. They are the most stupid animals on the planet”. We were then treated to the sight of the poor farmer having to rescue a sheep that had fallen in a river. Time and again, just when he had the sheep on the brink of safety, it turned tail and plunged back into the water. It was hard to tell if the sheep was just plain stupid, or if it was deliberately and wilfully frustrating his efforts. I have to confess to a sense of amusement at the farmer’s plight, but, in his position, I may well have given up and joined the vegan lobby.
The Bible makes hundreds of references to sheep and shepherds. Most famously, Jesus describes himself as, “The good shepherd, who lays down his life for his flock” and similarly, He says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me” and again, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”. There is clearly an indication of a relationship between sheep and shepherd; the passages describe a close bond.
Unlike our frustrated farmer, who viewed his flock as something to be tolerated and treated as a means of income, Jesus was invested in His sheep as individuals for whom He cared deeply. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. Jesus was prepared to lead His flock and to show them the way. He loved His sheep and spent time teaching them, healing them and ultimately laying down His life for them.
That same Jesus is our shepherd too. He still leads, loves, teaches and heals. His sacrifice was for everybody who chooses to accept Him as their shepherd. I’m happy to be a sheep and I’m very glad that my shepherd is prepared to love me, despite my relentless stupidity.
Do you know what the mathematical expression is for longing? ... The negative numbers. The formalization of the feeling that you are missing something.”
Peter Hoeg, Miss Smilia’s feeling for snow
Miss Smilia’s feeling for snow is a detective novel set in Denmark. Miss Smilia is a scientist/detective who is from Greenland but lives in Denmark. She feels out of place where she lives as she doesn’t feel as if she belongs, hence the quote above.
Unlike the character in the book, I am terrible at maths. However, the idea that negative numbers is a way of expressing that something is lacking is really intriguing to me.
Like Smilia, we can often feel like our life is heading into the negative number range, as if there is something missing. It could be a longing for something we know we don’t have, or simply a feeling that there is ‘something more’.
It’s a very common feeling and one that God understands that we can all feel at times.
In the bible, Jesus encountered a large crowd of people with these feelings. In Mark 6: 34 it says:
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Jesus knew that these people, had what Smilia described as a negative numbers feeling. They had a longing for something more. Jesus knew that what these people needed was a relationship with the living God. By teaching people what God was like, it started them on their journey of faith towards that relationship with him.
Jesus offers us the same today. He wants us to know that we are loved by an everlasting all loving God, and that God wants to teach us and help us through this crazy world we are living in.
So today, whatever we are doing, lets mentally take a step towards God, to let him love us and teach us, and move from the negative numbers, into a positive, life restoring relationship with God.
My Dad is a visionary, I am not. He can look at a square of mud and see a beautiful church or a dwelling. I see a square of mud! He is an architect and still sort of working at the tender age of just over 80.I am in awe. When we first told him and Mum about the fact that , thanks to adoption, our family would become 6 not 4 and it would happen overnight, he looked at our slightly run down home, realised that it might not be quite big enough, and saw something I could not. He sketched some modifications and an extension on the back of an envelope. And saw how home could work for our family.
“We behold what we become” is a quote by a monk called Richard Rohr. When I read that, I first think of beautiful images of the sun and gazing on that and allowing myself to become all sunny in my disposition and annoyingly cheerful. It is so much deeper than that. It is looking at our workplace or our community and beholding it as something awesome, full of potential, full of the Kingdom of God. It is looking at that person who annoys you or has vilified you and beholding in them as an opportunity for forgiveness. In becoming what we behold, we have to act. Celtic Christianity sees hospitality as a key aspect of living. That does not mean having to open your home and feed the neighbours (although, when restrictions are lifted that would be ace);it means seeing those that we meet today and beholding in them ,something of God. Beholding them and treating them as more than just a human being but as a valuable, precious , unique created being, whether they be ‘Billy’ at the checkout in Lidl or a former member of the royal family. In Matthew 25, Jesus says this: “‘For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”
If we want to try to become more Christ like each day, we need to behold and treat those we meet as if they were Christ Himself.
Look here, you who say, “today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year … how do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? What you ought to say is, ‘if the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that’”.
James Ch4 v13-14
For those of you old enough to remember the 1980’s action TV series The A Team, you may recall how this group of disavowed members of the American military travelled the country standing up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves with lots of car chases and explosions along the way. Their leader, Hannibal, was the brains behind everything they did and just as everything started to work out (they always won!), each week he would be heard to say “I love it when a plan comes together” while feeling very pleased with himself for yet another successful mission.
Whether its holidays or education or plans to move house, change our career or to retire – whatever it might be, we love to make plans for our future. There is nothing wrong with that, it is good and natural and it propels us forward in life. But there is a joke in Christian circles that says ‘if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!’ The point being that for all of our plan-making, we don’t own tomorrow and only God knows what is ahead of us. In fact, if we’ve learned anything over the last 12 months it must be that even the best laid and carefully made plans can suddenly become very fragile and be taken from us.
Those of you who are regulars to our Sunrise messages will have become familiar with the words we read in Jeremiah 29: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a hope and a future”. Only God can truly take care of tomorrow so as we make our plans for the future; for the holidays that we missed; the education or career that we desire or simply for the physical gathering of friends that we yearn for – let’s remember to hold our plans loosely. Let’s receive and give thanks for the gift of today and put our plans for our tomorrows into God’s care because his plans are better than we can imagine and he really does love it when his plans for us come together.
There are millions of people who every year pay to take part in crazy and very muddy events, apparently because they enjoy them. They run for miles over an obstacle course, climb vertical walls, scramble up inside an upright pipe with water pouring down inside it, slip and slide through mud that’s feet deep, frequently disappearing completely. They swing or try to swing over filthy pools of smelly disgusting water (I think it’s water) and squirm through very claustrophobic tunnels, and after all of this they get a certificate that confirms their insanity. They insist on doing it all again next year and collect another certificate that joins all the others, proudly framed, on their kitchen walls.
Some of them consider it to be a personal challenge to overcome their fears and test their limit of endurance. For others, the attraction is teamwork where the crazy competitors help and support each other. One competitor came up with the expression, ‘The No Judgment Zone’ because people who are complete strangers go out of their way to help and support each other. It doesn’t matter about colour, gender, age, size; everyone helps everyone. There’s no 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, everyone who gets to the end of the course is a ‘winner’.
In the early days of Christianity it was understood that the way forward was to imitate Jesus in His approach to people of all kinds. He broke all society’s laws and customs by talking to, listening to, and helping anybody. The leaders who made the rules were appalled but He ignored them, and He changed the lives of many individuals and families by demonstrating respect and concern. Nothing has changed, being prepared and willing to help anyone, if we have the ability and opportunity, is still a biblical principle and a demonstration of God’s love. In the Bible book of Hebrews, we read these words of advice to all Christians, in all countries, and at all times in history, including us here in Melling today, ‘Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together (as some people do), but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.’ When they talked about meeting together, they didn’t have Covid to deal with like we do, but they didn’t have phones and Zoom like we do. When lockdown ends and we start meeting each other, let’s make sure we are not strangers. And as new people join us, let’s remember ‘The No Judgment Zone’.
Today is a difficult day for many people. Mother’s Day can bring back good or bad memories. It can fuel such painful emotions. Or it may cause great excitement and ‘I’ve made you breakfast’ moments.
‘Mums’ may be mums, dads, carers, aunties, uncles, nans, grandads, neighbours, friends.....but we all have one thing in common, we’re not perfect.
Today I want to say THANKYOU to all the ‘mums’ who have been up countless nights with a screaming baby and still managed to get through the next day;
THANKYOU to all those ‘mums’ who have sent their children in to school in their uniform only to realise its own-clothes day;
THANKYOU to all those ‘mums’ who felt like crying when they made dinner only for it to be looked at with eyes that said ‘what’s that???’
THANKYOU to all those ‘mums’ who have felt like failures....I complete relate!
Being a ‘mum’ can be really tough. Happiness, good health, success and contentment is what any loving ‘mum’ wants for their children, but it’s not guaranteed. There can be great, happiness, and there can be immense sadness. Like the song says, ‘love hurts’. When one of my daughters hurts, I hurt, but when they are having a great time, well, that’s wonderful!
THANKYOU to everyone who has filled the role of ‘mum’ in some way for someone and experienced the laughter and the pain.
At this strange time of social isolation let’s use our time wisely. Let’s remember to be thankful for the wonderful, amazing, imperfect ‘mums’ both past and present. May God bless us with wonderful memories. May He comfort those who grieve. May He rejoice with those having fun. May He heal those in pain. May this be a time when families and friends, whilst physically apart, can be drawn closer together. Whatever you are feeling today, the bible says that God knows, He understands, He cares.
"You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
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."
Its not often that you here someone complaining about doing as they are told. However, a colleague of mine would often call about his computer and sounding very frustrated would tell me “Help, the computer is doing what I tell it to do, not what I want it to do!”
The many types of technology that we have available these days can sometimes be quite confusing to operate, and its still because of this underlying fact. If you know how to tell it what to do, it will do it. However, if you are not sure how to do it, it can be very frustrating when you cannot make it do what you want.
Usually, this is the other way around, with parents saying their children are doing what they want to do and not what I tell them to do. Sometimes, its wives about husbands, but obviously that’s not me!! It can be frustrating when you want someone to do something but they do something else instead.
I sometimes feel that God must become very frustrated because I may do what I want and not as he guides and instructs us. But God does not get frustrated, He keeps loving and forgiving us when we get things wrong, he understands us and he also knows how we should behave. The bible can offer us lots of great advice on what we should do, but God gives us the choice of what to do.
The bible is filled with many passages that can help us to live our lives in a loving, caring, selfless manner. With God’s help we can strive towards that goal. One book full of many short phrases that can be help is Proverbs, and there is one passage that sums it up
"Don’t forget all I’ve taught you; take to heart my commands.
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
He’s the one who will keep you on track."
God loves us so much, that he allows us to choose. Read or listen to His words from the Bible and they will guide us to his saving love. Trust in him, trust in his teaching and his love and peace will fill us.
Here we are in March, a full year into the pandemic and we now have a roadmap for the gradual escape from lockdown. Children have returned to school; offering relief to some parents struggling with maintaining their own performance at work whilst juggling home schooling. Hairdressers will soon be open; offering relief to some people struggling with split ends and unruly curls. The hospitality and entertainment industries are set to be re-opened in June, offering relief to those who have missed going for a drink with friends or desperately wanting to see what happens to James Bond.
A return to normal is on the horizon, but I wonder if it will be the old normal, or will we have moved on. The pandemic has been a time when we have all needed to find new ways to live our daily lives. The lack of options to occupy our time and the need to spend more time stuck indoors, looking at the same old faces every day, or perhaps not having any faces to look at, has put a strain on us all.
For the majority of us, these are the lives we chose and the last year has put us in a position where we have had to face up to those choices. After all, those people we have been stuck with twenty-four hours a day are the people we decided to spend our lives with. We have had to do so for months on end without the benefits of the usual respite mechanisms. There has been no cinema or theatre to occupy a few hours. Our opportunity to socialise with friends and let them take some of the strain has been denied us. We have simply had to get on with it… with varying results. It will be interesting to see how we all come out the other side.
The many people who have chosen to view the situation in a positive light have benefitted from the effort versus reward ratio. I know some people who chose not to send their young children to school, even though they are key workers and could have done so. Their reasoning was that the chance to spend so much time with them was unlikely to come again. Their decision turned their world upside down for a while and had its share of difficulties, but they believe the benefits outweighed those difficulties.
Another friend, who lives alone and has been required to shield due to health issues, decided to take steps to alleviate his loneliness by mastering social media and continuing his relationships online. He has even established a transatlantic darts tournament in which he competes via video call with his friend who lives in Chicago. He believes that this has actually strengthened his relationships and each friend is grateful to the others for the efforts they have made.
In some ways this mirrors our relationship with God. With or without Covid, our lives change to varying degrees all the time and we adjust to cope with whatever new reality we are faced with. We have to change our schedules to fit everything in. Just like the people who made the effort to make lockdown work for them by ensuring they still spent time with the people who matter to them, we need to make sure that we make the effort to spend time with God and give Him the position he deserves in our lives. We made a decision to include God in our lives just as we made a decision to spend our lives with the people around us. Whilst we may have found it a struggle to adjust to being with people twenty-four hours a day in strained circumstances, God is always happy to spend twenty-four hours a day with us and He lets nothing get in His way, “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created”.
'All the King's Horses...' - 10/03/21
You’re an incredibly rare person, if, in these last few days, you have not read something, nor watched something, nor heard something about Prince Harry and Megan Markle and the shocking interview they gave to Oprah Winfrey last week.
Indeed, for the last several years, almost on the daily, we have been bombarded with headlines about what Harry did, what Megan said, how rude she was, how angry he got… it has just gone on and on! And to be honest, if I saw a headline, I turned the page or scrolled past it.
Since the interview was aired on British TV on Tuesday, there are more headlines than ever before! Only this time they are slightly different. Now they raise questions about racism, cruelty, lack of help and support… and it would seem that you are either for the Sussexes or against them, for the royal family or against them.
But there is a problem with this. None of us have any idea what is true, what is a lie, what has been exaggerated, or misunderstood on either side. These are people we haven’t met, and we don’t know personally. And yet the pressure is on for us to take a side!! But how can I take a side when I don’t have all the facts?
But there are things that I do know. I know that racism it’s 100% wrong!
I know that poor mental health can be devastating and must be given the help it needs!
I know that two young boys that went through tragedy and loss grew up to be two young men who have dealt very differently with their grief and their pain. Both dealing with it as best they could!
And I know, that this entire royal family, regardless of their wealth, position and power, are a broken, devastated, hurting and imperfect family!
Mistakes have been made, words have been spoken and actions taken.
And here we are.
Jesus, when asked about the greatest commandment, responded with these words...
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, AND love your neighbour as you love yourself’.
Jesus knew what he was talking about. He knew that each one of us is capable of pride, and selfishness, prejudice and seeking position. He knew all about the hurt we are capable of causing. We may not make the headlines, and we may not have family problems like the royal family have at the moment, but we have all messed up. Each one of us is imperfect.
C S Lewis spoke with wisdom when he said,
‘you can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start from where you are and change the ending’.
My prayer for each one of us is that we can look at today as a new beginning. May we learn from the past. May we choose better words, and kinder actions. May we choose daily to love God and to ask him to help us to love our neighbours (even the difficult ones!) Whatever our beginnings have looked like, may we choose to have even better endings. And as for the royal family, what an almighty mess! May they seek the Almighty God for answers, guidance, wisdom and reconciliation. I wish them all well.
Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up in honour.
James Ch4 v10
We live in a culture that holds celebrities in high regard so it’s hardly surprising that this would eventually go the heads of some of them. When appearing on a show or on tour, celebrities are in a position to make demands of the venue – the demands that some of them make, say a lot about who they are. For example, while on tour Mariah Carey required a person to be on hand whose sole purpose was to throw away her gum! Singer Christina Aguilera on the other hand really doesn’t like a traffic jam – so much so, that she requests a police escort stating that under no circumstances are the vehicles in her entourage to be allowed to encounter any delays due to traffic. After her break up with Justin Bieber, actress Selena Gomez stated that she would not work with anyone named ‘Justin’ requiring a number of crew members to change their names so as not to upset her. Madonna on the other hand requires a 200 person entourage and her backstage room must resemble her own home complete with flower scented fabric furniture! It would seem that the higher up the celebrity ranking you go, the more outrageous the demands you can make.
Jesus told a story in the book of Luke of a Pharisee (Jewish leader) and a tax collector – the Pharisee was filled with his own self-importance and prayed to God to give thanks that he wasn’t like other people; that he wasn’t like that despised tax collector. The tax collector, on the other hand, stood at a distance, not even able to lift his eyes heavenward, and prayed that God would be merciful to him for the many things he had done wrong. Jesus summed the story up: “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” (The Message).
God doesn’t measure our importance by the size of our entourage or the demands we make – we are enough just as we are; God’s request is simple, that we “act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God”. CS Lewis put it this way – “true humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less” – once we know we are enough just as we are, we don’t need to draw attention to how important we are and we can turn our energies outwards towards others.
Let’s remind ourselves this week that we don’t need the distraction and fluff of self-importance to get God’s attention, we already have that, and that’s more than enough.
Yesterday I saw a photo of a tiny boy, between 1-2 years old, who had been suffering from starvation in Nigeria. It was taken 5 years ago in 2016. We’ve all seen those kinds of images haven’t we? Desperation and injustice! Except this time, it came with a couple of other photos. Photos from now, 5 years later, and that same little boy is beaming, dressed in a very smart suit, going to a wedding, looking the picture of health and happiness. It is such a beautiful image, and to top it off, his name is Hope!
5 years ago no one could be blamed for thinking that this little one was beyond help. Too ill. Unbearable circumstances in the country. Limited access to medical care. But somebody saw this little boy and had a glimmer of Hope. And they helped him.
Maybe you’ve experienced tough times, traumatic circumstances, loneliness, bullying, illness, family worries. And maybe, just like with little Hope, we can’t imagine things getting better. Maybe the struggles are continuing now, or maybe they’ve gone, but we’re still living with the memories of them and we can’t move forward.
I heard recently of someone who received a phone call from a friend who was so upset they could barely talk. Life had become so difficult, they had lost hope, the struggles were just too big. The friend receiving the call listened, offered support, and promised to be there....and a glimmer of hope was restored.
Take a moment to look at the photos of Hope. They speak for themselves. Whether you’re the one struggling or you know someone who is, remember Hope.
Maybe because I’m impatient or not very bright or just not willing to pay attention, I get bored when people use more words than are necessary. I like one-liners because the humour is instant and you can get a lot in a short amount of time. One of my favourite comedians is Tim Vine who has won many awards for very brief jokes like, “I’m so lazy I’ve got a smoke alarm with a snooze button” or “The advantages of easy origami are two-fold.” You must all have struggled with legal documents that seem to use five times more words than are needed. I came across this recently, ‘References in these regulations to a regulation are references to a regulation in these regulations.’ It’s not very long but it’s still too long. If you listen to an interview with a politician, you could believe that they get paid for the number of words they use to answer a question, or maybe not answer a question. In Jesus time there were many people who wanted to express their beliefs and use as many words as they could get away with. He was always able to respond and frequently silenced people in the process. But often He ended a conversation with a single statement that summed up the entire subject.
