Previous Sunrises

 

 

 

'We'll See' - 16/06/21

When I was little, if I asked for something or to go somewhere an answer often given was “Wait and see”. I mean, what sort of answer is that? It basically meant that the answer was probably a no but cold have been a yes if circumstances and the wind blew in the right direction! I like certainty. As an ex- teacher my life was governed by timetables, plans, spreadsheets and schedules. I knew what I was doing each and every hour of each and every day. I am still like that. My physical desk top calendar and physical paper diary are two of my most treasured possessions. I even schedule my coffee breaks as I used to when in work.

 

 A Benedictine spiritual guide, Sister Macrina Wiederkehr wrote this and it really resonated with me: “ It is enough to pray one’s questions and rest quietly in the possibilities. My life is too small for all the answers and my life…has been plagued with the need for too much certainty.”

 

We like to be in control and being left with unanswered questions or a non-existent path ahead can be very frightening. For those of us who need comfort in this situation , Jesus said this: Matthew 28 verse 20 “…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” . In times like this we need to rest quietly in the possibilities trusting that as we do so , we are not alone.

 

For those of us who need to step out in faith but are scared of not knowing what lies ahead, perhaps we need to allow ourselves to be challenged by Jesus when he said this: “Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. And no luxury inns—get a modest place and be content there until you leave.”( Luke 9 verses 3 and 4). If we dare to live more simply being content with the unanswered questions; if we dare to trust that we do not face the journey alone, we can shrug off the anxiety caused by needing too much certainty in our lives. We can step out in faith and embrace the adventure; we can wait and see.

 

 

'Sticky Hands With A Clean Heart' - 15/06/21

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.”

Exodus 20:16

 

Apparently during 2020 sales of antibacterial hand sanitisers soared by more than 900% as the world set about fighting off covid-19.  Similar increases in sales were witnessed for hand washes and hand wipes as we obsessively tried to keep the virus at bay and who can forget the empty supermarket shelves and rationing of cleaning products as cleanliness became our new pastime?  All of our efforts to try and defeat this terrible disease were a vital part of the battle and important as we tried to keep one another safe from harm.

 

In the Bible we read a story about the teachers of the law challenging Jesus when they observed that he and his disciples didn’t follow the traditional ceremonial hand washing procedure before they ate.  Jesus explained: “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”  Jesus wasn’t claiming that we no longer need to wash our hands, even without a pandemic that is good practice in order to keep us safe and well.  Particularly at that time there were few medicines available so preventing illness was often as important as life and death.  But Jesus was saying that the ceremonies that we perform will never cleanse us on the inside – I can come before God with a dirty face and sticky hands but it is the condition of my heart that he will be looking at.  

 

The penultimate commandment that we are looking at today refers to ‘false testimony’ – in other words, lies.  But it is more than me just claiming that I am 47 when I am really 52 – that would indeed be an untruth, but the commandment goes on to say ‘against your neighbour’.  Yes, my honesty might be in question but once again, this commandment is about how we live our lives together in community; how we treat one another and the respect that we hold for each other.  If we share gossip and exaggerate untruths about one another, we’re not only spreading hurtful lies and slander but we are making our own hearts unclean and unacceptable in the sight of God.

 

This commandment is calling us to be a people of love; people that care enough to wash our hands in order to protect one another but also people that care enough to speak of one another with truth, kindness and integrity.  As the Psalmist said “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

 

 

'The Moon and Babies' - 14/06/21

 

It wasn’t much of an eclipse of the sun last week was it? Only about 40% of our star was covered by our moon following its very predictable journey through the heavens. So predictable are the movements of these spheres that we know that the next total eclipse of the sun viewable in the UK will be in the year 2090! Enjoy the view. I’ve always been in awe of the mechanisms at work in the cosmos; the distances involved and the number of heavenly bodies talked about by astronomers renders me speechless. One sad aspect of our modern lifestyle, due to the all-night street lighting, is that we so seldom get really good views of what’s over our heads. Children living here a hundred years ago saw more then than we see now. They could indentify many of the constellations that we struggle to see; and today’s children are mostly oblivious of the sky at night. 