Sometimes He was happy just to use a few words that spoke volumes. He saw a man who had been an invalid for 38 years and asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The man began to explain why he had been there for so long, but Jesus just said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Job done. I like that, so did the man. One dark and wild night as the disciples were struggling to row across stormy Galilee, Jesus walked across the water to them and they were terrified but He simply said, “It is I, don’t be afraid.” They didn’t get a lengthy explanation which is just as well because He didn’t give them one. At the end of a theological conversation, Jesus wrapped it up by saying, “Before Abraham was, I am.” How profound is that? Five words that expressed an earth shattering truth. There are many more but probably the shortest and most amazing statement from Jesus was the last one before He died, “It is finished.”
The past year has caused huge anxiety, fear, loneliness and confusion and the last thing that most people want is a lecture. Let’s keep our word count low but our concern and compassion high. What we say is much more important than how many words we use to say it. Jesus said, “This is my command: love each other.” Seven words; even I can remember that.
Our connections with people are very different currently. When you can’t see who you are talking to, you miss out on so many visual clues to how people are responding to the conversation. The funny look you might be getting, or the squirming in the chair or getting fidgety and restless. Even on a video call, the interaction with people is not real enough to truly get a feel for a conversation when you only see their head and shoulders. I recently attended a training course for my job which would normally have been in a nice hotel, sat in a comfortable conference room, chatting with colleagues or getting to know people from different companies. Instead, I was sat at home, on mute, no video, listening to a trainer trying desperately to bring to life the training and interactions between the delegates. We have had to rely upon a reduced way of keeping in touch, which is not quite the same and not always reliable.
Last summer, when we were able to meet people in a garden having not seen them for ages, it felt a bit strange at first, and then it quickly felt like we hadn’t been apart at all. We are now looking forward to the next step as lockdown is gradually eased, how will it feel when we can meet up with another family, meet in a group, go to a cinema or restaurant, or squash into a busy train. We will get used to it again probably far quicker than we imagine.
We are a social people, we enjoy the company of others, we enjoy the contact with others. One of the benefits of lockdown has been a realisation that our relationships with each other is important. As we get through this lockdown, lets remember that the things we cant do now, when we are able to do them, will have more value when we can do it together. Going for a walk in a group, going for a coffee in a group, having a group of people sat in our lounge.
In our relationship with God, He longs to be close to us and when we get distracted by other things, our time with Him can be interrupted. But when we realise that our relationship with Him is key, it adds to all the things we do. Our connection with God can sometimes be difficult with things going on around us, but then when we get back to Him, it feels like the right place to be.
Lets stay connected with a God who loves us. In the book of James Chapter 4v8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.
'Spring' - 05/03/21
We have reached that dangerous time of the year. The time when my wife’s thoughts turn to Spring. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Spring. It is a time of hope, a time when things are made new, and let’s be honest, we could all do with some of that at the moment.
The problem with Spring is that, for my lovely wife, it is also a time to throw things away. We are all familiar with the term Spring cleaning, but she takes things to a whole new level. She doesn’t clean things per se, she just throws them away! Well, I suppose it saves having to clean them. Nothing is safe. Anything deemed surplus to requirements - her requirements, that is - finds its way into the wheelie bin. I have found it best to keep moving, or wear a hi-vis jacket marked, “Still in Use”, so that I too don’t fall victim to the purge.
Now, her basic principle has merit. There is no point hanging on to things that have outlived their usefulness. If you don’t use it, get rid of it. Otherwise, it simply takes up space that could be used for more useful things, or just used as free space. It’s just the vigour with which she applies the principle that takes the breath away. That is until we come to the matter of coats. Apparently, coats are exempt from the scorched earth policy. Coats; many of them unworn since the dawn of time, inhabit entire wardrobes, safe in the knowledge that they have special dispensation from the authorities to remain there for as long as they wish.
It’s funny what we choose to cling on to. For some it’s coats, for others it’s shoes or tee shirts, old football programmes or cuddly toys. For others it’s anger or bitterness, sadness or despair. We sometimes keep hold of things that are not good for us. Things that hold us back. Things that would be better left behind.
That is not what God wants for us. God wants us to leave behind the things that hinder us. He wants to make us new. For God, every day is Spring. “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”. For us to be a part of the new things that God is doing, we need to leave behind the baggage. We need to be renewed. For this, we usually need God’s help, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me”. Once we have done so, we become a new person, the person God would have us be, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; the new has come”.
So, is it time to make space for God to help us change? If the answer is, “Yes”, then we can start by throwing away the coats.
When he asked my grandmother if she would mind being poor, she said she would be happy just to have her daughter and himself: 'If you have love, even plain water is sweet.”
Jung Chang, Wild Swans
Wild Swans is the true story of three generations of women living in China in the 20th century. In this part of the book, Jung’s grandmother has escaped the opulent but oppressive life of a concubine in a wealthy general’s home with her daughter and falls in love with a much poorer man, hence his concern.
Jung’s grandmother knew that without love, even the opulence she had been used to wasn’t worth it. She chose love and did not regret her decision, even though life for them was very hard.
If we can cast our minds back to before the pandemic, society was very good at telling us that money and position really mattered. What house you had, what car you drove, what holidays you went on, were how society would define you. The realities of living in a pandemic have helped us realise that these things are not as important as society would have us believe. Love, health, and family are far more important.
God tells us again and again in the Bible how wonderful His Love is. In 1 Corinthians 13 he makes it clear how strong and powerful that love is;
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
God loves us and that love is amazing. It is everything he describes here and more. He longs to surround us with this wonderful love, and when we accept it he enables us to love others with that same love.
Just like Jung Chang’s grandmother, he invites us to choose love every time. The amazing all-encompassing, death defeating Love of God, Father, Son and Spirit. Gods Love is worth it.
Mental health is so important and yet I damage mine by trying to fix things in my mind; often even imagining future situations so that I have something to work on. The human mind lives so often like this, in a hamster wheel of problems and problem solving. It comes from our need to be useful and to be in control. Our need to control, to be in charge can sometimes, however well meant, be unhelpful. How often, when asked to pray or to listen, do we feel that urge, to fix the problem, to offer solutions that have not been asked for and even worse, to step in and take over.
One of the Celtic Saints, Thomas Merton said this: “The monk is not defined by his task; in a certain sense he is supposed to be useless, because his mission his not to do this or that job but to be a man of God.”
When Jesus was in Gethsemane shortly before his death, his request of his dearest friends was that they should keep watch and pray: Matthew 26: v.36 :Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’
One of the most encouraging things about our community is that when Jo posts a prayer request, so many folks simply reply “Praying” or put an emoji of the praying hands. With prayer we do not need to fix anything. With prayer we can keep watch over those who need help, even if we do not know them. With prayer we can be useful at the point when we feel useless. When we pray, God hears and that is more than enough.
'God's Family' - 02/03/21
Come close to God, and God will come close to you.
James Ch4 v8
As we start the month of March, I find myself still sitting at home working from my dining table. I have now spent 12 months watching over my garden as I work, seeing how the seasons have changed it; watching the squirrels and seeing the return of the Blue Tits to nest in our box. Who would have thought we’d still be here in lockdown, 12 months later! What we thought would be a few weeks of separation from friends and family has now been a year with just a few relaxations of rules along the way.
The last 12 months brought about many changes in our lives, we’ve learned how to use technology in a way we couldn’t have imagined; we’ve spent time online on a Sunday morning getting to know one another, drinking coffee and chatting over God’s word; we’ve laughed over virtual Bingo while playing for worthless and bizarre prizes; we’ve sung ‘Happy Birthday’ over Zoom more times than I care to remember and most of them I would rather forget! We’ve played quizzes and held fundraisers – who would have thought we could be so busy and productive without ever being able to sit together! But through all of this we’ve shared more than just laughter, we’ve been able to offer support to one another. A phone call, a text message, a bunch of flowers on the doorstep – or perhaps a gnome. The laughter has been so much more than just laughter, it’s been family.
We are a community of people who gather, albeit virtually at the moment – but we are so much more than that because we are a community of people who have God at its heart. Throughout everything that has taken place over the last 12 months, God has been with us. He has laughed with us and cried with us, he has heard our prayers and felt our anxieties but at no point has he ever left us. When we look for God, he will be there and what’s more, he will stick around through the good times and the bad.
In the book of Joshua we read: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”.
We’ve become quite used to uncertainty over the last 12 months and while we have cause for great hope for the coming months, let’s not lose sight of the fact that God has been with us through everything we have experienced so far and will continue to be with us through the joys and the tears of whatever is to come. Let’s invite God into every aspect of our lives and let’s face tomorrow with the strength and courage that comes from knowing that God is with us because when we open our lives to God, he moves in and he stays.
'Remember to Remember' - 01/03/21
‘Remember the way He led you up to the top of the highest mountain
Remember the way He carried you through the deepest dark
Remember His promises for every step on the road ahead
Look where you've been and where you're going
And remember to remember’
(Steven Curtis Chapman)
On May 31st 2008, Christian musician and singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman’s youngest daughter, Maria-Sue passed away in a tragic accident. Maria, just 5 years old had been playing in her garden when she saw her 17 year old brother, Will, arriving home in his truck. As Will backed into the path, Maria appeared from nowhere and was knocked down. For many people it will be hard to comprehend the devastation felt by the Chapman family. Not only for the loss of their adored little daughter and sister, but also the pain and guilt felt by Will. In the days and weeks, months and years since the accident, the family spoke of having great days and terrible days. But one thing remained constant, their belief in a God who laughed with them and wept with them, and never left them.
Remember to Remember is one of Steven’s most recent songs. It speaks of the trials and traumas of life, the good times and the bad. Life! And it’s the words of a man in the midst of both joy and deep grief acknowledging that God has walked with him through it all. It’s a powerful and beautiful song.
Sometimes life can be tough, painful, overwhelming, at other times we can have so much joy and happiness. Whatever place you are in at the moment, can I encourage each one of us to look back and see all that we can be thankful for. And in those toughest of times may we recognise and remember a God who said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you’. May we all remember to remember.
'Too Much Space' - 28/02/21
It’s a funny old world. In recent years we have watched as we have been robbed of our space. I can remember when we first moved into our home, the number of cars in the road didn’t reach double figures. When we drove into Liverpool we could park anywhere because yellow lines and parking meters hadn’t been invented and traffic wardens hadn’t been born. I could walk straight into our chippy and out again in five minutes. I could get on a train without needing to book and still find a seat. Over the years everything has become crowded and in the days before Covid if I stopped my trolley in the supermarket for more than ten seconds, I created a traffic jam and finding a pair of socks in Primark was like a rugby scrum. We have all prayed for peace and space. Well I have news for you, our prayers have been answered. Last Friday I needed a blood test; I walked into the health centre where there are fifty seats which are always full, only to find myself in an empty room. I sat down for one minute, my name was called and two minutes later I was back outside. Then I drove into the city centre multi storey car park, went up two floors and parked in the middle of an empty floor. When I came back four hours later, my car was still all alone. I had a takeaway lunch in Lime Street station and could choose from about sixty empty seats. It was a wonderful day and the sun shone. Perfect! I revelled in the emptiness.
There is of course the small matter of the plague that has caused massive fear, stress, illness, and sadly, death, and many people have been left with a great sense of emptiness. One answer to this distressing condition is to have people around who can travel with us on our journey. Mandy Hale said, “Always show kindness and love to others. Your words might be filling the empty places in someone’s heart.”
But we can go further and deeper; our friends are absolutely wonderful and necessary but they can’t get into our heads. We have read many times in Sunrise that God understands us better than we understand ourselves, so when the emptiness inside causes sadness and stress, let’s remember that God can fill the space and help us to rise above those emotions that threaten to drag us down.
St. Paul wrote, ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’
'Too Much Space' - 27/02/21
Since the start of the year, I have been working with a new team in my job. Its been quite challenging having to do this working from home. I have met some of them before and know a little bit about them, but never really known them that well. Trying to get to know them and understand what they do and where I fit in has been tricky. There has been lots of research and reading to be done about their work. It would be great if I was in the office but I cant be there right now. So I am having to spend specific time with individuals or small groups getting to know them and what they do. My role is to help them improve how they deliver their services within the company, so having begun to understand where they are, I now have ideas about where we now should go.
I have been discussing ideas with a small number of people and in particular one of the bosses. After discussing some of my ideas with him , I asked him if he was OK with me to start planning and implementing some of the changes. He said “Go for it, that’s what you are here to do”. He gave me the support and authority to start doing. Its not as easy doing this work remote from each other and takes more specific effort to align our thinking.
Its like that in our relationship with God, we have to spend specific time with Him to understand Him and what He wants us to do. He is not physically here with us but we can read about His ways in the Bible, we can learn about His love for us, we can talk to Him through prayer, setting aside some time specifically, and listen for His guidance. And He has sent us His power in the Holy Spirit. He has told us what we are here to do and will give us the confidence and authority to do it.
To love people, to be a witness for His love and to share of His sacrifice for us all.
When Saul first spoke with God and understood that God had chosen him, he was with a renowned and well thought of priest, Ananias, who told him, “You are to be a witness to everyone you meet of what you’ve seen and heard. So what are you waiting for? Get up and get yourself baptized, scrubbed clean of those sins and personally acquainted with God.” (Acts 22v15-16).
He then began his work and writings as the Apostle Paul.
We should all be personally acquainted with God, as we get to know Him and live our lives as He teaches us, with love, kindness and compassion, being a witness for all that we have learned.
What are you waiting for?
'Laughter Lines' - 22/04/21
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
As a little girl, whenever we visited my grandmother, my sister would take great delight in counting her wrinkles, to see if she had any more from the last visit! My grandmothers response was always the same. She would explain that she had lived a very happy life, and the wrinkles were a sign of that.
Shakespeare clearly had the same idea, the more you enjoyed life and laughed, the more wrinkles you ended up with.
I am not sure it works exactly like this, but it is lovely to think that all the happiness and joy we have experienced somehow shows up on our faces.
Can you remember the last time you laughed till you cried? Or the time that something silly made you giggle, and every time you think of it you giggle again? I love the fact that we have this wonderful gift of laughter and fun from God.
When Jesus was explaining why he had come to his followers in John Chapter 10, he describes himself as three things.
Firstly, he describes himself as a gate, which may seem strange but he was trying to explain that it was through Jesus that everyone could find a way back to God.
Secondly, he describes himself as the good shepherd, who looks after his sheep and is prepared to die to save them, just as Jesus died for us on Good Friday
Thirdly Jesus said this; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Jesus came so that with him, we could have the most amazing fulfilling life possible, living life every day with God. Whilst that doesn’t mean that there won’t be tears and sadness, there will also be a lot of love, care, community, fun and laughter along the way.
And the more time we spend with Jesus, the more that his love shows in us, maybe not in laughter lines, but in our actions and words.
Now I don’t suggest that when we meet up again you start counting everyone’s laughter lines, as you may get into trouble, but let’s enjoy the laughter and fun that comes our way, and choose each day to really live life to the full with Jesus.
It’s Wednesday. I think. Yesterday on one of our WhatsApp chats there was some confusion about what day it was! Actually there was quite a lot of confusion on that chat about several things yesterday. It was very funny and entertained us a lot throughout the day. But as far as I know it’s Wednesday today. Just Wednesday, plain old Wednesday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for a brand new day, but before lockdown last year, Wednesday was not plain. Not at all. Wednesday was ‘Bacon Wednesday’ and the day was met with a ‘Wake Up Everybody!!’ message and a suitably, lively song that would get people moving! It was one of my favourite times of the week when we would have our coffee morning, complete with copious amounts of coffee, sausage and bacon rolls, pastries and a whole lot of chat!! The hall would be filled with the sound of laughter, discussion, support and friendship....along with the regular announcement of, ‘I didn’t order this’! This was a time of food, friendship and family. I miss Bacon Wednesday!! Of course I can fry bacon at home and make a pot of coffee but it’s simply not the same. The people are missing.
The bible talks about the early Christians and how they met together for every day activities, encouraged and supported one another and ate together.
“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
There are many occasions in the bible where people meet around a meal. Eating together was a big deal. And I can understand why. Bacon Wednesday was a straightforward, morning. Eat and chat. But it was more than just that. It was a place where church came together. I’m looking forward once again to the good coffee and the bacon roll that I didn’t order! But along with the food, I simply cannot wait to be together again with such incredible people who turn up to do life together! The good bits, the bad bits and the ugly! And when we do come together again, I have no doubt in my mind that there will be tears, shared memories, grief, gratitude and laughter. Wednesday is just Wednesday, at the moment. But Bacon Wednesday is getting closer and church will come together, in person, once again. And until that time May we all remember that,
“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them…”
Exodus 20: 4-5
At the age of 13 a young man attended his first football match at Fratton Park, the home of Portsmouth Football Club – that was the start of a lifelong love affair with the club that has without doubt taken over his life and brought him the reputation of being their most recognised and notorious super fan. Today, at the age of 58, John Westwood has 60 Portsmouth tattoos across his entire body; the club crest is shaved onto his head and ‘PFC’ is engraved onto his teeth! If you Google him, he’s quite a sight and there would be no question as to which side he had turned up to support. In 1989 he even changed his name by deed poll to John Anthony Portsmouth Football Club Westwood. His home has become a shrine to his beloved club with everything from the cushions, teddy bears, curtains, wallpaper and carpets bearing the name of his precious club. We may find this kind of devotion amusing but it has also had tragic consequences – by his own admission, his finances are in a mess due to the excessive spending on PFC merchandise and his marriage broke down with his wife leaving him and taking his children. His obsession has become his religion, it has become an idol that rules every area and every moment of his life.