This reminds me of Mrs. Webb. She was an elderly Christian lady years ago who was excited by every aspect of God’s creation. Before a mid-week prayer meeting the church members had been talking about the previous night’s harvest moon and how beautiful and large it was as it rose above the horizon. At this point in the conversation, Mrs. Webb announced in a joyful voice, “Don’t ever miss the chance to show your babies the moon.” David the psalmist would have applauded Mrs. Webb if he had been there; neither of them had any intention of worshipping the moon or the stars, but they were both very keen to draw people’s attention to the fact that the sky at night is convincing testimony to the creative power of the God of Heaven and earth. 

 

David wrote in Psalm 19, 

‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. 

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 

They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. 



It would be good if we all encouraged the people around us, from babies to grandparents, to just stop….look…and appreciate our amazing cosmos that speaks to us of the glory and power of the Creator God. Let’s be prepared to express our awe, not just in words but also in our actions as we try to treat our world with respect and admiration. David ended his Psalm like this, ‘May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.’

 
'Being An Example' - 12/06/21

Being a parent can be quite a challenge!  As your children are growing, you try to teach them how to behave when playing, how to share with their friends, not making a mess when eating or how to use cutlery. As a parent, you try to help your children be a friend, which can sometimes be a hard lesson to teach or learn.

It is also a time when we sometimes see that our children are often very good at learning from our example. Isn’t it a bit scary when we see our children behaving as we might, sometimes not always in a good way!! It is not just about teaching them to do as I say but it is very much about teaching them by saying do as I do and living our life as an example to them.

Through all of this, we also do our best to show them how much we love them, as this is what drives our relationship and behaviour towards them.

There comes a time when your children need to start making their own decisions and choices. We may not always agree with their choices but you hope and pray that the years of guiding them and setting an example has helped them find their own values on which to make those choices.

This is like our relationship with Jesus, we need to understand how Jesus lived and how he guided his disciples. If we spend time learning about Jesus and how he lived his life, we can follow his example and his teaching. He has shown us His way and He leaves it for us to choose how we respond. Jesus did this because He loves us and we can choose to love Him too, and to follow Him. Our Father has shown His love for us and has taught us His ways. As Jesus encouraged us in Matthew 11 “Be my follower and work for me. Listen to the things I teach you and you will feel good inside yourselves, like your spirit is resting.”

 

'Anything Can Happen' - 11/06/21

It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien,  

 

The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy of books written about the adventures of Frodo the hobbit and his companions, as they battle to beat the Dark Lord Sauron, and the evil that was infecting the world of Middle Earth. It’s a well known story, and if you haven’t read the book, you might well have seen the films.

 

In this part of the tale, Gandalf the wizard is explaining to Frodo the journey he must take.

Whilst we live in the UK, and not middle earth, it still true that no one knows what might happen when we step out of the door each day. Good and bad things can happen to us without warning.

 

Our lives can be complicated and unpredictable. I am reminded of that old children’s TV show, Stingray, which had as part of its theme tune “Anything can happen in the next half hour!”. This is certainly true of my life.

 

Whilst some people long to see the future and go to great lengths to try and work out what will happen in their life, it’s not something I have ever wanted to know. Whilst I admit some information would be useful (to know when you were going to run out of milk, or when the weather was going to be definitely sunny for example), I don’t really want to know if there are difficult times ahead, as it would then spoil the present as I would worry about what is to come.

 

Jesus reminds that that whatever happens each day, He is there for us and can be trusted. He will not let us down, and if we ask him, will walk beside us each day, his hand in our hand. We never have to face anything alone.

 

Proverbs 3:5-6 

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.

 

Whether today goes as expected, or not, know that Jesus is in it with you and can be trusted to help you through.

 

 

'Anything Can Happen' - 10/06/21

It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien,  

 

The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy of books written about the adventures of Frodo the hobbit and his companions, as they battle to beat the Dark Lord Sauron, and the evil that was infecting the world of Middle Earth. It’s a well known story, and if you haven’t read the book, you might well have seen the films.

 

In this part of the tale, Gandalf the wizard is explaining to Frodo the journey he must take.