There is nothing wrong in supporting your favourite sporting club or athlete, it can be a wonderful pastime to experience the highs and lows of being a fan. But God is very clear with us on one thing – we must not bow down and worship any god, any idol, any ‘thing’ or person other than Him. This doesn’t stop us enjoying the thrills of being a fan, but it does set some limits. Limits that mean that nothing and no one should ever come before God.
Our idol may not be a football club, it could be a celebrity or pop star, it could be money or cars or a career – in fact we can find that we can put just about anything in the place where God should be.
In Matt 6 we read these words: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I recommend being a super fan of God and putting him before everything else – one day John’s cushions and carpet will be gone and his tattoos will have faded but the treasure we have stored in heaven will be there for all eternity.
I’m a great singer although you may think that’s unlikely. That doesn’t bother me because I have no plans to sing to you, and you cannot make a judgment about my ability because you’ve never heard me sing. I sound brilliant in the bath and sensational in the car singing along with the radio. Sometimes I’m so good I turn the radio off because whoever is on is ruining my performance. I turned Alfie Boe off last week for the same reason. Clearly singing is personal and it’s possible that there may be a few people who don’t understand why I’m so impressed with my own performance.
The last year has not provided us with many good reasons to sing, and the Melling Choir have not even had the opportunity to sing together, so some feel dispirited, almost strangled. To be a choir member does require that you can sing in a way the members are happy with, so that probably rules me out. But real singing is meant to be an expression of your personal feelings not a demonstration of choral excellence. In the Bible book of Acts, we read of Paul and Silas being thrown into prison after magistrates illegally had them ‘stripped and beaten with rods.’ How did they respond to this? ‘About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.’ This was not intended to be a concert; it was just their way of expressing faith in God and gratitude for all His blessings.
We do need to understand how blessed we are, even with a pandemic rampaging around us. There are literally hundreds of millions of people worldwide who would love to live where we are. No organization is perfect but we do have the NHS, and a police force, and fire fighters, and supermarkets, schools and teachers, heating and lighting and a million other things. Christians don’t see these services as accidents but provision from a God of love. So let’s express our gratitude by singing, not necessarily in tune, but singing honestly and joyfully. Forget the latest pop song, Psalm 98 starts with this advice, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things’ and tomorrow morning take the advice given in Psalm 118, ‘This is the day that the Lord has given, let us rejoice and be glad in it.’
As Jo says, “All together, after three.”
Confession time: I love dancing and singing and jigging around. However, my family beg me not to, apparently it is not a pretty sight, which I can well believe. I have not missed the gym at all, but I have missed my Konga dance class where we did a mix of zumba, boxercise, and general jigging around whilst pretending to exercise. When we go up to Scotland, there will occasionally be a village ceilidh and it is is an awesome occasion. It brings the community together. It is full of joy and laughter as well as dancing. There is a book by Richard Rohr called The Divine Dance;in it he likens our spiritual journey with Christ to a divine dance, full of joy as well as a lot of missteps! However, like all dances, the steps are not always easy and sometimes we really get it wrong, stepping on toes and causing hurt.
In the book, Richard Rohr tackles the subject of sin: “Sin is what stops us from dancing. It blocks out the joyful, hallelujah chorus of Heaven that provides the backdrop to our divine dance. Sin, the block, is unforgiveness, negativity, violence, anger, hatred of others ( we could probably add a big long list here)…you just can’t afford to do it. It stops you dancing, it stops you from loving one another.”
‘“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.’
When we read these words of Jesus,there is no wriggle room, no gaps for unforgiveness, negativity, anger or hatred. This is not a dance that we dance alone, it needs a partner; we need to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is community. It is hard work. Celtic Prayer has a wonderful prayer to help when we mess up and step on each others toes:
‘Lord, let our memory provide no shelter for grievance against each other.
Lord, let our heart provide no harbour for hatred of each other.
Lord, let our tongue be no accomplice in the judgement of each other.
“Absence can be present, like a damaged nerve, like a dark bird”
Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife
The Time Travelers Wife is a story about a man (Henry) who has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and how his wife (Clare) copes with his frequent absences and dangerous habit of reappearing in strange places.
I am sure all of us have an idea of where we would go if we could time travel. The possibilities are endless and sound very exciting if you get to choose. In this book however, Henrys’ time-travel exploits are beyond his control. This is quite a scary prospect, and his wife often has long stretches of time when he simply isn’t in the same time and place as she is. She misses him deeply, so much that she describes his absence as a living thing.
We may well have all had times when absence has seemed a definite presence. It may have been in the sense of having to do something alone, like a difficult task or journey. I know that when my children first went to school and also when my daughter first went to university, the house seemed very quiet indeed, even though it was still very busy!
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Royal family this week and especially the Queen, as they start to come to terms with the loss of Prince Phillip. I am sure that the presence of his absence is very keenly felt at the moment.
Thankfully, we can be reassured that whatever circumstances we are in, we never have to feel to absence of God. God is with us, and its actually recorded in the Bible at least 25 times, God speaking to his people the words ‘I will not leave you’
From the Old Testament, God reminds us:
'Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’
To some of the last words that Jesus spoke before he went up to heaven,
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
God is not going anywhere, and he wants us to share our lives with him. To walk with him, our hand in his hand, through each day, knowing that we never have to face anything alone.
Let’s take a moment today to be still and be aware of God, the Presence of his Presence so to speak, and know that you are loved by a very awesome and present God.
'Curve Ball' - 16/04/21
Baseball is an interesting sport, I don’t watch it very often, but do enjoy the skill of the players. It is a team sport but also an individual sport. The way to score the most points is to “load the bases” so that you have more players in the field and then when you hit the home run, you can get them all home again. But there are individual battles as well, the pitcher and the batter. The pitcher will throw the ball in many different ways to try and stop the batter from hitting the ball. The batter will try to hit the ball in such a way that they can get a player on each of the bases and ultimately hit a big shot to allow all the players to return home. Some may call it “rounders” in this country but then that may offend those who study and are fascinated by baseball.
The individual battle between the pitcher and batter does come up with a great expression about being “thrown a curve ball”.
Life can be very much like this, in that we are going through life together and there are many people who will support us, but we do face our own individual battles. Sometimes when we are doing our own day to day things, sometimes we get thrown a curve ball, something we were not expecting but we have to deal with it somehow. It’s not always easy, but remember that we are in a team. Whilst we have individual things that we do, there are also many who will help us. It may not be our role in life to hit the home run, it may be our role in life to support others and prepare the way, to load the bases. It may be our role to guide or coach people to help them to deal with what life throws at them. Together, we can make a difference.
As we are encouraged in Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ”, “If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, if one part flourishes every other part joins in with it”. As we go through life individually, remember there is a team around us who can help, encourage, guide and support, through practical help and through prayerful support. This is God’s church who calls us to love one another. As we recognise that we are all parts of Gods family, we will see His love for us and see how we can share God’s love with those around us. Thank the Lord for His family.
'Perseverance' - 15/04/21
I happened to be sitting on the beach today at high tide. I like high tide; it reduces the available space and consequently compresses all the beach related activity into a small area that is easier to observe. Families building sandcastles must do so within easy reach of dog walkers, kite flyers, horse riders and metal detectorists. When all these people no longer entertain me, I can cast my eyes out to sea and watch the ships plying their trade across the Irish Sea and further afield, or follow the gentle rotation of the blades of the wind turbines or the murmuration of the lapwings. All of this can be enjoyed from the comfort of my little beach tent, sheltered from the wind and the harsh rays of the sun.
As I reclined, sultan like, in comfort and warmth – sandwich in hand and flask at the ready – the highlight of the high tide entertainment began to arrive. In ones and twos they appeared at the top of the boardwalk and made their way to the main stage. The top of the bill! The moment you have all been waiting for! Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your delectation and delight, the Triathletes!
This bunch of lunatics... I'm sorry; this bunch of dedicated athletes, are here for one purpose alone. To swim. Open water swimming is one of the three disciplines of the Triathlon; together with cycling and running. To be precise, the Triathlon comprises an open water swim of 1500 metres, followed by a 40 kilometre bike ride, topped off with a 10 kilometre run. High tide is their playground. Bedecked in wetsuits and tethered to orange inflatables, they plunge into the water with not a care for the weather. Only a Coastguard's red flag will stop them. They are dedicated. They are determined. They persevere. I overheard one of them stating that the water had been that cold last Saturday that it had numbed her brain. She had been so cold that she had been dizzy. Did it stop her? No; she simply pressed on and had a tale to tell at the end of it.
Why do they do it? Because they have a goal. They know that talking about it doesn't get it done. If they want to be Triathletes, they have to put in the work. They have to set aside everything that would hinder them, such as cold weather and even colder seas and press on toward that goal.
The writer of the book of Hebrews in the Bible speaks of a similar approach to our faith; “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”. He tells us that many have gone before and have had to endure difficult times, but they pressed on and did not let hardship dissuade them from their true course. We too should focus on the goal and persevere to the end, where the greatest prize awaits. We don't need wetsuits and inflatables, we just need to recognise that sometimes things will be difficult and will cause us to feel disheartened, but that Jesus has been there before us and He walks with us now and in the future and that if we have the confidence to persevere and walk with Him, we too will reach our goal.
'Room For One More' - 14/04/21
This coming Sunday, I will be introducing a new theme for the next couple of months of Zoom Church. Spoiler alert!!… It’s World Cultures. We live in the most incredible world where not just nature, art and science can regularly blow our minds, but also the differences in cultural practices from one region to another and one country to another. Cultures are simply fascinating.
In Japan, I have been reading about the ‘subway pushers’. These are people employed to do one particular job....during rush hour, they are paid to push more and more people onto the already crowded trains. Just when you thought that someone was already invading your personal space, another three turn up as well!! These subway pushers must have been trained to know when to stop, atleast I hope they have, but the idea intrigued me! Room for one more!!
One of my absolute pet hates is cliques! I’m not talking friendship groups that form easily and openly with common interests, but the friendship groups that form in a tight knit, exclusive way. If you’re ‘not the right kind’ then you don’t get in. Cliques are often found in schools and can cause much hurt and isolation. But sadly we also find them in the workplace, in social settings and even in the church! Maybe your look isn’t right, or your lifestyle isn’t picture perfect, maybe you don’t sound the same, or you’re simply ‘not good enough’ to be part of the group! People get left out, just because.
The bible has such a lot to say about this! Paul writes these words, “Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody”.
Can I suggest that here in Melling we adopt a gentler form of ‘Japanese subway pushing’?? Wherever we are, whoever we’re with, as church, we get alongside others, tell them that we’re in this journey of life together, hold the doors wide open and ALWAYS make room for one more
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.
Exodus 20: 2-3
Remember the great toilet roll shortage of 2020? As the government announced the first lockdown a portion of the nation went into panic mode and began to buy up huge quantities of toilet rolls, pasta, hand sanitiser and tinned goods. We can look back and laugh now but suddenly some of those most basic items became the most valuable to seek out. Now don’t misunderstand me, some of that panic buying was done out of fear – we were beginning a period of our lives that was uncertain and a little scary. However, when you then discovered that there were people out there that had bought up stocks and stocks of basic items just to sell them online at vastly inflated prices – well the selfishness infuriated me!
Sadly we see acts of selfishness all around us on a daily basis. The person who blocks everyone in with their parking simply so they don’t have to walk that little bit further; the person who will jump in front of everyone else in a queue simply because they seem to think they are more important; or the person who drops their litter on the floor because surely it is someone else’s job to pick it up?!
If we are honest, we are all guilty at times of putting our own needs and desires first but today’s verse is a reminder that none of us should ever put ourselves or anything or anyone before God. The verse starts by reminding the Israelites where they had been and who had brought them to where they were – God. We too need to take a moment to remind ourselves today that God has walked with us through the last 12 months and has brought us to where we are today.
However tough life may have been God has journeyed with us and has remained with us and will remain with us. We have pulled together over the last year and grown as a community but we have grown as a community because God has been at the heart of it. When we hold God in his rightful place and put him first, that is when our relationship with him will grow and our relationship with one another will grow – so much so that we are told to “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 this: love your neighbour as yourself”.
This first commandment isn’t about a God that wants us to put him first and not care about those around us; this is about a God who wants us to put him first in our lives so that he can show us how to live well together, caring for one another, helping one another and meeting each other’s needs.
So if you do need a toilet roll, let me know, I’m happy to share my modest stock!
The life of a student today studying for a degree can be incredibly challenging; the debt that they can amass is almost more than the degree is worth. There’s no guarantee that they will get the job they deserve but assuming that they get some kind of occupation, there is an enormous amount of money to repay! Many students are trying to survive from week to week on a paltry amount of cash to keep their debts down.
I read recently of a student in that situation who was shopping one evening for food for the month. She filled her basket in the supermarket and when she got to the checkout realized that there may be more food in the basket than she had money for. She asked the lady who was scanning her items to stop at fifty pound, so her bill amounted to £49. 62p. She walked out leaving behind three tins, a bag of potatoes, and six oranges. Feeling a little dejected she was walking out of the car park when a man approached her, “Excuse me young lady, you left these behind” and handed her a bag. He smiled and promptly walked away into the crowd before she could say anything.
This lovely story reminded me of the teaching of Jesus, “When you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the places of worship and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.”
I believe that this is happening in Melling constantly and very many people have been blessed because others have given their possessions, abilities, time, and prayer, just for the benefit of people in need; never for show. As we continue in these difficult times to practice, quiet generosity, let’s remember that we can only give because of the blessings that God has already given to us. Jesus said, “Don’t ever worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Everyone is concerned about these things, and your heavenly Father certainly knows you need all of them.” So as we share our blessings, let’s remember where they come from.
As lockdown restrictions gradually ease I am becoming aware that whether our lockdowns have been a breathing space or a period of terrible stress, for many of us it has been , at times, like having a dislocated limb ;painful, not quite connected and in desperate need of healing. We have been removed from our normal location/place, particularly with meeting as a church.
When on a retreat with The Northumbria Community many years ago, I arrived and was told that my shared room was nearly ready. I was most unhappy as I had expected a single room and did not fancy sharing my space with a random stranger…even if they were lovely. It was my first ever retreat and I had to learn to adapt to living in community for just a week. I had to fit in with a different pattern of meals, worship and work in the community. In the end, I was given a single room but I do remember finding it hard adjusting my routine to fit in with the needs of the wider monastic Celtic community.
Walter Breugman puts it like this: “Dislocation (i.e. living in a strange place or time) comes with it a temptation to be preoccupied with self; to flee the hard task of community for the sake of private wellbeing.” As we emerge from our various lockdowns, those of us who have been used to our own little routines, ways of doing things etc need to learn to fit in with the needs of our community. We need to , not only ,love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind but we also need to love our neighbour as our self. In Acts 2, we are told that the early church lived like this:
“And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.”
Living in wonderful harmony sounds so lovely but the reality was probably a lot tougher. Changing our plans for the good of others is never easy. Putting aside our own wants and needs can be very tough. However, the joy of doing this , is seen when we come together as community. The joy of serving one another far outweighs the loss of personal space or time and ultimately, as we serve others and the world, we are serving Christ.
We have heard on Friday of the sad news of Prince Philip passing away, as we begin, let us remember the Royal Family, mourning the loss of a husband, father, grand-father. As a family, they will be coming to terms with this loss, as a public family they will share that grief with us. Please do offer a prayer for them all at this sad time.
'Life Journeys...' - 10/04/21
Sometimes on my commute (remember those? when we had to drive or get a train to work rather than just go to the spare room) I would sometimes get to work and I could not remember some of the usual landmarks, I have arrived safely but maybe it was more on autopilot than I would like to admit. Sometimes we end up at a point in our life and if we had been asked about it previously, we would not have chosen to end up at this place. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but where we are can present us with different opportunities than if we had chosen our own “safe” route through life. However, there may be times when those life journeys and choices take us down a route that we would not want to be. But, when we look at where we are, we need to recognise the opportunities that are open to us now.
I recently heard a slightly different version of the “footprints in the sand” story, where the image of our life is show in footprints with ours and God’s footprints side by side, but through the tough times, there was only one set of footprints showing that God had carried us through. The alternate ending given was that in those times, that’s when we decided to hop. It made me smile but also encouraged me that even when our life journey does not take a route we would expect, there are still opportunities to smile together.
Our life journeys will be adventurous, with excitement and challenges alike. Sometimes we won’t understand how we ended up where we are, but let’s remember to look around us, at those who are with us, lets support each other and give each other hope and give each other a smile. Supporting each other is about showing compassion and can also be about sharing a smile.
When did you last hop and skip to bring a smile to yourself and those around? (please only try this if you are able – don’t want any injuries being reported!)
God will laugh with us and He will cry with us, God is with us, wherever we venture, let us embrace that and embrace Him.
Isaiah 46:4 Even to your old age and grey hairs, I am God, I am God who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you
'Getting To Know You' - 09/04/21
Good morning and welcome to today's Sunrise. This is the forty-ninth Sunrise I have penned and perhaps the forty-ninth of those Sunrises that you have read. If so, thanks for sticking with me through all of my ramblings. Given that we have been meeting via this web page every Friday, you may have begun to get to know me. By now, you will be aware that I like Baseball and history; particularly 20th century American history. You will know that I like cycling and Italy and that my favourite flowers are poppies. You may remember that my middle name is Andrew, that I have four grandchildren and that I have a particular dislike of bag-less vacuum cleaners. The more of my writing you read, the clearer the picture of my life and my character becomes. I have never met some of you in person and these random thoughts are the only way I have of connecting with you. One day, “when the bug goes away”, as one of my grandchildren would say, we may actually meet face to face. I wonder if you will be disappointed in the real thing?
There is no substitute for spending time with somebody if you want to get to know them. Of course, that usually involves actually being with them in person. The disciples were able to spend time with Jesus as he went about His ministry. For three years they went everywhere with Him. They ate with Him, prayed with Him, witnessed His miracles, His teaching, His death and His resurrection. They also saw that Jesus took time to be with His Father. He would regularly take Himself off to a quiet place to continue His relationship with God. “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”. Jesus understood the importance of knowing God and of taking the time to be with Him.