Whilst we live in the UK, and not middle earth, it still true that no one knows what might happen when we step out of the door each day. Good and bad things can happen to us without warning.

 

Our lives can be complicated and unpredictable. I am reminded of that old children’s TV show, Stingray, which had as part of its theme tune “Anything can happen in the next half hour!”. This is certainly true of my life.

 

Whilst some people long to see the future and go to great lengths to try and work out what will happen in their life, it’s not something I have ever wanted to know. Whilst I admit some information would be useful (to know when you were going to run out of milk, or when the weather was going to be definitely sunny for example), I don’t really want to know if there are difficult times ahead, as it would then spoil the present as I would worry about what is to come.

 

Jesus reminds that that whatever happens each day, He is there for us and can be trusted. He will not let us down, and if we ask him, will walk beside us each day, his hand in our hand. We never have to face anything alone.

 

Proverbs 3:5-6 

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.

 

Whether today goes as expected, or not, know that Jesus is in it with you and can be trusted to help you through.

 

 

'Happy Birthday Peace' - 09/06/21

Its that time of year again when I write about my daughter, Peace. It’s 14 years today since she was stillborn. And this afternoon me and my chicks will buy flowers, visit ‘Peace’s Garden’, smile, laugh, remember, and have McDonald’s for tea. Tradition!  Back in 2007, not long after Peace was born, I wrote my hurting, grief stricken, jumbled words down…

 

 

‘To Peace, 

I loved you from the start, 

Delighted you were there, 

Excited to plan a future, 

You were in my every prayer.

But God had other plans for you, 

To lose you was such pain, 

Why you were taken I’ll never know, 

But I thanked Him that you came.

I imagine what you’d look like, 

I can hear your laughter in my mind, 

To run and jump and clap and sing, 

But life wasn’t to be that kind.

I am so, so sorry that I had to let you go, 

I carried you but couldn’t hold you, 

Such pain I’ve come to know.

And I called you Peace, 

No other name would do, 

Now you’re perfect in every way, 

And Mummy so loves you.

 

God made you, 

Then God took you, 

Empty arms can hold such pain, 

But you are still my little girl, 

With a footprint in a frame’.

 

Since that time, I have come to realise more and more that life is a gift. God gifted me with four beautiful and amazing chicks who I get the privilege of being mum to every day. We all experience good times in life, and heartbreaking, painful times. But I’m learning to appreciate EVERY single day of my life, recognising what’s important, like kindness, gratitude, being generous and forgiving. Being able to love. Not how many ‘likes’ you get on social media or whether you’re thin enough, rich enough, most important, most popular, always right....I don’t understand why ‘my Peace’ couldn’t be with us here on earth, but I don’t understand many, many things. What I do know, with all my heart, is that God offers us ‘His peace’ here on Earth. And it’s on offer to us all. God has blessed us all with gifts and abilities to help make our world wonderful. May we use these gifts and abilities to help a hurting world and continue to learn how to be grateful and see what good there is, even on the toughest of days. I thank God for this gift called life. Happy 9th June everybody. Happy birthday my Peace ️

 

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

'Giving Generously' - 08/06/21

“You must not steal.”

Exodus 20: 15

 

In an attempt to steal cash from a cash machine, two men attached one end of a chain to the front of the machine and the other to the bumper of their pickup truck.  However, instead of pulling the front off the cash machine, they managed to pull the bumper off their truck.  Having caused a great deal of noise they rapidly left the scene leaving the chain attached to the machine – which was attached to their bumper – which was still attached to the license plate of the truck!  Needless to say, they didn’t get away with anything.

Another man attempted to siphon off petrol from a motor home which was parked outside the owner’s home.  It helps to know what you are doing though and the Police were called out to find a really poorly man lying on the ground next to the motor home – in attempting to syphon off the fuel, he mistakenly put the hose into the sewage tank instead and got a little more than he was bargaining on!  The owner of the motor home decided not to press charges saying that it was the best laugh he’d ever had!

 

It is really amusing to read stories of robbery fails – especially when it feels like justice was done in the end even if it was served through their own incompetence – and of course we all know that to steal is wrong.  But are we always as innocent of this crime as we might think?  

 

Stealing can come in many guises from outright theft of property to theft of time or skills if we consistently cheat an employer of our efforts or working hours.   This law is simple, it doesn’t distinguish between big theft and what might be considered small and inconsequential theft – it quite simply reminds us of the respect and responsibility we should have towards one another and that something that hasn’t been earned quite simply isn’t ours to help ourselves to.

 

But there is another kind of theft that we might overlook and can all too easily fall in to.  In the New Testament we read about an occasion when the Jewish leaders approached Jesus to try and trap him into saying something that he could be arrested for.  The taxes imposed by the Romans at the time were crippling for the average person but it would have been an arrestable offence if Jesus began to tell people not to pay their taxes.  Jesus’ response was simple: ‘“give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”  His reply completely amazed them.’  Let’s not deprive our Creator God, our Rock and our Redeemer of everything that is rightly His – ourselves!  

 

Let’s not withhold from Him what He bought and paid for through His death on the cross.  Let’s give back to Him with a generous heart our resources, our time, our skills, our love, our lives. 

 
'The Great Treasure Hunt' - 07/06/21

We are probably all shocked at the sudden appearance of the sun in the sky. People who booked holidays in the UK for last week are arriving home with tales of swimming in lagoons and needing sun cream to avoid being burnt. It reminded me of a story about a young couple in America who were given a metal detector for Christmas and had to wait months for decent weather before hunting for treasure. They didn’t expect to find any of course, that’s just a fairy tale. So they were shocked on the first sunny day out in their overgrown back garden when their new toy started bleeping. They found a rusty can partially unearthed by the months of rain. When they opened it in their kitchen they discovered it was full of gold coins more than a century old. What would you do? Well they did the same! Back in their garden they found seven more cans. In total they rescued 1,427 coins. It’s now called the Saddle Ridge Hoard and it’s worth $10 million! Now that’s what I call treasure; and it reminds me of another story, this one was told by Jesus. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” 

People have dreamed for centuries about finding hidden treasure that would transform their lives, but it almost never happens; it’s just a dream. But Jesus talked about treasure that is not only real but also accessible. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever trusts in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” This is treasure that will never end; it will carry you through this life and into the next one and will always be yours through eternity. 

 

So keep looking for old bean tins if that’s what turns you on, but my treasure doesn’t need digging for, you just need to accept the offer; and put your metal detector on eBay. You won’t get much but it will save you wasting your time.

 

 

'Because He Lives' - 06/06/21

Bill and Gloria Gaither were high school teachers when they first met and began writing songs together. That’s was in the early 60’s. To date they have written over 700 songs and continue to be in awe of how their music has blessed people throughout the world.

 

During the 1960’s they had two children and were expecting their third. It was at a time of great upset and struggle for them. Bill had been ill, they had faced family upset and hurt and they were witnessing increased violence and hatred in their country. Gloria began to fear for her children. She was anxious and couldn’t see a way forward….

 

"It was on New Year's Eve that I sat alone in the darkness and quiet of our living room, thinking about the world and our country and Bill's discouragement and the family problems - and about our baby yet unborn. Who in their right mind would bring a child into a world like this? I thought. The world is so evil. Influences beyond our control are so strong. What will happen to this child? 

I can't quite explain what happened at that moment, but suddenly I felt released from it all. The panic that had begun to build inside was gently dispelled by a reassuring presence that engulfed my life and drew my attention.

Gradually, the fear left and the joy began to return. I knew I could have that baby and face the future with optimism and trust. It was the Resurrection affirming itself in our lives once again. It was LIFE conquering death in the regularity of my day."

 

Out of that experience, Gloria wrote the words to their most well known song, that has now been sung across the world for almost 60 years. 

 

Click on the link below to hear this beautiful song, recorded during lockdown, for Easter,

 

https://youtu.be/La9Zy917JcQ

 

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.

Philippians 4:6-7 

'We Shall Not Be Moved' - 05/06/21

During the 1950’s and 60’s Civil Rights Movement in the States, music was a powerful weapon. The black people would gather together to protest the horrendous treatment they experienced, and would often use gospel music, to declare their faith in God, to encourage one another, and to give a message to the world that whatever their circumstances, their faith in, and love for God would remain. 