We are not able to be with Jesus physically, but we have a large book filled with writing about Him and His life and character. The Bible is our opportunity to learn about Jesus; to get to know Him better. If it was important for Jesus to set aside time to seek His Father's presence then we must accept that it is vital for us too. If we want to know Jesus and want to understand what God would have us be in this life, then spending time with them is the way to do it, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”. Spending time with Jesus through the words of the Bible will reveal to us His character, His love, His grace, His mercy, His compassion, His patience and His glory. One day, we will meet Him face to face and on that day I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle.
This very famous quote which appears in many of the Sherlock Holmes books, explains how Holmes makes his amazing deductions. By keeping his mind open, and not making assumptions, it enables him to solve the most baffling of crimes.
I could have done with his help a few years ago. When my girls were all much younger, one day on the way to school, my youngest, aged 4 at the time, told me something quite unbelievable. Whilst we were driving past the end of weavers lane, she informed me that they was a giraffe in the field to the left of us. Like any good mother rushing to get her children to school, I responded in the most appropriate way, ‘yes dear, that’s lovely’, and paid no real attention.
The following day she told me the same thing, and the following day. By this point my other children had joined in with her, telling me that there was indeed a giraffe in the field. I was intrigued. Though highly improbable, I wanted to find out what on earth was going on. So we took a detour round the other side of this field, and discovered to my surprise, that there was in fact a large 8ft stuffed giraffe in the field. The reason for its appearance was a mystery, but it was there. It was unexpected, nearly impossible, but true nevertheless.
When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter day, when he beat death and came back to life to give us a hope and a future and a way to have a wonderful relationship with God, this was humanly speaking impossible. It was highly improbable, and unexpected, but I believe it was true, and I believe he is still alive today.
In the book of Acts, Luke summarises what happened after Easter Day in Acts 1-
After Jesus’ death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days. In face-to-face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the kingdom of God. As they met and ate meals together.
This risen Jesus changed the disciple’s lives, and the course of history. Not only that, but throughout the next 2000 years, Jesus continued to change people’s lives, including mine.
So today, take a look at the risen Jesus. Just like the giraffe in Melling, it may seem highly improbable, but like Sherlock Holmes, let’s be open to the idea that the truth is often just that, and embrace the wonderful loving God who loves us and died for us.
OK that’s Easter gone until next year, so what’s next? Many of us with family members were looking forward to the Easter weekend. Some of us wanted to remember and celebrate the real meaning and significance of those events 2000 years ago, which sadly our culture is trying to ignore, and increasingly our children are being told less and less about. Many people of course just wanted a weekend off work and most of us were certainly looking forward to enjoying the full chocolate experience. But Easter has gone, although hopefully some of the chocolate remains, and we are left with memories. Certainly our memories of the last two Easters are significantly different from all the other Easters we have lived through. We all hope that we can look forward next year to open churches where we can actually sing, family meals in restaurants without masks, Easter egg hunts, and the freedom to hug each other.
It was different for the disciples because they had no previous Easters to look back on, and the weekend that we read of in the Bible would live in their memories for ever. It is a fact that for many people living in the UK today, the truths and meaning of the original Easter have faded and been replaced by a celebration of Spring and thoughts of holidays. For the Disciples however and for all Christians through twenty centuries the significance of Easter has never changed and remains as shockingly amazing as it was first time round. For us, the question ‘what’s next’ usually relates to work, family life, and personal activities, but to the followers of the man who died and came back to life, the question was much more about living dangerously and losing your job, home, and family. How easy life is for us today.
Jesus met with the Disciples several times before He left them, and they must have been wondering ‘what’s next’, so He gave them this instruction, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” That was tough and dangerous but they made a start and subsequent generations of Christians have carried on to reach all parts of the world, although we may have to start again in the UK. Jesus however gave this encouragement, “I am with you always to the very end of the age.”
Whatever we think about Easter, it must surely be obvious to us all that there’s more to it than eggs and bunnies. What do you think?
“Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.”
Exodus 19: 7-8
I was a stubborn child and I think it is fair to say that on many occasions I would resolutely refuse to do something that was asked of me – often for the very simple reason that it had been asked of me and I didn’t want to do it. I recall one occasion when I hadn’t pronounced a word correctly and I was asked to repeat it – for no good reason other than sheer stubbornness I refused and wasn’t allowed to watch any of my favourite TV programmes until I said it the word correctly. I sat all evening refusing to say it. When I think back, it made no sense whatsoever to refuse, I simply didn’t want to be told what to do despite it being for my own good. I hope I’ve grown out of that behaviour trait although it possibly came in useful at times when dealing with my own stubborn children!
If we are honest, even as adults, we often have a tendency to think that we know best and what is good for us and we don’t take instruction well if it doesn’t fit with what we think is fair and reasonable. Do we trust the person giving the instruction? Do we have confidence in their ability to know what is good for us?
I think most of us would agree that rules are important, without them we would live in chaos. The problem tends to be that we disagree which rules we should follow and which ones we are going to dismiss as irrelevant. In the Old Testament we read about how Moses climbed Mount Sinai in order to meet with God and receive his commandments – his rules for living well. The people agreed to do what they were told but needless to say, they failed on many occasions with dire consequences and all because they thought they knew better. The question is, do we still think we know better than God?
We have just celebrated Easter and given thanks to God that he sent his son, Jesus, to die for us – to pay the price for all the things that we have done wrong. Not because he had to, but because he loved us so much that he wanted to. In the book of John we read these words, “For this is how much God loved the world: He gave his one and only son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” If we truly believe those words then I think God has proved his love and that he knows what is good for us.
In the coming weeks we are going to take a look at the 10 commandments that were given to Moses so long ago - but you will have to make your own mind up as to whether you choose to accept them or stubbornly refuse.
If you are in the habit of reading a daily newspaper, I know which one you get. It’s the one that you agree with, politically. Nobody buys a newspaper that constantly mocks their favourite party and never stops praising that party that you consider to be populated by sadly mistaken individuals who don’t understand the real issues, like you do. Or maybe it’s the sports coverage that persuades you to part daily with pounds and pennies. Some people follow a particular columnist, believing that he or she has great wisdom and doesn’t suffer fools gladly, so will always deliver what you know is the truth. As we work our way through life, we collect opinions and attitudes that we feel comfortable with; these then determine who we will listen to and believe and leads us to reject certain people and thoughts, and we settle into a comfortable rut. I can think of many people who I see on TV and I know before they open their mouths that I’m going to disagree with them. Constantly I’m proved right. King Ahab, one of the Bible’s nasty kings could always find people who agreed with him because they discovered that it was safer to tell the king he was right. But Micaiah, a prophet, was one man who lived dangerously by constantly saying things that were critical of Ahab’s standards and behaviour. When the king was considering going to war he asked his 400 wise men if they thought he was right. Not surprisingly they said, “Of course you are, mighty king.” When someone suggested asking for Micaiah’s opinion, Ahab was not pleased ,he said, “Micaiah never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.” The prophet told Ahab not to go to war, it would end in tears. Ahab hated Micaiah so he refused his advice and went to war and it ended in tears.
We have spent the last twelve months listening to advice and instruction from our government and also our friends and families. Often what we heard was not what we wanted to hear and many people have rejected the advice and some have suffered as a result. The Bible constantly tells us that God always tells the truth whether we like it or not. There are many people around us, like Ahab’s 400 mates, who have different opinions to God. And like Ahab, we get to chose who to trust. Solomon, Israel’s wisest king wrote these words, ‘With all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment. Always let Him lead you, and He will clear the road for you to follow.’ Like Ahab we can choose who to trust; he got it wrong, good job he doesn’t write in my paper.
Happy Easter to you all!!
On this precious day of celebration and thanksgiving may you all know something of the love that our risen Lord Jesus has for each one of us. Jesus changed lives 2000 years ago and He continues to change lives today.
The words below sum it up perfectly. They are the words of the beautiful song, ‘He Lives’. Click the link below to hear it.
Have a good day everybody, lots of love to you all ️
More than a baby in a manger
To whom nobles would humbly bow their knee
Or the young Man who Heaven knew as saviour
He is alive in me
More than the man who walked on water
Or the one who caused blinded eyes to see
Greater than all the signs and wonders
He is alive in me
He lives He lives
Conquered the grave, covered our sin
He lives He lives
Death could not hold the promise within
More than the man who heard, ‘Hosanna’
From the same who cried, ‘Crucify the king’
Freely he gave as they demanded
Yet still He’s alive in me
More than the man mankind rejected
With nails in His hands and through His feet
But the end told much more than they expected
For everyone knows in three days He rose
With power forever to redeem, you and me
He lives He lives
Conquered the grave, covered our sin
He lives He lives
Death could not hold the promise within
Death where is your sting?
Grave, your victory?
Jesus holds the key
He reigns forever and ever
And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha. (Golgotha means skull.) Wine drugged with bitter herbs was offered to him there, but he refused it. And then they crucified him—and threw dice for his clothes. It was about nine o’clock in the morning when the crucifixion took place.
‘When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only person in the world’. C.S Lewis
The Wonderful Cross - Chris Tomlin
‘....the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in memory of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup and said, “This cup is God's new covenant, sealed with my blood. Whenever you drink it, do so in memory of me.” This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.’
1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
The night before Jesus was crucified, He chose to spend it with His disciples eating the Passover meal. It was during this time He asked the disciples to always remember the sacrifice He was about to make. This simple meal of bread and wine is still taken today as a symbolic reminder of just what Jesus did for all of us on Good Friday. Lest we forget.
‘Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over’.
How sad this passage is. How heart-breaking. For 30 silver coins Judas betrayed the one who had healed the sick, mended the broken hearted, taught with such wisdom and shown love to all. He turned his back on Jesus.
And Jesus still loved him.
"When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said. ‘Two people owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’ ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said. Then he turned towards the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’"
Jesus came to Earth for everybody. No one too unlovable, too messed up, too old or young, too educated or uneducated, too happy or sad....Jesus came for everybody. That means you and me. Whatever our mess. Whatever our lives look like. He knows us. He loves us. Thankyou Jesus.
'Something Inside So Strong' - 29/03/21
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
When Jesus entered the temple and threw the money changers out, people were horrified. They were outraged that he did this. But Jesus saw just how corrupt they were. They weren’t in the temple as an act of worship, they were there to cheat people and make money. It was all wrong. And Jesus knew that He had to do the right thing, even though it would make Him unpopular.
Doing the right thing can sometimes mean standing alone. Standing out. Being different. It can be really difficult. But doing what is right is important. Martin Luther King put it like this, "The time is always right to do what is right."
It may take courage and bravery and determination, but doing the right thing is always right!
'He Is' - 28/03/21
Over the next 7 days, Sunrise will be following the week leading up to Jesus death and resurrection. With music and a short thought we hope you will be blessed and encouraged.
‘As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it’
This was the day when people cheered and celebrated as Jesus rode towards the city. We call it Palm Sunday.
But in the midst of the excitement and praise, Jesus wept.
He wept because people had missed Emmanuel - God with Us.
He had lived amongst them, loved them, encouraged them, been a friend to them, and taught them. But they didn’t understand.
And soon the cries of ‘Hosanna’
would be swapped for ‘crucify Him!’
And today, our world still misses Him.
With pride and arrogance, and the need for power and significance, we can miss what’s most important. Who’s most important!
Jesus still seeks to bless us, guide us, teach us and give us hope-filled lives.
May we see for ourselves this Easter that Jesus weeps because He loves us.
‘He Is’ is the new song by Crowder. Click on this link to hear this beautiful, truth-filled song.️
'Let's Call The Whole Thing Off...' - 27/03/21
This week I have been reviewing a number of documents with a new colleague who started working with us during lockdown. I am sure it's been a tricky start to a new job without being able to meet up with people. It's been a bit tricky process reviewing documents and people start to question individual words and phrases when what you are really wanting to do is understand the bigger picture. Does the sentiment behind the words actually just mean the same thing? Actually, it’s often better to read the whole story and get an understanding of the message behind the words. For me, it was difficult to be patient, as changes were being made to words that did not actually change the meaning.
When we are dealing with each other or we are getting to know someone, we should ensure we try to see the whole person. If we start to look too closely at smaller, individual traits, we can sometimes not be fair to others about accepting our differences and celebrating each other.
You say “eether” and I say “eyether”
You say “neether” and I say “nyther”
You like “potaytoe” and I like “potahtoe”
Lets call the whole thing off …
It’s a great song from Gershwin and performed by Fred and Ginger, at its heart its about is not letting our differences come between us.
In the Bible, the apostle Paul was writing to the Colossians to encourage to put God’s ideas first.
"Since you have been chosen by God who has given you this new kind of life, and because of his deep love and concern for you, you should practice tender hearted mercy and kindness to others. Don’t worry about making a good impression on them, but be ready to suffer quietly and patiently. Be gentle and ready to forgive; never hold grudges. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Most of all, let love guide your life".
Lets understand each other for who we are, let's work together for the bigger picture and not pick holes in our differences but celebrate each other.
'Change' - 26/03/21
I have an aunty who has come out with some wise and wonderful sayings down the years. One of my personal favourites is her assertion that the most dreaded expression in the English language is, “New and improved!”. She's right, of course. How many times have you seen an advert claiming that the thing that you have regularly bought and enjoyed down the years has changed; it has been updated and is now, “New and improved!” - only to find that it has actually changed beyond recognition and is no longer a product that you desire?
We can all think of them. Pears Coal Tar soap improved its fragrance and is no longer the eye watering treat that I remember from my childhood. Wagon Wheels improved to the point where they appear to be half the size they once were. Microsoft regularly improve their software products to provide us with, “a more intuitive experience”; which then requires us to relearn everything we thought we knew about the application. Coca-Cola improved the taste of its product to such a degree that nobody bought it any more and the original formula had to be reintroduced. My personal bugbear is the bag-less vacuum cleaner. How is this an improvement? Yes, I no longer need to spend a few pence every couple of months on new vacuum cleaner bags, but the improved alternative sees me covered in skin cells, hair, clothing fibres, bacteria, mites, soil particles, pollen and microscopic specks of plastic, as I tip the contents of the removable dirt container into my wheelie bin! Still, I'm sure billionaire, Sir James Dyson is convinced that it was a good idea.
Wouldn't it be nice to know that there was something that we value, something that we rely on, something that we love that won't change? The good news is that there is. Down the ages, indeed from the beginning of time, God has never changed. The Bible tells us that He never will, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments”. God's love and His desire to provide for us is never ending and never changing, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”. Whilst God doesn't change, there is one thing that is new every day, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness”. Now, that's something that you can't improve on.
'All For Love' - 25/03/21
“To save my son, I would plot with the devil himself.”
Philippa Gregory, The White Queen
The White Queen is a historical novel. It tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville, queen consort of King Edward IV. Although she marries the King for love, his family plot against her, and she spends most of her married life trying to safeguard the future of her five children. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end well for her two sons (known as the princes in the tower). This quote is taken when Elizabeth is fighting to free her sons from the tower.
This quote really brings home the emotion and feeling that Elizabeth would do anything to save her family. Whilst she wasn’t ultimately successful, her love and desperation are clear.
Whilst I hope that we would never be in a situation where a member of our family is held captive and we are desperate to free them, unfortunately in the world today, it is a reality for some families.
One current situation is the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Held for over five years now, her husband has never stopped fighting for her release. His depth of love for his wife is clear and enables him to keep persevering.
As we approach Easter, we look back to a man who died over 2000 years ago, because he loved his family. Jesus was prepared to give up everything for us.
John 3:16 describes it like this.
"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life."
Jesus was prepared to do anything for us, his family. He loves us, each one of us, and even though we are not perfect and we mess up sometimes, he still loves us with a love that is stronger than death.
In the midst of our Easter preparations, lets never forget the love that Jesus has for us, and what Jesus went through so that we could be part of his amazing worldwide family.
Having moved to work in a new department in work, I have been on a definite learning curve. I like learning new things and it can bring a great sense of achievement when you are recognised as having learnt something. When I started in this new department, I was looking at the other team members, at their skills and experience, how they had been doing the job for a good few years between them.
But I was able to join the team and look at things from a different perspective. I was able to look at things differently and bring a fresh viewpoint. It has become apparent that as much as I have had to learn, I was also able to teach the existing team to look at things differently. They knew all the detail, they could discuss and debate that detail with real depth. However, I was able to join that discussion without that detail and raise the thinking to a different level, do things a fresh way that could help resolve some of the detail issues by approaching it in a new way.
Sometimes, we can live our lives deep in the detail of how things should be and trying to tweak things to improve things. When what may be better, is to look at things differently. Instead of looking at how we can tweak our existing daily routine, stop and think about whether we can do things completely differently. It may bring a new lease of life to us.
As a Christian, our relationship with God can bring us a different perspective. In Isaiah 55, we are encouraged
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
If we stay hidden in the detail of our current way of life, we may miss an opportunity, lets talk to God about our lives to understand how He would want us live our lives. He can bring a fresh view but we may need to be prepared to let go of the detail we are used to and do things differently.
For the past few weeks I have been engaged in a running battle; a war of attrition; a fifteen-round heavyweight prize fight if you will... with a tree. A laburnum tree to be precise. I won the first few rounds quite easily. The branches and the trunk succumbed to my hand-held wood saw with surprisingly little resistance. The remaining stump, however, is proving more of a challenge. It left my chainsaw looking like Shane McGowan without even shedding any bark. I feel that my arboreal opponent is getting a second wind and is digging in for the final few rounds. I have a nasty suspicion that if I don't land the knockout punch soon, I will be defeated on points.
Now, obviously I can hire somebody to come along with a stump grinder and take care of the problem, but that would be no fun and would also be expensive. It also means that I would have to admit defeat... to a tree. So, I ventured onto YouTube and found a really interesting way to get rid of a tree stump. It involves power tools, petrol and fire! Now we're talking. Having drilled the requisite holes, poured in the petrol, set the fuse and lit the match, I stood back to watch the resulting controlled burn apply the coup de grace.
When the smoke cleared and the flames were exhausted, there it still was, blackened but unbowed. Taunting me with its woody resilience. A laburnum tree stump that was burned, but not consumed by the flames.