 

Two songs that were made popular during that time were, ‘This Little Light of Mine’ and ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’. Both of these songs speak of having a strength and endurance that only comes from God. 

 

All these years later, we are still seeing prejudice, hatred and violence. It would do us well to listen to these songs, to remind ourselves that Jesus came for ALL people of every colour, race, language and background, and to be that light to a hurting, broken world.

 

Click on the two links below to hear these two, old, beautiful, gospel songs.

 

This Little Light of Mine:

 

https://youtu.be/Xx3nTsFJEQE

 

We Shall Not Be Moved:

 

https://youtu.be/UcDpmzQh3YU

 

Jesus said, ‘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’.

Matthew 5:14-16 

 

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.

Psalm 1:1-3 

 
 
'Great Is Thy Faithfulness' - 04/06/21

This beautiful and well known hymn was written by Thomas Chisholm in 1923. Thomas was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky, in 1866. He suffered ill health for most of his life and that led to him earning very little. However, he loved to write poems. Hundreds in fact. One poem was looking at the faithfulness of God and being in complete awe and gratitude of Him. His friend read the poem, wrote music to go with it, and the result was one of the most well loved hymns known today. 

Click below for a beautiful performance of Great Is Thy Faithfulness, performed by Carrie Underwood and Cece Winans. 

https://youtu.be/NT0HcAr9aeI

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

Lamentations 3:22-24 

'Soon And Very Soon' - 03/06/21

Andrae Crouch passed away in 2015. Many people won’t have heard of him, but in the world of gospel music, he was a giant. Throughout his life he was awarded, seven Grammys, six Dove awards, an Oscar nomination, induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1998, and he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004.  

 

At a very young age, his father, a church minister, asked Andrae if he would ask God to give him the gift of piano playing because their church really needed somebody who could play!! That following Sunday, Andrae sat down at the piano, and played. And never looked back. 

 

His story is amazing and his humility and gentleness was evident for all to see. 

 

He wrote the beautiful gospel song, Soon and  Very Soon. A song which acknowledges tough times here on Earth and how God gives us the strength to face the day, and speaks of Heaven where there will be no more pain, or sadness or dying. 

 

Andrae Crouch may have won many awards during his lifetime, and experienced some wonderful times, but his goal in life was never worldly gain, but that of being with Jesus.

 

Hear him sing his beautiful song here…

 

https://youtu.be/lmGiu9JfbIs 

 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

Revelation 21:3-4

 

'Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind' - 02/06/21

In 1872, John Greenleaf Whittier penned the words of a new poem, ‘The Brewing of Soma’. Whittier was a Quaker. He had a devout and real love for God but in true Quaker style he believed that silence and nature were the only ways to experience the ‘still, small voice of God’.

 

Soma was a drink, native to Asia, made from milk and honey and known for its hallucinogenic properties. It would send people into a wild frenzy and was sometimes drank in an attempt to ‘experience God’. 

 

Whittier had his opinions! He was angry and frustrated with Christians who sang, listened to music and were in any way louder than silent! ‘The Brewing of Soma’ was his reaction to this. The poem begins, 

 

‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Forgive our foolish ways’

 

People could’ve reacted badly to his poem. They could’ve argued, complained and gossiped about Whittier. After all, his opinions were quite hurtful. But the words of his poem were really quite beautiful….if only they were put to music…..and sang! Just two years after Whittier wrote those words in disgust of those who praised and worshipped God through music, people were singing a new song! And they were very thankful to Whittier for providing the words. Oh, the irony!

 

I don’t think Whittier would appreciate the noise that we make here in Melling! In Psalms we are told to, ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord’, and the use of singing and music in worship is mentioned right the way through the Bible. But God also says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’. Whether we like noise or like quiet, like singing or like silence, whatever we choose, there ought to be room for everyone, and a time for everything. May Melling Baptist always remain ‘a church without walls’. All welcome!….EVEN those who sing!

 

Click the link below to hear this beautiful, peaceful hymn.

 

https://youtu.be/YAxiN0egN-I

 

 

'My Redeemer Lives' - 01/06/21

Nicole C. Mullin was a shy, little girl with a stutter, growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio. She grew up, got married and found herself in a horrific, violent, loveless marriage. The abuse she experienced was extreme. And she recalls how she just ‘longed for Heaven’.  Eventually she escaped from the abuse. Years later she wrote these words, "There is a beautiful truth that I know. For the things that have ended in ashes, God has given me beauty. Where there was mourning, He has given me joy. For times when I have felt overwhelmed by fear and depression, He has given me clothes of praise. For all of the questions that are still unanswered and situations without closure, there is the hope of redemption”.

 

Our song for today is one that Nicole wrote. My Redeemer Lives is a beautiful song, looking at the wonders of creation and seeing God in it all. The second verse speaks of this awesome, creator God looking upon each one of us and being there for us even when ‘the storm rages on’. 

 

“The very same God that spins things in orbit

Runs to the weary, the worn and the weak

And the same gentle hands that hold me when I'm broken

They conquered death to bring me victory”.

 

Click on the link below to hear this beautiful song.

 

https://youtu.be/XRW-jr_PnbQ

 

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.

Psalm 121:1-2 

 

'How Great Thou Art' - 31/05/21

In 1885, Swedish preacher, Carl Boberg, was heading home after morning church when he witnessed a short but stunning thunderstorm. Out of nowhere it seemed to come, and a short time later it was over, and a rainbow appeared. 

 

Boberg was so shocked and in awe of the power and beauty he had just witnessed that he sat himself down and began to write the start of ‘How Great Thou Art’.

 

Years later, an English man by the name of Stuart K Hine was so inspired by what was now a melodic poem that he wrote more verses for it and made it into the hymn we know today.

 

All these years later and with this hymn having been translated into many languages, How Great Thou Art continues to be one of the most favourite hymns of all time. 

 

There are many different versions of this hymn. You can find them on YouTube. Here is just one version by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. Click the link below to listen.

 

https://youtu.be/QOoTueC1cow

 

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.

Psalm 8:1 

 

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.

Psalm 121:1-2

 

No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power.

Jeremiah 10:6 

 

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

 

 

'Every Praise' - 30/05/21

 

‘Every Praise’ is a simple, repetitive, easy to learn song that 9 year old Willie Myrick learnt at church one day in 2014. He loved the song so much that he sang it and sang it.

 

In April 2014, Willie was playing outside his home in Atlanta, Georgia, when he was kidnapped. He was bundled into the back of a car and the kidnapper told him to shut up and sit quietly. Willie had other plans. He was going to sing the new song he had learnt at church. And sing he did. For 3 hours, nonstop. 

 

The driver shouted at him and threatened him, insisting that Willie stop singing that song! He didn’t. And eventually the kidnapper, exhausted by 3 hours of ‘Every Praise’, stopped the car, threw Willie out, unharmed, and drove away. 

 

In thanksgiving for Willie being returned home safely, the church had a special celebration, and sang the song again….’Every praise is to our God, Every word of worship with one accord, Every praise, Every praise, is to our God’.

 

This simple song may be a little bit repetitive, but the words cry out thanksgiving and adoration of a God who deserves our every praise. 

 

Click the link below to listen to the song, performed by Hezekiah Walker.

 

https://youtu.be/UuuZMg6NVeA

 

‘I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever’.

Psalm 145:1-2

 

 

'2 Ears and 1 Mouth' - 29/05/21

One of the aspects of working for a large company is some of the training that they send you on. “How to run a meeting” or “how to give a presentation” or “Running a workshop”.

 

Some of them seem very obvious and you wonder what on earth can they teach you. But sometimes they do actually give you a little insight into some thing which is obvious when you think about but we don’t very often actually do it.

 

One of these is about “active listening”. It may seem a strange topic but how many times do we meet with someone and talk with them but don’t actually listen. Do we understand not only what they are saying but why they are saying it? We are not really paying attention and are maybe just waiting for a chance to interrupt and say what we want to say. Sometimes people who are in need want to be able to talk with someone who will really listen and hear not just the words but the person behind those words.