I was instantly reminded of Moses. In the book of Exodus in the Bible, we are told that Moses was tending his father-in-law's sheep, when he saw a burning bush... and though the bush burned, it was not consumed by the flames. On closer inspection, Moses discovered that God was using this bizarre spectacle to get his attention, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”. Once Moses gave God his full attention, God told him what He had in store for him. He told him that he would be used by God to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
This is one of my favourite stories in the Bible, because Moses proceeds to argue with God, coming up with excuse after excuse to avoid having to go on what must have been to him a frightening odyssey. God of course confirms that He has everything in hand and will be with Moses throughout. Still Moses finds excuses, until eventually God convinces him that with His help, Moses will be both safe and triumphant.
I can't help but think that I am guilty of doing something similar when I hear God's call. I look for a reason why I can't do it rather than accept that God has already put everything in place and will be with me on the adventure.
Now, I can't say that God has been speaking to me through the flames of a burning laburnum tree, but this little escapade has served as a timely reminder to listen for His voice and to trust Him when He speaks.
Right then, where did I put that dynamite?
“So many memories and secrets, so many burdens. Every life has such weight. I don’t know how anybody carries even one.”
Stuart Turton, The seven deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
This book is a detective novel with a difference. In order to solve the murder, the detective relives the same day over and over again by waking up each day in a different person’s body, literally looking at the world through another person’s eyes. He then uses this information to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle.
Now this is only possible through literary imagination, but in doing this the detective realises that every person he becomes has a different set of issues and problems that he may have otherwise been unaware of, hence the quote.
Sometime its easy for us to look at other people’s lives and think that they may have it ‘easy’, or that their life is somehow better than ours. The reality is that as in the book, and as Plato is often quoted;
“Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”
Jesus, when he talks to his disciples in Matthew 11 is well aware of this. Jesus reminds us that even though life can be hard, we don’t have to go through it alone.
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Jesus offers his love and care and grace to everyone and anyone who turns to him. Jesus went through betrayal, heart break, torture, and death because he loved us so much. Wherever you are today, Jesus gets it, he knows how hard life can be. He sees the hidden pain and disappointment as well as the visible scars, and he loves you.
Let’s come to Jesus with everything we have, ‘warts and all’, and let him walk with us, sharing our pain and allowing us to rest in him. And let’s also let that amazing love shine through us, so that we can love others with that same love, and stand with them, sharing their burdens.
That’s what the family of God is all about.
The owner of a small deli was recently fed up with bad mannered customers. He decided to do something about it. He put a new price list for coffee on the board outside. It said this...
‘Coffee!’ - $5
‘Coffee please’ - $3.50
‘Hi! Can I have a cup of coffee please?...and thankyou!’ - $1.75
The change was instant! People didn’t want to be paying $5 for a coffee and were therefore given a wake up call to their not-so-great manners! This story can bring a smile to our faces but how important it is to show manners.
Jesus met ten men one day who all had leprosy. This was an incurable disease. And highly contagious. They shouted to Him. ‘
‘Jesus, have mercy on us!’
He told them to go and present themselves to the priests. While they were on their way, their leprosy was cured. One of the men was so shocked and delighted he turned around and rushed back to Jesus straightaway. He was full of praise and gratitude. Jesus looked around,
‘Weren’t there ten who were healed? Where are the other nine? Have they not come back to give praise to God?’
Then Jesus turned to the one thankful man and said,
‘On your way, your faith has healed you’.
The men had been cured of leprosy. What a gift! And yet only one came back to say Thankyou.
In our frustrations, tiredness and rushing, let’s be careful to still exercise good manners. They cost nothing and may even get you a half price coffee. But more importantly, they show respect to the one you are talking to.
Jesus said, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’.
So if you like to hear ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ and have people hold a door open for you and help you pick up the papers you’ve just dropped all over the floor, then let’s do it first for them.
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.”
Exodus 20: 8-10
As the Olympics approach there are athletes up and down the country and all around the world working incredibly hard, pushing their bodies to the limit of what they can endure trying to become the fastest or strongest and most accomplished at their particular sport. Their training regimes are gruelling but one thing they all have in common is that they all need their rest. Not one of them can just keep going without taking a break. All of them have planned rest days and sleep programmes in place so that their bodies have chance to rest and repair – without these rest days they will not only succumb to physical injuries but will also begin to suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety and stress.
I can’t possibly liken myself to an athlete but, regardless of their chosen sport, what I do have in common with all athletes is that we all need our rest.
Our weeks tend to be busy, filled with often mundane tasks but nevertheless the things of life that must be done – the shopping, the cleaning, the washing and ironing, the school run, not to mention somehow fitting in a job! The list could go on. All of these things are important and must be done but in this forth commandment God asks us to take one day away from the busyness of life. Traditionally as Christians we set Sundays aside but there is no rule that says it must be a Sunday, simply a time set aside when you can rest whether that be physically, emotionally or spiritually. God wants us to make sure that in the busyness of life we don’t forget to allow time for him.
In Matthew 11 we read these words spoken by Jesus “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” This invitation to set some time aside for God is for our benefit – time to remember what is important; time to recuperate from the batterings of life; time to spend in the presence of our creator God who wants to offer you rest and healing and refreshment.
There is no doubt that life can be tiring and demanding at times but, like any athlete will tell you, not taking the time to rest won’t get the job done in the long run. Let’s make sure that we take time this week to stop and spend some time with God so that we can know real refreshment to be able to carry on.
We have seen in recent years examples of extreme weather with increasing regularity and they are getting closer. But it’s still the case that the earth shattering disasters are abroad. We have watched transfixed as TV news programmes have shown the results of monstrous tornados, uncontrollable flooding, and terrifying forest fires. Our prayer is always that the people escape unharmed even if their homes and careers are wiped out. During a recent forest fire that was made worse by strong winds, a driver who was escaping in a hurry saw something that made him stop and switch on his video camera. The footage swept around the world and brought spontaneous applause in millions of homes. It showed a man on the edge of the field that was about to be destroyed by massive rapidly advancing flames, and he was on his knees. Everyone who drove past including the driver filming it wondered what on earth this madman was doing. He seemed to be talking to something in the long grass and everyone ‘knew’ it was his dog and they expected that his pet would leap into his arms; instead of that after an agonizing minute a terrified rabbit crawled in front of the man who swept it up in his arms, put it in his car and rocketed away. The man was praised globally for his courage but much more for his compassion; after all, it was only a rabbit!
In our world there is a tendency for people to elevate those who are high achievers; the wealthy, the educated, the powerful, and the famous. Often people in elevated positions consider themselves more important than the rest of us. Some of them even seem to think that they can bend the rules to suit themselves. But God disagrees with their opinion of themselves; Paul writing to slave owners who assumed they were more significant than those around them says this, ‘Remember that you and your slaves have the same Master in Heaven, who judges everyone by the same standard.’ To those who think their status on Earth impresses God and makes them more acceptable to him, God makes this point, ‘God saves you through faith as an act of kindness. You have nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift from God.’ Jesus considered the tramp in the street to be as important to God as the king on his throne. So let’s not be choosey, let’s just meet needs where we see them. Remember the rabbit!
My head is clearly in retreat mode. Since looking up George MacCloud (founder of the current Iona Community) I keep finding these snippets of his wisdom. Here’s one that got me thinking: “Do not be prepared to tolerate the obscenity of the now”.
When on retreat, it is easier to be contemplative, holy even and live in a simpler way than when at home in the middle of a normal, busy life. The distractions are less, there is less pressure to do and more time to be. Back in the cut and thrust of normal life it is a lot harder to be contemplative and, dare I say it, holy. Normal life seems to be one big juggling act. There are the demands of family, work, commitments, hoovering, ironing (who does ironing??), walking the dog, taking out the rubbish, zoom calls, WhatsApp chats etc and if we get dissatisfied, it is with this juggling act.
As I write, the news and social media is full of anger at possible changes to the football league but when I read George MacLeod’s quote again I am challenged because I am aware that I get cross more about literal obscenities like bad language than I do the obscenity of injustice. We get angry at football clubs but tolerate poverty because we do not have time to sign a petition, write to an MP or pray. I am more likely to pray for a nice place to live than I am to remember to pray for those who are displaced by war.
In Matthew 23 Jesus says this: ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.’
We are a community and it is right that we come to our Father with our petitions, requests and prayers for each other and ourselves, but I have been gently reminded that I need to cultivate a more holy dissatisfaction; a holy desire for more life & more love for others. There is more that God wants to give and there is more that God wants to ask of me if I dare to ask.
In these days while I am at home quite a lot, its actually quite rare to get a voicemail on my phone, as I am regularly here to answer it. I am also here to receive a lot of posted goods when my family (obviously not me!) keep ordering things. Its great for people trying to get in touch with us as they know they are likely to find someone at home.
In days gone by, in the dim and distant past, we would come home to the dreaded “we missed you” card through the letter box. Sometimes, they would just try again the next day, but mostly you would have to then start searching for where your parcel has gone. Then finding out when that new place is open so that you can then go and collect your parcel. Of course, it is important to check what you need to take with you as proof that the parcel is actually yours so they can give it to you.
It was all such a fuss but now feels so much easier.
Sometimes, when we try to take time out to talk to God, it sometimes feels like there is no-one there to answer. We keep leaving a message but we don’t hear anything back. Why is God not answering my prayer!
However, we should be assured that God hears our prayers every time we say them, he actually knows what we are going to pray before we do. So it is not about God not answering, He hears every word we say and feels every word we say. Jesus is not actually at the other end of a letter or phone, he is actually sat right next to us speaking the same words as we are. In Romans Chapter 8 we are reminded;
Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Our God is not apart from us, He is by our side, He does not need a letter or phone call, we can simply turn to Him and talk to Him. He knows and He loves us. We should remember that as Jesus is with us, we can trust Him that He will have the right answer at the right time.
Last week saw the furore surrounding the creation of football's so called, European Super League. Depending upon who you chose to listen to, this proposed venture was designed to be the saviour of a game slowly losing its fan-base among the younger generation, or it was a cynical attempt by the richest clubs in Europe to divide future spoils amongst themselves, at the expense of those clubs whose finances don't currently allow them to buy into this exclusive club and who will never be able to do so if the scheme goes ahead.
Many people felt that this was a step too far and protests by fans brought about the withdrawal of English clubs from the league. The thought that clubs could buy themselves a place in the league without earning it by their on-field performance was anathema to some. To others, the fact that the league was effectively a closed shop went against everything they believed sport should be. Personally, I found it interesting that in a time of national crisis, it was football that seemed to unite public opinion and that the public protests were allowed to take place with no restrictions, when other causes have had to struggle, sometimes physically, to make themselves heard. Anyhow, that debate, and the one about the future of football, is for another time and another forum.
What got me thinking was the argument regarding buying into a better future, rather than earning it. In life, it is possible to both buy and earn your future – if we think of that future in simple terms, such as being better off financially. To buy it, you need to have the money in the first place... much like the twelve football teams who wanted to start their own competition. If you don't have the financial wherewithal to invest in your own future, then you need to work hard to earn the money to secure it.
Of course, this doesn't give you any guarantee of happiness. There can be no doubt that not having to worry about where the next penny is coming from is going to relieve certain anxieties, but that doesn't necessarily equate to happiness... and let's not forget that the Beatles told us that, “money can't buy me love”. Still, we must surely have to do something, because let's face it, nobody is going to just hand things to us on a plate. You don't get something for nothing... or do you?
The Bible tells us that eternal life is a gift and that it is for everybody, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. There is no mention of buying or earning salvation. In fact it is very specifically stated that you cannot buy any of the gifts God wishes to give us, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money”. Similarly, it is made clear that you cannot earn it, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast”. So, no exclusive, invitation only club based upon wealth; not even entry based on merit or hard work. Simply a gift. All that is required of us is to accept the gift. How? It's very simple, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. Why does God give us these gifts? Because He loves us and that love is free... it seems the Beatles were right.
We had our breakfasts--whatever happens in a house, robbery or murder, it doesn't matter, you must have your breakfast.”
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
The Moonstone is a detective novel. A young woman (Rachel) has inherited a large Indian diamond of great cultural significance on her 18h birthday. However, it is stolen, and her uncle is determined to find the culprits.
What would your favourite breakfast be? Full English, Croissants and pastries, American pancakes and waffles, or cereal and toast?
Many studies have shown the importance of having breakfast. It kick starts your metabolism for the day, reduces snacking, improves mood, and generally prepares our bodies for the day ahead. Did you know that our bodies are most active between 6-9am as everything has to wake up and get going! So, breakfast gives us energy at a time when our bodies need it most.
Some people love mornings, leaping out of bed each day ready to go. I am not a morning person at all, my body needs several cups of tea and some food before I can make any sense at all!
However we wake up, we all cope better with whatever the day throws at us if we are prepared.
God made us and he loves us and he knows us better then we know ourselves. He knows how we ‘tick’, and he reminds us in the bible that preparation is the key
'Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential.'
God knows that life can be tough, but he is with us every step of the way. The closer we stick to God, love him, talk with him and follow his ways, the better prepared we will be for whatever we have to face.
Do you take time each day to just sit quietly with God? It’s a great practice to get in the habit of doing. It doesn’t have to be long, but just as breakfast prepares the body, time with God each day prepares the soul. Its as important as bacon and eggs!
“I woke up still not dead again today
The internet said I had passed away....”
Willie Nelson wrote this song in response to reading the news that he had passed away.
Last Sunday I caused great confusion with a text message I sent out. I was wanting to explain why there was no Sunrise posted on the website that day. The first day without one since beginning Sunrises in March 2020! I explained that I had forgotten to have the message posted, and that the “Sunrise Queen“ was now enjoying the afternoon in the park with friends. What followed was a whole host of messages being sent to me wishing me a happy afternoon in the park with my friends. How lovely! Except I would never, in a million years, call myself the Sunrise Queen! I have a wonderful group of writers who join me each week in writing them. We wouldn’t have Sunrises without them!!! But on this occasion I was referring to one of my chicks who faithfully uploads each Sunrise onto the website each day. After she went out I realised, no Sunrise! This was a funny incident and the text messages made me laugh. My poor use of words had confused many! Clearly no harm was caused but it is an example of how misunderstandings can happen.
When we are communicating with others it’s so easy for us to add details, take away details, exaggerate the situation and speak out of context. Before we know it, feelings have been hurt, relationships broken and sometimes whole lives have been destroyed. All because communication was careless and sides wouldn’t take the time to clear up a misunderstanding.
I read recently about a young girl who had been horrifically bullied at school. It all started with a text message that had been completely written out of context about her. Had the message been written correctly there wouldn’t have been a problem but before anyone knew of the miscommunication, news had spread, words had been added, and a whole new story developed. This young girl who had done nothing wrong, went on to endure months of mockery and abuse at the hands of cruel and careless individuals. All because of one poorly worded text.
And it’s not only text messages that are problematic, our tongues can be very dangerous.
Proverbs in the Bible has much to say about communication,
‘An unreliable messenger stumbles into trouble, but a reliable messenger brings healing’.
‘The tongue can bring death or life, those who love to talk will reap the consequences’.
‘Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish’.
And James had some wise advice for us all, ‘Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: you must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry’.
Communication is vital to our daily lives. But before we jump to conclusions and possibly misunderstand a situation, may we seek to know the truth and do it with dignity and much grace.
‘May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be pleasing to you, oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer’. Psalm 19:14.
“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”
Exodus 20: 7
Did you know that there is a word specifically to describe a word which we use in everyday language which has its origins in someone’s name? Apparently it’s called an eponym. For example, the word ‘cardigan’ comes from the 7th Earl of Cardigan who designed a woollen kind of waistcoat for his troops to wear to keep them warm. The name stuck and we now recognise the item of clothing by his name. Likewise, apparently the sandwich which so many of us regularly enjoy came from the 4th Earl of Sandwich. He had a serious gambling problem and in order to allow him to carry on playing at the tables and not need to stop to eat, he asked the cook to prepare him something that he could eat from his seat without having to move. The cook presented him with some slices of bread with meat in between and the sandwich was born!
Our names matter to us don’t they? We take great care in choosing names for our children wanting their names to reflect something of us and our personalities or perhaps the personalities that we hope they will become. “Oy You!” just doesn’t cut it and we much prefer for someone to be bothered to know our name and use it.
There are many names for God – Creator, Almighty, Father, Prince of Peace, The Rock, Deliverer, King of Kings, Shepherd… the list goes on and on and on but all of those characteristics and names we give Him are summed up in one name – God. That’s what makes it so special. It isn’t simply one name that describes one character trait or one thing that he is known by, it describes the all powerful, all knowing, all loving God who created all things.
So when we come to this 3rd commandment that says that we mustn’t misuse His name, there is good reason for that. When we use his name as an exclamation or a curse we are removing all of its value making it seem insignificant and worthless. In the book of Proverbs we read these words : “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe”. The name of God our father represents love, power, protection, peace and joy; His name represents so much that is good, loving and gracious – let’s not take the meaning out of His name by using it thoughtlessly or carelessly. Let the next time that you speak His name be in humility and thankfulness for all that he has done and continues to do for each of us.
Probably you all know this story in the book of Mark chapter 4. It describes the day that the experienced fishermen who were Jesus’ disciples were so battered in their boat by a violent storm that they thought they would drown. They woke Jesus up who didn’t appear to be concerned about their situation and He simply and quietly calmed the storm. Mark records that the terrified men asked each other this question, “Who is this man.” If we had been there, we would be asking the same question. Mark was keen that everybody who wasn’t there should understand the truth and so in the next chapter he relates three stories that are meant to provide the answer to that question. Once on dry land the hugely relieved disciples watched Jesus at work again. He cast out multiple demons from a possessed man who terrified everyone, then he healed a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, and as an encore He brought a young girl back to life. All of that would surely answer the disciples question “Who is this man.” Jesus is God in the flesh, He is the one with power over nature, the spirit world, our bodies, and he has power over death itself.
Many of us have had very stormy days in recent times and have felt the same fear that the disciples felt. Maybe your storm was, or is, connected to fear or sadness or illness, loneliness or depression. Sometimes it looks as if there’s no way out; that’s what the fishermen on Galilee thought, but Jesus came to their rescue. The Bible teaches that, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ Even in the 21st century He invites us to trust Him in our storms; sometimes He quietens the wind and waves in our lives but sometimes our storms continue unabated but He provides peace that is beyond human understanding. He said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Against all the odds, Jesus gave His disciples peace that the world could not match; if we can accept who He is and what He has done for us, then He can calm our storms or bring us peace. It would be good to hear each other’s stories of calmness and peace when we didn’t expect it.
It is a peculiar thing to say at this time, since my office has been at home since March 2020. But yes, I have moved office.
Well actually, I moved room, from the front room to an upstairs bedroom.
It is only a small move but it has changed my perspective. From my front room, I can see the road outside my house, I can watch the cars and buses going past, I can watch people out walking their dog or getting their daily exercise running or cycling. I can see who is at the door before they ring the bell.
Now, my view is different, I can see the motorway with cars and trucks on longer journeys, I can see traffic lights as switch island, the big advertisement signs near Aintree retail, the massive cranes at the docks. The trucks bringing our supplies to the shops. Sometimes, I can see the blue lights of emergency vehicles rushing to help someone. On a clear day, I can see the hills across into North Wales.
I only moved a short distance, not moving east or west or north or south, just up one flight of stairs. I am in the same spot but I have lifted my view.
Sometimes, we do need to lift up our view, we can be limited to seeing a small view of what is going on and not seeing a bigger picture. What is happening around us is very important and so is seeing something of what is happening further afield. But seeing what is happening from another view can help us realise how we are part of a bigger thing.
In the Psalms, there is a reminder in a song, believed to be sung by pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem, reminding themselves of the bigger picture of how God was with them.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
As we go about our day to day lives, let us remember to lift our eyes to the Lord. Let us remember that whilst we are busy in our small places, the very maker of Heaven and Earth is watching our every step, providing shelter and comfort to each of us.
Now that restaurants have opened their outside spaces to paying customers, I took the opportunity one afternoon this week to sit at a table and enjoy a nice meal al fresco in the Spring sunshine. I like to have a table with a view and, on this occasion, I was able to secure one that afforded me a splendid vista that took in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral.
It is a truly impressive sight. The huge sandstone tower looms 331 feet above St James' Mount, dominating the skyline. It is the longest cathedral in the world, as well as being the largest in England and fifth largest in the world. It's central tower contains the largest gothic arch in the world and the bells of the cathedral are the world's highest and heaviest ringing peal. Construction began in 1904 and the building work was finally completed in 1978, meaning that it is strictly the newer of Liverpool's two cathedrals.
Cathedrals tend to be a focal point for tourists. Visitors to any city that boasts a cathedral seem drawn to them. St Paul's in London; St Peter's in Rome; St Patrick's in New York and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona will be high on the list of attractions for anybody spending time in those cities. People flock to marvel at the architecture, the grandeur, the wealth. Incredible statues, paintings, mosaics and tapestries adorn the chapels and walls of these magnificent buildings and are rightly admired. The architecture and design is beyond compare, but I wonder if people stop to ask themselves why they are there.
They are there as a testament to the greatest designer of them all. This is man's attempt to build a monument to God to celebrate the wonders of His creation. To thank Him for all that He has done for us. To put our all into creating a space worthy of His name. Despite how truly awe inspiring some of these buildings are, they are nothing when compared to the works of God's hand. The opening passage of the very first book in the Bible tells us of creation. Of a time when God made everything from nothing. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". Light, water, earth, sky, plants, trees, vegetation, fruit, the moon, the sun, stars, birds of the air, creatures of the land and sea and finally, mankind. God made them all and when He had finished He declared that it was very good. Not only is God the creator of everything, He is also the master of understatement. We can never hope to come close to His wonderful creation, but I'm glad that we try; because not only can the wonderful cathedrals seen across the world be enjoyed for their inherent beauty, but they can also help to point us towards the real beauty of creation and more importantly, towards its creator.
It is said that you should never meet your heroes, because they will always disappoint you. After all, they are just human beings like you and me. They have their faults like everybody else. They may be wonderfully skilled in one particular area of expertise that we admire, but they have complications and difficulties in their lives that can cause them to stumble and tarnish their public image.
For years I marvelled at the achievements of American professional cyclist, Lance Armstrong. Every summer I would watch him battle the roads and mountain passes along the route of the Tour de France. For seven consecutive years he was ultimately victorious. For seven years he defied the odds and wore the famous yellow jersey. Nobody had ever won seven Tours. His was a story of legend. Not only did he win those seven Tours, but he did so having recovered from cancer.
Professional cycling is a sport blighted by performance enhancing drugs. There were rumours that Armstrong’s success was fuelled by such drugs. For seven years Armstrong was the most tested athlete in world sport. He never failed a drug test. Here was somebody that we could believe in; somebody who was simply better than everybody else. Somebody that could inspire others. He was the best cyclist in the world, he headed a charitable foundation that had raised 500 million dollars to help cancer sufferers, he gave motivational speeches, he married a rock star. Heroes didn’t come much bigger.
And then the wheels came off. A fellow professional confessed to being part of the most comprehensive and systematic regime of doping that the sport had ever seen. His confession implicated Armstrong. The reason Armstrong had never failed a drug test was that the method of doping was so sophisticated that it was not detectable. He had won every one of his Tours by cheating. Heroes don’t fall much further.
What is interesting to me is that in 2009, when Lance Armstrong finally confessed to his part in the doping conspiracy, donations to his charitable foundation increased. Since he made the decision to stand down from the foundation in 2012, donations have steadily declined. The changes have occurred because people allow their personal judgement of Armstrong to affect their response to the needs of the charity. It’s a funny old world.
We all make judgements and the reasons for those judgements are just as complicated as the people and the situations we choose to judge. The impact Lance Armstrong had on the world of cancer doesn’t excuse his cheating, but his cheating doesn’t erase the good he did for the millions of cancer victims his foundation has helped. All of us judge against a set of standards that we have deemed appropriate. Each set of standards is personal and ultimately different in some degree to the standards of others. In the end, none of us really has the wisdom to sit in judgement.
Instead of us judging others, the Bible urges us to be more thoughtful, because we too have made mistakes, we too have been subject to the judgement of others, “Speak evil of no one, be peaceable and considerate, and always be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures”. It’s good advice. In future, I think I will leave the judgement to God, knowing that He is the only one able to, “judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity".
“Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wild World," said the Rat. "And that's something that doesn't matter, either to you or to me. I've never been there, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any sense at all.”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
The Wind in the willows is a classic children’s book detailing the adventurers of Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger, who live by the river bank, written by Kenneth Grahame.
I love the idea that from the point of view of the small animals in the wind and willows, that the world beyond their river bank is Wild and to be avoided at all costs. It almost sounds like the current covid advice that we are adhering to; we are all staying home or close to home at the moment, in order to stay safe.
However, change is on the way. We now know that if things go accordingly to plan, we will be allowed to venture beyond our four walls into shops, meeting other people, and even the potential to be able to go on holiday! This is wonderful news for some but concerning for others. We are all now used to a new way of living, and the idea of venturing out into the ‘wild world’ can be concerning and apprehensive for some. Just the thought of being able to go into a shop without a facemask seems very strange indeed!
When Jesus was leaving his followers to go to heaven (after he had risen from the dead), he knew they were concerned as to what would happen. They had been through such a lot in a few weeks. First their leader was arrested, tortured and killed, then he rose again and gave them the gift of the holy spirit to inspire them. Now he was leaving them again but telling them to go into all the world and tell everyone about him. They were scared or what might happen next. Jesus reminded them, as he reminds us now, that whatever situations we are in, we are not alone
In Matthew 28:20, Jesus says
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
So, whatever the ‘Wild World’ may throw at us in the next few months, let’s not be like Ratty, let’s get out and explore it (in accordance with the guidance of course). And let’s do this in the knowledge that God is always with us, wherever we are.
Celtic Prayer puts a lot of emphasis on being still, being quiet and enjoying the moments that God has given to us. A saint from way back wrote this:
“You must strive for a quiet mind. If the eyes are perpetually restless, they cannot appreciate a beautiful object set before them; they glance this way and that, and so fail to discern the subtlety of the objects form and colour. Equally, if the mind is perpetually restless, distracted by a thousand worldly concerns, it cannot apprehend he truth.” (St Basil of Turkey).
Let’s face it, if we are honest, in lockdown some of us have too many distractions and some of us crave anything to distract us from the groundhog nature of each day. It is tough to have too little to do or indeed, to have to live with the stress of juggling zoom calls, online school or caring demands. Being still and quiet might be something we crave but cannot do or it might be something we have too much of! With all of this, our mental health can be very fragile and practising contentment and stillness is not some hippy idea but a vital tool in keeping ourselves healthy. I miss my sea swims and as much as I miss the company, I also miss those moments in each swim where I would stop, float, gaze at the sky and rest, allowing the water to melt away my distractions, worries and anxiety . Psalm 131 is a beautiful piece of scripture. It not only reminds us that with God we can just be ourselves, but it is also a gentle reminder that we can have hope as well as contentment.
My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
Today can we try to revel in the gift of contentment despite all that we have on our plate? Can we prioritise just ten minutes to stop, to be still and rest with our Father God, like a weaned child?
You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong – you only want what will give you pleasure. James Ch4 v2
So what’s the difference between Father Christmas and God? That sounds a bit like the start of a really bad joke but if we think about it, we can often confuse God with a Santa Claus figure who we go to when we want something.
In the mid 1800’s a young man called Dwight L Moody from Boston became a Christian. Soon after that, he set off for Chicago where his plan was to sell shoes and make his fortune of $100,000 – a huge amount of money at that time. Slowly but surely, he began to realise that his mission in life wasn’t to amass a fortune but rather help the poor. Over the course of his life, his preaching and social work changed hundreds of thousands of people’s lives and I suspect he raised far more than his original goal of $100,000 – it just wasn’t for himself.
In the book of Philippians in the Bible we read these words: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.”
The fact is that God wants to hear about every aspect of our lives; our anxieties; our health worries; our financial concerns as well as our joy and our thanks. What God wants is for us to call him ‘friend’ – and it’s that relationship that makes him so different to Father Christmas. Would you go to your best friend and say – “you can afford it, give me a new car”? Rather, your closest friends are the ones who you share your deepest hopes and concerns with. They are your friends, not because of what they give you, but because of the relationship you have with them.
Moody once said ‘Some people think God does not like to be troubled with our constant coming and asking. The way to trouble God is not to come at all’. God wants to hear it all but the biggest difference between God and Father Christmas is that Santa may give you the Ferrari you asked for but God wants to come on the journey with you.
‘Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you’
‘Honesty’ - Billy Joel
Recently I read an article about someone I thought had been a good, honest character, full of integrity, with love for his family. I was devastated to hear that this person had been living a double life. Causing many, many people to believe he was someone great and good whilst all along sordid secrets were piling up on his phone and his victims were being silenced. He passed away, aged 74, and left behind a lot of brokenness. It was a heart-breaking read. More scandal. More lies. No honesty. Secrets. Secrets. Secrets.
Nowadays it would seem that nearly everybody has a mobile phone. Instant access to others through phone calls and texts. And then there’s the internet freely available wherever we are. Not to mention all the social media sites. Oh, and then there’s the photos and videos we take, or we receive. These phones are absolutely incredible! Where would we be without them?! But what’s on them? If someone got hold of our phones would they be shocked by our photos? Would our messages reveal ‘another side’? And what about our Search History? Billy Joel was right when he said that honesty is such a lonely word. There seems to be so many stories of scandal and lies and lack of integrity. But we can be different.
Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’.
CS Lewis defined integrity as ‘doing the right thing, even when no one is watching’.
Secret lives cause broken lives. Let’s all be careful to think right thoughts, say right words and have right actions. It’s so important that honesty, and integrity, are key to how we live. And we’d all love Billy Joel to write another song!
This half term I was helping one of my daughters with some work where we had to sit and observe things. It was just the two of us, watching, observing and recording. The lovely thing was that during that time we just talked.
During this lockdown, we have all been encouraged to get out and take some exercise. Its been great to force this time into a working day. I have been able to walk by myself, with the dog, with the kids, with my wife or many combinations. One of my daughters once asked me, when you and Mum go for a walk, what do you talk about because you’ve been together for so many years, how do you find things to talk about? It is a great question and we then chatted about what we do talk about, we talk to each other, talk about what's happening with each of us, about our family, about our friends. But there are also times when we don’t talk. And it feels fine to be with someone and not talk.
I remember when I was first seeing my then girlfriend, we chatted and chatted and chatted about all sorts of things. On long car journeys it was great to talk and the journey time passed really quickly.
But there came a point in our relationship when it did not feel awkward to be together and be silent.
Some people find silence awkward and in some cases it can be, “somebody needs to say something”. “Awkward”
But actually, I find it reassuring that we can sit together quietly and it not be awkward.
Sometimes we are like that with God. We set aside a time to pray and we talk and talk and talk, we say our thing and then move onto our next task. But we should find the time to sit quietly with God, not talking. Its not awkward, God knows us better than we know ourselves and sometimes He just wants to be with us. We don’t have to say anything, just sit and feel God’s presence.
There is a lovely gentle song that reminds us
'Be still, for the presence of the Lord,
The holy One, is here;
Come bow before him now
With reverence and fear
In him no sin is found
We stand on holy ground.
Be still, for the presence of the Lord,
The holy One, is here.'
Lets remember that sitting quietly is not awkward, it can be reassuring, its when people don’t have to say anything because we know. God knows, so sit quietly with Him and enjoy His company.
I am a big fan of Charlie Mackesy. Many of you will not have heard of him. Charlie is an artist who never went to art school, but spent three months in America with a portrait painter, where he learned about anatomy. He began as a cartoonist for The Spectator and a book illustrator for Oxford University Press, before being taken on by galleries. His work features in books, private collections and public spaces; including hospitals, prisons, churches and university colleges around the United Kingdom and also in women’s safe houses around the world.
He has recently had a book published that comprises a selection of his drawings. The book is called, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. It is one of the most uplifting books you will ever read. In it, we follow the boy and his friends as they travel through life. The mole is an amusing, greedy little character who believes that all of life's problems can be solved with cake; the fox is the silent, wary companion and the horse is the gentle, wise philosopher of the group.
Charlie never intended to produce a book. He simply created the characters as an outward expression of his feelings and his philosophy regarding life. He first presented his drawings to the world via his Instagram account. Many of the drawings were very basic and, in some cases, you could tell that he had merely adapted a coffee stain or an ink smudge into an image. It was these Instagram images that caught the attention of a publisher, who contacted Charlie and suggested the idea of a book. The rest, as they say, is history. It has became a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic and has been described as, "A book of hope for uncertain times".
Charlie consistently promotes a message of kindness. The horse is heard to say, "Nothing beats kindness. It sits quietly beyond all things”. When asked by the mole what he wants to be when he grows up, the boy replies, "Kind". It is a simple truth that kindness is a much needed commodity and something that you can never get enough of. But what is kindness?
The Bible tells us that kindness is both a fruit of the spirit and a characteristic of love; But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and Love is patient and kind. Kindness is also a choice. We can choose to be kind or we can choose not to be. Like all human characteristics we can practice kindness and through practice become better at it. It is something that I personally need to develop. It is not my instant reaction when faced with a problem, or a person, but that is no excuse. The Bible also tells us; "Let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth". I can't simply talk the talk, I need to walk the walk. I need to follow Jesus' example, as Paul explained to the church in Ephesus; "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you". I have some work to do
“A person who has good thoughts can never be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely”.
The Twits, Roald Dahl
The Twits, written by Roald Dahl, is a children’s book. It tells the tale of the retired circus trainers, Mr and Mrs Twit (who are not very pleasant), and the tricks that they like to play on each other.
Our culture can be very often dominated by how we look and present ourselves. How do we look to those around us? For those who are on social media, are the photos we post of ourselves on Instagram or Facebook worthy? What will the photos we post, or the clothes we wear, or the way we have our hair say about us? Can we manipulate our photos to ensure that its always the best side of us that people see?
How we present ourselves can indeed be very important. How smartly we may turn up to an interview can make a big difference. We are unlikely to get the job if we turn up in our pyjamas, even if it’s a zoom interview!
This quote really reminds us that outward appearance doesn’t matter as much as character. How we look, even if we are wearing the latest fashions and the most amazing hairstyle, does not matter as much as how we behave.
In I Samuel 16:7, God reminds us of the same thing, and also reminds us of how countercultural his thinking is:
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’
Whilst we all have different ideas of what beauty may mean, one of the most beautiful people to me was my grandmother. She was not beautiful in the conventional sense at all. She was little and wrinkly and a bit round. However, she had the most beautiful smile, and she was truly lovely. You see, she had spent a lifetime loving Jesus and loving people. And that love radiated out from her to whomever she was with.
So today, lets think about how we can truly love others with Gods love, and them more we do, the more truly beautiful we will become.
In Celtic worship, some of the readings come from a bloke called Samuel Moor Shoemaker. I imagine that his name was his job? If only I could make my own shoes; how useful that would be at a time when the shops are shut . However, as we approach Lent we probably ought to be thinking about giving up stuff not getting more hadn’t we? Actually, if I am honest, what is needed is a clear out good and proper. Not only might I consider giving up stuff but I really ought to clear out the wardrobe or cupboards and give stuff away.
Except, God does not demand that we give anything up for Lent. A clear out of wrong attitudes might be more helpful and pleasing to Him. Samuel Shoe maker described a time in church when he was told to offer up prayers for those that he loved. That was easy. Then he was asked to pray for those whom he did not love. Straight away he could think of 3 individuals who had opposed his work and his writing. They had treated him badly and he resented them for it. He admitted that to pray for them was very tough. They thought badly of him and , as he put it,”… nine tenths of our suffering is caused by others not thinking so much of us as we think they ought”. Read that quote again and maybe bring to mind someone who does not think much of you; who winds you up; who opposes you; who is just plain difficult.
When Jesus said : “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”, He is asking us not just to pray for those who we do not love but He is telling us to love them. Love is a verb, it is an action. This Lent how can we show love to those who we need to learn to love more?
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterised by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.
James Ch3 v17-18
On 15 April 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg and began taking on water. It became apparent that the so-called impossible was indeed possible and the Titanic began to sink. Only 20 lifeboats made it into the water, many of which were less than half full as they rowed away. As people jumped from the sinking ship into the icy waters, they cried out for the lifeboats to come back and save them but most were too afraid of being overwhelmed to return leaving around 1,500 people to die. There was, however, one exception - there was an officer in Lifeboat number 14 who managed to persuade some of the other lifeboats to take his passengers and then he returned to where the ship had sunk to pick up survivors. He couldn’t possibly save everyone, but he could save some.
Harold Lowe was that officer and the wisdom, courage and mercy he displayed that day couldn’t change the horrors that were unfolding but made every bit of difference to those few individuals that he managed to reach.
No community can be built on selfish acts and argument. To build what today’s verse calls ‘a healthy, robust community’ takes effort. It is the effort of getting to know one another and the effort of learning to live with one another’s quirks; treating one another as equals and respecting each other even in the face of differences. God intends us to live in community together and to work alongside one another but he also understands that this sometimes requires a gentle tolerance and graciousness.
When we live with God at the heart of our community we can transform our small corner of this world. Like Harold Lowe, we may not be able to change all of the circumstances around us, but we can make a huge difference to the person that stands in front of us. We can start by inviting them into the safety of the boat and assure them of a warm welcome that comes with a gracious acceptance of all that they are. As we go about our week this week during these turbulent times, let’s actively look out for those that might need a little help – you might just be someone’s lifeboat this week and that will make all of the difference to them.
I live in a road with large trees down both sides; to me they are very beautiful and impressive. Typing this I can see them through my window every time I look up from the keyboard. The last time the Beast from the East visited some years ago the whole avenue was transformed into a white wonderland. I have a photograph somewhere (I’m not very good at filing) that shows these wonderful trees proudly showing off their winter plumage. Last autumn when everybody was depressed because of lockdown and rising fatality numbers, these amazing creations of our creator God were magnificent in yellow, orange, brown and red. And they lifted our spirits. Not long after that the colours were on the floor and the trees were showing their naked leafless forms; also beautiful.
We’ve all been through a difficult winter and it’s still freezing outside, but I notice that the days are getting longer so my mind is already in Spring mode, and the sun is shining but my trees are still just twiggy. I’m looking forward to the day when I see for the first time in 2021 that amazing green mist that creeps over the trees, providing hiding places for the birds and shelter for the humans when the sun gets too hot. It will happen! We can’t predict the future, I think we can all agree on that after the events of 2020, but we seem to be very confident that Spring is on its way. It’s not fact until it happens, so for now it’s just hope, but we are certain that our hope is not fanciful.
We read that God’s promise to the world after the flood was this, ‘As long as the Earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.’ This comes from God who never lies and even though mankind has damaged the system, it still works and will continue. So while Spring is a hope it is a certain hope. Watch this space!
But thinking of the future, we have another promise from God; Paul writing to the followers of Jesus 2000 years ago and to today’s followers also, talked of, ‘the hope of eternal life that God promised long ago. And God never tells a lie.’ That’s another hope, but it’s certain, just like Spring. Roll on both hopes. I assume that Spring will come first, but it’s not certain
Back in January at one of our Melling services, we were introduced the idea of being a bridge . One of the Celtic saints, Reinfrid was bridge builder. Reinfrid began his adult life as a violent and ruthless mercenary but was so disturbed by the scenes that he saw, that he ended up in a monastery, desperately searching for peace. To become truly at peace we need to become peace makers. It means rolling up our sleeves and building bridges. This is precisely what Reinfrid did in the monastery and surrounding area. He became a repairer of walls, dwellings and bridges where once he had burned them and pillaged them.
Isaiah 58 says this:
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."
Where today do we need to be a builder? Where is there brokenness that needs repairing , disheartened folks that need some building up, or bridges that need building to people who are feeling a little bit forgotten about?
I am sure many of us have had times where things get on top of us and we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it can be a slow build up and we don’t realise what's happening. Or it may be a single incident that suddenly occurs and the emotion then hits us, to others it may seem like an over reaction, but to us it is very real.
Emotions can often be overpowering, we are an emotional people, that’s how we were made. We each have our fears and concerns, some of which people know about. But we also have hidden fears that others don’t know or understand. Sometimes we “put on a brave face” for others to see when inside we are hurting.
There is a scene in Harry Potter films when the students have to confront a “Boggart” which assumes the shape of your deepest fear. The students have to confront it and deal with it by making it into something funny or ridiculous. But they also do this in front of the whole class. As a scene in the film, it is quite revealing about each character to see what they fear. It made me wonder what would be my deepest fear, but also how would I feel about others around me knowing my deepest fear.
Emotion is powerful, but not only negative emotions but also positive emotions. Tears and laughter can be for so many reasons, both positive and negative. We may be crying with laughter as we find something so funny, but then it may be hysterical laughter and tears from fear.
There are times when we need someone to calm us down, to bring us back from an overwhelming emotion. Sometimes children will get so excited about something their whole behaviour changes, it seems like you cant get through. They need some calming words.
The disciples, who were experienced fisherman, were once out at sea with Jesus when a storm came that was so strong that these fisherman were afraid for their lives. Jesus was fast asleep. They were panicking and shouted to Jesus to wake him up. Jesus calmly woke up and saw what was going on, then told the wind and rain to stop and the sea to stop rolling the boat all over the place. As He spoke, the storm went away. The disciples were amazed. (You can read about this in Luke Chapter 8)
Lets remember that Jesus can bring a calm to us, maybe physically or emotionally, that will bring us peace and an assurance that He is watching over us, He loves us and He will care for us.
'It All Depends On How You Look At It' - 11/02/21
Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. In fact, a moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.
Bill Bryson, Notes from a Big Country
Bill Bryson is a travel writer who injects no small sense of humour into his travel writings. An American who has lived in Britain for many years, His book, Notes from a Big Country are the results of him travelling round the USA, and looking at things from a unique and often funny point of view.
This may seem a very strange quote to start sunrise, but it really got me thinking. The same animal, yet seen entirely differently by two different people.
We have all seen those very clever pictures which can show different images, depending on how we look at it. is it a duck or a lady, is it a man or a dog? The answer is that the picture is both images, its just how you look at it.
It’s the same with situations, we can all be presented with the same situation, but see it in very different ways. For example, if we were all told we were going camping this evening, some of us would react with delight, where as others would see it as some sort of torture!
The wonderful thing is that God made us all different so that we can help and support each other.
In Hebrews 10:24, it says
Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, spurring each other on.
So, as Bill Bryson put it, if you are looking at the day ahead and are fearful, thinking of it as a wild and ferocious beast, know that there are people in the Melling community that will come alongside you and help you through, you only have to ask. And if this is a good day today, take time to encourage someone else and help them through, for we all need a hand sometimes, and to see things from a different point of view.
'Are You Listening To Me' - 10/02/21
How many times have you heard this? Often the person asking the question is frustrated by your lack of response, and the fact that you’re in a different room apparently doesn’t excuse you from hearing every word. There can be many reasons why messages don’t get through; you’re too far away or the TV is too loud; you’re on the phone or lost in your own thoughts. Often when the message is eventually received, it is not welcome because it means you have to do something or go somewhere, or stop doing something or answer questions. Occasionally it’s a reminder that you haven’t done what you promised. It could of course be a message that makes you smile a “Thank you” or the message we all love to hear, “Dinner’s ready.” The way we listen and react to people can demonstrate respect or lack of it, and if we are the speaker, the way people respond to our words will probably determine our opinion of them. Conversation can make or break a relationship. In our attempt to survive lockdown, one of the most powerful and frequent activities is talking to each other. And listening to each other. In the Bible stories we are constantly reminded that one way or another, God spoke and individuals listened. God said, “Build a boat” and Noah did; God said, “Leave your home” and Abraham did; Jesus said, “Walk on the water with me” and Peter did (but not for long). They all had the freedom to ignore God if they wanted to, just like we can. The Bible says, ’If you hear God speak today, don’t be stubborn.’ When friends call us on the phone, usually they don’t need to introduce themselves because you recognise their voices. How good are we at recognising the voice of God? Jesus said, “My sheep respond to my voice, and I know who they are. They follow me.” In our conversations with our friends, let’s listen with patience and concern and when we are speaking let’s do it with compassion and humility. In these difficult days, one of the few things we can do legally is talking, so why not pick up the phone and start a conversation that could transform someone’s day, and maybe yours. We need our friends and they need us. Make a call or take a call.
'A Building Project' - 9/02/21
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” CS Lewis.
In the not too distant future, we will be getting some work done on our house. An extension will be put on and significant changes made to upstairs. Me and the chicks are really looking forward to this. It’s going to be great when it’s all done. But actually I have to confess, it’s going to be an absolute nightmare while it’s getting done. The dust, the noise, the complete mess and disruption it’s going to be a test of our patience to say the least. And there will quite likely be times when I will ask myself ‘is this worth it!?’ Of course it will be worth it, but significant change and improvement can sometimes come at a cost.
We’ve all made mistakes in life. Some of us have made huge big ones, others have got away with less painful ones. Realising our mistakes and doing something positive about them is good, but sometimes changing habits and admitting we are wrong or needing help doesn’t come easy to us. Psalm 139 finds David saying these brave words,
‘Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life’.
David knew he’d made mistakes and wanted to make it right, even if that meant going through painful lessons. If you’re anything like me, then you’ve made some wrong choices and haven’t always been wise!! God is only a God of love. He wants us to learn from our mistakes and make better life choices, because He desires the best for us. It can be just like a messy building project, but it will definitely be worth it.
'Seize The Day' - 8/02/21
‘Now is the time to seize the day’
Broadway Musical ‘Newsies’ (Jack Feldman/Alan Menkin)
One of my chicks is a walking encyclopaedia on all things Broadway. About 18 months ago she introduced us to the musical ‘Newsies’. This musical is based on the 1899 newsboys strike in New York. They were fighting for fair pay and better conditions for the children in New York. It’s quite simply a brilliant musical and as they all sing, ‘Now is the time to seize the day’, you can’t help but feel the sense of achievement and triumph as they take control and bring about positive change.
Mental health has become a huge concern in our nation over recent years. Thankfully there’s far more understanding of mental health conditions than there’s ever been, and far more help available. This time of lockdown has affected people in different ways. While some people have sailed through, relatively unscathed. For others, stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression have taken hold. While we are all looking forward to ‘that day’ when we can all be back together again, what about now? What about today? The song continues,
‘... Minute by minute that's how you win it
We will find a way
But let us seize the day...’
Today may be a great day for you. But maybe it’s not? Maybe today is a day of struggle? If that’s the case, then how about being kind to yourself? How about taking things minute by minute? Taking time to stop and notice the good that is around you. The ‘glimmers of hope’ in the midst of your struggle. Congratulate yourself on what you’ve achieved. Some days that may simply be that you got dressed! And let’s not forget to look out for each other! A quick text or phone call can quite literally turn somebody’s day around!
Jesus knew all about difficult times. He was known as, ‘the man of sorrows’. That’s why He said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest’.
So maybe, instead of dreading each day we can choose in some small way to welcome Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...taking time to smell the coffee, go for a walk, admire the flowers breaking through the ground, or simply getting dressed, knowing that the God who loves you, understands your struggles and wants to help you through them, and to help you ‘seize the day’
'Alive and Kicking' - 7/02/21
I have recently been asked to teach a student an A level in Sociology in just 16 months , on probably no more than an hour a week. That student is going to have to work so hard between lessons just to keep up and yet, she wants that qualification and is willing to work for it. We live in a world where mental ability is regarded so highly, revered, and rewarded. Each day we are bombarded with information from experts in their fields and yes, it is good to learn, to study and we need experts. However, we also need hearts, and these are less easily trained. You cannot complete a degree in compassion; you cannot study a GCSE in love; you are unlikely to be consulted as being an expert in kindness. In Celtic prayer, stress is put on these words: “Thou and thou only the first in my heart”, from the hymn, ‘Be thou my vision’. Love of God is our first priority, and God should be first in our hearts; but out of that should flow love for our neighbour. Love & compassion are not dependent on learning. The good Samaritan only needs to know where the sore is, so that it can be anointed with oil; but the choice has to be made to cross the road to where the hurting soul is. Just like my student, effort and commitment may be required. Sometimes, often perhaps, love is a choice that we make. However, if we can only respond just a little then our hearts are still alive and kicking and even in a pandemic there is hope.
Jesus told us to: "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.” (Matthew 22 :37 & 38)
'Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day' - 6/02/21
We do seem to spend a fair amount of time looking forward in hope, hope that we wont get Covid, hope that we will be able to see people face to face, hope for our friends and family.
Hope is known to be a powerful thing which we cling to. The absence of hope is a powerful thing too and is used to oppress people and make them submissive.
This week saw the sad passing of Captain Sir Tom Moore, I did like his positive attitude with his saying “Tomorrow will be a good day”. He was not discounting how good or bad today had been, but always remembered that tomorrow will be a good day. Each of us may be hoping for many different things for today or at some point in the future.
In Christian teaching, we talk about Faith, Hope and Love, Jesus’ love for us and his sacrifice gave us a way to back to God. Our faith in this sacrifice gives us a hope for an eternal life, for a God who will comfort us and provide for our needs. This is a message we can read in the Bible when Paul was writing encouragements to Timothy:
"Put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."
1 TIMOTHY 6:17 (NIV)
Through the good times and the bad times, whilst we hope for things in the future for us or for others, lets also remember that we can have a bigger hope in God.
'Seeing' - 5/02/21
Earlier this week I stumbled upon a book that I haven’t looked at for many years. It’s one of those, “Magic Eye” books. Does anybody remember them? They were very popular about thirty years ago. The idea behind them was that you looked at the picture displayed on the page, which was usually nothing more than a pretty pattern, but when you looked at in just the right way, another, three dimensional, picture would reveal itself…as if by magic.
Some people could do it and some people couldn’t. It all depended upon whether you could allow your brain to see beyond the surface and decipher the real image beneath.
For a very long time, I could not make it work. I remember being asked to leave a book shop because I had been staring at a Magic Eye book for about half an hour, desperately trying to unravel the mystery. The assistant politely pointed out that the book shop was not a library and that if I wanted to read the book, I should buy it. My explanation that I would buy the book once I could actually read it, fell on deaf ears.
Apparently, the hidden image is made by creating a depth map, which is overlaid by a two dimensional repeating pattern; produced using a computer algorithm. When the viewer looks at the two dimensional image, the repeating pattern feeds the brain the depth information encoded into it and the brain perceives the hidden three dimensional image. Get the picture? No, nor did I for a long time… until one day, in another book shop, “Eureka!”. I actually saw the three dimensional dolphin leaping from the water. True to my word, I bought the book… Waterstones’ gain, WH Smith’s loss.
We all view things differently. To some of us, there are mysteries that we simply don’t see. They are there, but we just can’t see them. In some cases, it’s because we believe that if we can’t see it with our own eyes it isn’t actually there. We rebel against the notion that we simply can’t see the full spectrum of all that there is. In scientific terms, we say that we can see light, but we can’t see ultra-violet and infrared light, yet we still claim to be able to see. Similarly, we can see the physical world, but we can’t see the spiritual. So, we claim to understand the world in which we live, without being able to actually see an important part of it.
Just like the Magic Eye pictures, perhaps we need to look at things in a different way. Maybe we need to stop viewing things the way we have always done; the way the world would have us look, and look at things through a different lens. The lens of Jesus. As the song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim; In the light of His glory and grace”.
'Home' - 4/02/21
“When I speak of home, I speak of the place where in default of a better--those I love are gathered together; and if that place where a gypsy's tent, or a barn, I should call it by the same good name notwithstanding.”
Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens
Nicholas Nickleby is the story of a man called Nicholas Nickleby, who has to leave his home in Devon and go to London to work and provide for his mother and sister after his father dies. He has many adventurers, despite his uncle attempting to thwart him at every turn.
In this book, Nicholas has a very clear grasp of what is ‘home’. Despite having to move several hundred miles from the country to the city, it doesn’t matter to him where he lives. Home is where the people he loves are.
Many of us have moved to a new house more than once, some of us have moved cities and even countries, and it can certainly take some getting used to. Different area, different shops, different people, even a different accent or phrases can all take time to adjust to
I remember when I first moved to Liverpool, I couldn’t understand why people were telling me about their make up all the time. I then realised that being ‘made up’ was nothing to do with eyeshadow, but about how happy they were!!
It can take time to feel at home somewhere, but I do believe that like Nicholas Nickleby, it doesn’t matter where you live, to be with those whom you love is to be home. To know that you can be yourself with people, and that you are loved and cared for and accepted.
In the bible, when Paul writes to the Romans, he explains in chapter 12 verse 10, 15 and 16 that the church should be that kind of community
"Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another."
In other words, church should be home. It should be a community that people feel at home. A place where everyone is loved and accepted. This is exactly what Melling community aims to be. A wonderful, caring, funny, thoughtful, kind, a little bit bonkers, amazing home for anyone who wants to be a part of it. A place where people can wear Pyjamas to church and that’s fine! Let’s pray and continue to love one another so that this wonderful family continues to grow and be home for people.
'Be My Shelter' - 3/02/21
On Social media, after reading her book, I follow an amazing woman called Ursula Martin. Her posts are called ‘One Woman Walks’. That is all she does, raising awareness for ovarian cancer as she walks. I hate camping. I do not like the faff of setting up and taking down a tent, nor do I like sleeping in the cold. This woman does this most nights. However, occasionally she will find a shelter in rocks or a rundown mountain hut. She is usually over the moon at this ready-made shelter. In Celtic Daily Prayer, as we go through some of the verses of ‘Be Thou My Vision’, we come across this line:
‘Thou my souls shelter
And Thou my high tower.’
In a shelter you are passive, and the shelter does the job of ‘sheltering’. You have to stay in the shelter and not venture out until you are rested, refreshed and ready to go on again. In the shelter you can rest, you can be quiet, you can be safe. We have been given these verses before but maybe this week, we need to find time seek out Gods shelter. We could even put it into our diary and give ourselves permission to just stop, be still and rest, for half an hour, a morning or even a whole day. Then, when rested, we can venture out again and continue walking with Him.
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
On Social media, after reading her book, I follow an amazing woman called Ursula Martin. Her posts are called ‘One Woman Walks’. That is all she does, raising awareness for ovarian cancer as she walks. I hate camping. I do not like the faff of setting up and taking down a tent, nor do I like sleeping in the cold. This woman does this most nights. However, occasionally she will find a shelter in rocks or a rundown mountain hut. She is usually over the moon at this ready-made shelter. In Celtic Daily Prayer, as we go through some of the verses of ‘Be Thou My Vision’, we come across this line:
‘Thou my souls shelter
And Thou my high tower.’
In a shelter you are passive, and the shelter does the job of ‘sheltering’. You have to stay in the shelter and not venture out until you are rested, refreshed and ready to go on again. In the shelter you can rest, you can be quiet, you can be safe. We have been given these verses before but maybe this week, we need to find time seek out Gods shelter. We could even put it into our diary and give ourselves permission to just stop, be still and rest, for half an hour, a morning or even a whole day. Then, when rested, we can venture out again and continue walking with Him.
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
'Take a Seat' - 2/02/21
'What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?... faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.'
James Ch2 v14
A couple of years ago we had a house full of family – probably celebrating a birthday or some other event. As is the custom, our guests expected to be able to sit down – there’s nothing strange so far, except that as my mum sat down in one of the chairs, one of the legs gave way and she ended in a heap on the floor! I should stress at this point that it was a very old chair and in no way does this incident reflect on my mum, however, it did naturally cause a great deal of laughter amongst children and adults alike. My mum had approached the chair with confidence, it was a confidence founded on faith that the chair was good and solid with all 4 legs intact – the chair (not me!) let her down.
Sometimes I’ve heard people say that they’re not a person of faith – I beg to differ, because without faith we wouldn’t ever sit on a chair expecting it to hold us; breathe in expecting there to be air around us or take a step forward expecting gravity to hold us.
We all express our faith by our actions, the question is – what, or who, do you have faith in? To have faith in God is more than simply saying that you believe in his existence, it has to change your behaviour. The Bible is filled with great characters, men and women of enormous faith but what sets them apart is how they allowed their faith to determine their actions. “It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood… It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance… It way by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for 3 months when he was born… It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.” The list goes on but all expressed their faith by their actions; their actions were the evidence of their faith.
A modern translation of the Bible puts it like this: “Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”
We still have the chair, complete with a new leg and remarkably my mum sits in it with all of the confidence of someone who has every faith that it won’t collapse again. Perhaps that’s an expression of faith in the chair or perhaps it’s an expression of faith in us? But what is far more remarkable is that every day her faith in God is expressed through the love and care she shows to those around her. How will you express your faith today?
'I'll Tell You The Truth' - 1/01/21
When photography was invented in 1826 it only took a decade for it to sweep around the world. People instantly realised that it was different to painting because painters could use their imagination, even when painting a landscape or a city scene. They could add extra trees in a field or remove dead dogs in the street. But photography only told the truth. It took some decades before newspapers were able to reproduce photographs and that transformed peoples understanding of the world. They could see what Buffalo Bill really looked like, or man’s first powered flight three feet up in the air; they could share the emotion of the night when Toscanini conducted his last concert in floods of tears. They knew where they were with photos because they never told lies. You may have noticed that things have changed a little; even children can change reality to fantasy in a moment on their phones at the same time as they are studying history in school on Zoom. It’s good to know however that newspaper photographers get sacked if they submit retouched images for publication, they are after all news photographers. There have been many issues in the last four years concerning ‘fake news’ but maybe that will die down now.
Do you know what was Jesus’ most frequent expression? It was, “I tell you the truth.” He used it on many occasions as He taught His disciples and followers facts that they needed to know. He talked about relationships and faith, our future destination and our need to trust Him; He talked about the religious leaders errors and the worlds’ future. He demonstrated His right to speak Gods’ truth by performing miracles and showing compassion on the weak, sick, and lowly who everybody else ignored or walked past. Jesus described Himself like this, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Like me, you must be fed up with fake news and misinformation spread all over social media, not to mention the varying statements from political parties, it’s difficult to know who we can trust. We constantly have to make choices between truth and lies. Maybe we could start by looking at the claims of Jesus who said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I’m weary of being tied up by doubt and confusion, I’d rather be free.
'WYSIWYG' - 30/01/21
Working from home during this last year has been an interesting experience. Lots of people are having to juggle between their job, their family or their pets. I have been in conference calls discussing a topic and then someone’s dog starts barking or the children come into the room and starting asking Mum or Dad about something. You may have seen some of the times it’s happened on TV news shows with an interview in mid-flow then you see the door open behind them. Then carefully watching the top of a head moving around behind the guest, with the other parent trying to encourage the child out of the room so as not to interrupt the interview.
The best interruption I have heard so far has been when a colleague yelped and then declaring that his tortoise had just bitten his toe!!
It has been interesting dealing with colleagues much more as people, accepting the interruptions and letting them sort out whatever issue has happened. Hearing the change of voice as someone speaks as a parent and then returns to a meeting to become the project manager. My own kids have commented that I have a work “voice” when they overhear me in a meeting.
It reminds me that whilst we have different roles to be in our lives and we may do them differently, we should also be consistent in how we deal with people. I recall many years ago, a version of Microsoft Office came with something called “WYSIWYG”, What You See Is What You Get.
It is sometimes said that Scousers often behave that way!
It is important how we treat other people and that we should be honest in how we deal with them, just as we would want them to be honest in how they deal with us.
This is how Jesus was talking to the disciples about how to behave, in Matthew 7v12
'Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.
Lets treat others with the love and respect that we would want to receive, this will also encourage others to behave in the same way.'
'Sandcastles' - 29/01/21
During the first lockdown; or was it the second? Maybe it was the third… I’ve lost count of where we are up to. Anyway… during one of the lockdowns, when the weather was better than it is now, I spent some time at the beach with two of my grandchildren.
As well as searching for pretty shells and feathers, splashing in the waves and trying to catch the tiny fish that inhabit the small pools left behind by the outgoing tide, we built sandcastles.
Depending upon which grandchild was involved in the construction, the castles varied in design from huge mounds of sand that could be stamped upon and inhabited by a two-year-old, or grand turreted princess castles with moats and towers suitable for the imagination of a five-year-old. The shells and feathers previously collected were used to decorate whatever was built and the castle was bid a fond farewell at the end of the day when the time came to return home.
Of course, if we chose to return to the beach the next day, what was left of the sandcastle resembled something overrun by the barbarian hordes. No matter the fortifications, the waters of the Irish Sea had rendered our previous day’s work useless.
It reminded me that every day is a new day. Every day we start again. Every day, God wakes us up and offers us the chance to build a new sandcastle.
The sandcastle is of course figurative. Most of us don’t get the chance to build sandcastles, but we do get the chance to build something with every new day. The most important thing we can build is a relationship. That relationship may be an existing one that needs constant care and attention, or we may be blessed with the chance to create a new one with somebody we have just met.
Either way, God presents us with the opportunity. Just like He daily provided manna from heaven to sustain the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness, He provides us with what we need on a daily basis.
The provision of manna was not simply a much needed sustenance, it was a reminder that God is our provider. It was a reminder that God wants a relationship with us, every day. A reminder that the first relationship we need to cultivate is the one we have with God. Jesus himself always made time to be with His father, “After sending the disciples home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray”. We too need to take a little quiet time to maintain our relationship with God, “Be still, and know that I am God”. By taking that step to know Him better, He will refresh us and remind us that He has all things in His control, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”.
“But as long as we think positively, I’m sure a solution will appear”.
Jonas Jonasson, The Hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared.
This book is the story of a man called Jonas Jonasson. He has led a colourful life, but at one hundred, finds himself in a nursing home. He decides not to stay, but to climb out of the window, get on a bus and travel as far as he can with the small amount of money he has, and have adventures.
This story is about a very optimistic person who refuses to accept what society believes 100 year old men should be doing. He wants to experience life as an adventure. Jonas refusal to worry about things gave him a carefree freedom to really enjoy his experiences and have some amazing ones!
Its very hard to imagine a life without worry isn’t it. The world is very good at telling us all the things we should worry about. Coronavirus has given us a whole new set of fears and things to be concerned about. And it is of course right and proper to consider everything carefully and do everything appropriate to keep ourselves and others safe.
God knows that we worry. He knows when we are afraid, and he deeply cares for us. We know that he doesn’t want us to worry, because he repeats this message over and over again in the bible. Words like ‘do not fear’, ‘don’t be afraid’ and ‘do not worry’ appear 365 times in the bible. One reminder for every day of the year.
One of these verses is Philippians4:6-7
'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.'
God’s alternative to worry is to talk to Him about it. God loves it when we talk to Him. He is there for us at any time, day or night, When we give our worries over to God, He replaces the worry with His love and peace and the knowledge, that whatever the challenge, He is with us, and He has overcome the world.
Whilst we might not be climbing out of nursing home windows today, whatever adventures we face, remember we don’t have to do this alone, God is there, just talk to Him.
'I Don't Understand Physics' - 27/01/21
‘Oh Lord my God,
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works
Thy hands hath made.
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed’
My office at present, is my windowsill in my bedroom. My chicks are dotted around the house either working or studying. All looking at screens and listening to remote voices. Each day, when I’m not going out to the shops or to deliver something, I retreat to my bedroom, sitting at the end of my bed, to make my phone calls, write, plan, prepare and anything else my work requires. Earlier yesterday afternoon, there I was deep in thought when one of my chicks appeared at the door. ‘Mum, do you want to know how 3D glasses work?’ ‘Er, no’, was my reply. She walked over to my bed and settled herself down. I knew then I was about to receive a physics lesson. I tried hard to concentrate on what I was doing, all the while very aware that she was still there and wasn’t moving until I agreed to listen to her. ‘Ok, tell me how 3D glasses work!’ She smiled and instantly became animated, ‘So!....’ And off we went. I listened intently, trying hard to understand what she was explaining to me, but what struck me the most was the sheer delight she displayed in the subject. She was fascinated, and fascinating! I’m not a scientist. Give me people and words and music and art. Ask me for ideas and thoughts! But don’t ask me about the Periodic Table or how sound and light waves work!
But! That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate how incredible science is. How every day of our lives we are surrounded by and blessed by ‘science’! The medicines we take. The satellites that provide us with instant communication. The cars we drive. The trees and plants growing all around us, just doing their thing! The Animal Kingdom! The vaccine recently created to fight off our invisible enemy. Our solar system!! And these incredible, complex ‘machines’ called ‘the human body’. Every person created with gifts and skills and value. Whether you call it biology, physics, chemistry, science, nature or something else, our world is absolutely incredible!!
The Bible is full of people expressing their awe of creation, David wrote,
‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands’.
Below is a link to a very beautiful song, here performed by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
Maybe take a few moments out of your day to recall the wonders of space, the beauty of our world, the gifts each person is blessed with and then say with immense gratitude, ‘My God, how great thou art’.
'Prince or Pauper?' - 26/01/21
How can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favour some people over others?
James Ch2 v1
A few years ago, the following story went viral on social media:
Pastor Jeremiah Steepek transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced to as the head pastor that morning. He walked around his soon-to-be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for the service. Only 3 people said hello to him. He went into the sanctuary to sit down at the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit at the back. He greeted people only to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.
He sat at the back of the church, listening to the notices and then the church elders got up to excitedly announce the arrival of the new pastor – the congregation looked around and clapped with joy and anticipation and then the homeless man sitting at the back began to walk down the aisle. The clapping faded as they stared in shock as the man they had snubbed now took the microphone and quoted from Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me …. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
This event didn’t actually happen, it was just a story, a kind of modern day parable that was written by someone who wanted to express how he had felt shunned and ignored when visiting churches. The story spread quickly and people began to share how it resonated with their own experience or how it had caused them to re-evaluate their own behaviour and prejudices.
We are all guilty at times of making a judgement based on how someone may look. It might be how they dress and present themselves or it could be based on their gender, sexuality or colour. But in God’s eyes we are all equal with no one favoured above anyone else. God has given us the very simple but challenging instruction to “love your neighbour as yourself”.
We are part of a wonderfully warm and welcoming community but our love must be expressed not just within our community but also outside of it. Who might your ‘neighbour’ be today? As we come into contact with those around us, let’s not just see with our own eyes, but go beyond that and see them through the loving eyes of our father God who shows no favouritism.
'Thanks For The Memory' - 25/01/21
There are many ways my computer annoys me; it’s dozy, it switches off in the middle of my work, I delete my unwanted emails and next day they’re all back again, and many other aggravations. This monster appears to have a mind of its own and insists on doing its own thing. But there is one activity that it performs unprompted that I usually appreciate. It sends me a message that tells me it has found some photos taken x years ago this week. It doesn’t matter how busy I am, I have to take a look. A family day out in January 2016; wow, all my grandkids as they were five years ago! There’s the car before I dented it, and there a picture of Louis seven years ago in someone’s arms; that doesn’t happen now, nobody can pick him up. And I smile and thank God (and Google) for the memory. It can be quite emotional as you look back, and sometimes you wish that the photos had been taken last week. Then up comes a picture that stops you in your tracks because it’s both lovely and sad. It’s an image of someone or something that’s not around anymore; a person who was close to you and you wish they still were, or a favourite pet who gave the impression that it loved you more than any human did. Just in that moment you have mixed feelings about Google.
Memories can be very powerful and we find it easy to thank God for our happy days and the possibility that we can repeat them when Covid is defeated. But some happy days can never come back. For Christians it’s possible to thank God that the event happened and that we have the memory, but we can also thank God that we can look forward to better days in a better place. Solomon wrote, ‘When things are going well for you, be glad, and when trouble comes, just remember, God sends both happiness and trouble, you never know what is going to happen next.’ With Covid around, we are all aware that our future is unpredictable, but Solomon tells us that each day is in God’s hands.
Let’s all thank God for our happy days in the past (let’s remember that many people only have sad memories), and let’s trust Him for more happy memories in the future.
'Empty Cupboards' - 24/01/21
In the run up to Christmas, we always run out of room in our kitchen cupboards, so the garage starts doubling up as an extra kitchen. When I bring the Christmas food shop home, there always follows another round of cupboard Jenga to fit stuff in. Even as I write these words, I realise how fortunate we are to have full cupboards; so full that there is no room in them for more stuff. When it comes to my prayer life, however, full cupboards are not necessarily a good idea.
In Celtic Prayer we are still looking at the hymn ‘Be Thou My Vision’ and todays line was: “Be thou my might”. We all have battles each day to face and so often we go into the day trusting in our own energy, wisdom or power to handle them. Martin Luther wrote: “God made the world out of nothing and it is only when we become nothing, that God can make anything of us.”
A friend of mine put it like this: “I just know I always have empty cupboards and isn’t that a wonderful place to start each day?”.
In Luke 11 Jesus gives us the Lords prayer:
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
Before we tackle whatever lies ahead of us today, do we need to empty our cupboards, admit that we cannot do it alone and trust in one who is our Father Almighty?
'Different But Together' - 23/01/21
In this week, we have heard stories of encouragement, vaccinations are progressing, people are helping others with shopping and caring for each other. There are also stories of some being less encouraging, not staying safe, being selfish, the pressure on hospitals. The new US president starting his job, not doing it for himself but for everyone else, seeking unity and wanting to avoid disunion between reds and blues (that sounds a familiar story!)
We don’t all get it right, ask my wife how often I get it wrong! But we do need to work together. We don’t always agree, but we should not fall out. It’s a trait which many of us need to learn and keep learning.
One aspect of this lockdown, is that we all handle it differently. We all have different home situations, different family environments, different pressures. All these things can affect how we behave now. We all have our own baggage that we bring with us. Whilst we can’t always just let go of the events that we carry, we can try to reduce their influence on how we deal with now. We should also acknowledge that the people we meet will be carrying their own baggage also.
This is how people have behaved for centuries, we are still learning and we need to keep learning. In the early church, they encouraged in the book of Romans Chapter 14;
"Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong. They are God’s servants, not yours. They are responsible to him, not to you. Let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. And God is able to make them do as they should".
Lets remember, we are all different but we can still be friends. We all have different pressures and situations, but we can still support each other. Lets engage with our differences, enjoy them but remember, we are all God’s children he knows and loves us for who we are, so we can too.
'Light' - 22/01/21
I have never really been a fan of poetry; although I like things that are expressed poetically, but on Wednesday, along with millions of others, I sat transfixed as a young woman from Los Angeles delivered a poem at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. For the few minutes that she stood in the biting cold of a January afternoon in Washington, offering a message of hope to a country currently bitterly divided, I was completely mesmerised. Her words perfectly captured this moment in history. She articulated the difficulties faced by a nation polarised by dogma, yet she offered the hope of meaningful change.
Twenty-two year old Amanda Gorman is the National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. Like her newly inaugurated president, she has suffered for years with a speech impediment, yet she stepped up before the world and delivered a perfect rendition of her poem; never faltering, never missing a beat and leaving any who chose to hear her words with a hope that change and healing is indeed possible.
The closing lines of her poem ring true not only for America, but for us all;
“For there is always light; if only we are brave enough to see it; if only we are brave enough to be it”.
As Christians, we have identified that light. It is Jesus Christ. In case there be any doubt, Jesus himself states very clearly, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Being brave enough to see the light simply means setting aside the things that might cloud our vision and remaining true to what we know to be the truth, but Jesus also challenges us to be the light; “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”.
By being the light, we achieve much more than simply doing good deeds for others. We point people towards the source of the light. We acknowledge that the light does not come from us, but from God. He is what compels us to share the light, He is the source of all good things, He is our guide and comforter. He is with us now and has been with us always, lighting our way through whatever darkness we find ourselves in. He will continue to walk with us; to be our hope; always - “For there is always light”.
'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’.
In Good Times and Bad- 6/1/21
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.’
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