 

It is sometimes said that God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth, so why do we spend more time talking than listening? It is something we should think about in our relationships with people but also something we should consider in our relationship with God. We should make sure we give time for God to talk to us, so that we can hear His voice, hear what He says and why He says it. Make time to just sit and listen.

One of the parts of our recent lockdowns has included more time to listen to each other and chatting over phones or computers can help us to focus more on listening. When we meet each other in person, it brings more enjoyment to that conversation. 

 

In the book of James, he encourages the other Christianity is about our actions, not just about talking.

19 Dear brothers, don’t ever forget that it is best to listen much, speak little, and not become angry;  22 And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. So don’t fool yourselves. 23 For if a person just listens and doesn’t obey, he is like a man looking at his face in a mirror; 24 as soon as he walks away, he can’t see himself anymore or remember what he looks like.

 

Lets ensure we carry on listening and hearing, so we understand our friends and community. Lets listen to God and follow him as he guides us.

'Wait And See' - 28/05/21

When I was little, if I asked for something or to go somewhere an answer often given was “Wait and see”. I mean, what sort of answer is that? It basically meant that the answer was probably a no but cold have been a yes if circumstances and the wind blew in the right direction! I like certainty. As an ex- teacher my life was governed by timetables, plans, spreadsheets and schedules. I knew what I was doing each and every hour of each and every day. I am still like that. My physical desk top calendar and physical paper diary are two of my most treasured possessions. I even schedule my coffee breaks as I used to when in work.

 

 A Benedictine spiritual guide, Sister Macrina Wiederkehr wrote this and it really resonated with me: “ It is enough to pray one’s questions and rest quietly in the possibilities. My life is too small for all the answers and my life…has been plagued with the need for too much certainty.”

We like to be in control and being left with unanswered questions or a non-existent path ahead can be very frightening. For those of us who need comfort in this situation , Jesus said this: Matthew 28 verse 20 “…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” . In times like this we need to rest quietly in the possibilities trusting that as we do so , we are not alone.

 

For those of us who need to step out in faith but are scared of not knowing what lies ahead, perhaps we need to allow ourselves to be challenged by Jesus when he said this: “Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. And no luxury inns—get a modest place and be content there until you leave.”( Luke 9 verses 3 and 4). If we dare to live more simply being content with the unanswered questions; if we dare to trust that we do not face the journey alone, we can shrug off the anxiety caused by needing too much certainty in our lives. We can step out in faith and embrace the adventure; we can wait and see.

 

'Miracles' - 27/05/21

Just because you can explain it doesn't mean it's not still a miracle.”

Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

 

 

Small Gods is the thirteenth of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, It’s a science fiction series based around the fictional Discworld and the city of ankh-Morpork

 

 

Whilst Terry Pratchett’s fictional world is nothing like our own real world, this quote reminded me of Psalm 8, where the writer of the psalm expresses his feelings at the amazing world that we live in

 

 

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens…… 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? 

 

 

Our world is a truly wonderful place. When we think of how many tiny details have to be right for a tree to grow, or how a bee knows where the best flowers with the most pollen are at any one time its astounding. Of course thanks to modern science, we know the answers to a lot of our questions nowadays, but that doesn’t stop the process being amazing and miraculous. 

 

 

Did you know that certain trees can warn each other of danger? When a giraffe starts to eat the leaves of an Arcadia tree, it releases a cloud of ethylene gas, which triggers the trees around it to produce more tannins in their leaves, which make them bitter tasting to the animals, so their leaves don’t get eaten as well! Isn’t that amazing!

 

 

Whilst we understand how this process works, its still amazing and miraculous that this happens at all.

 

 

Next time you are out on a walk, or have time to sit outside, take a moment to thank the amazing creator God for all of his creative genius that creates so many miracles each day. Lets also give thanks for his great love and care for us, that in the midst of this amazing world, he loves each one of us individually so much.

 

 

'Bee-Ware' - 26/05/21

“Advice, when most needed, is least heeded”.

 

I was reading an article the other day about elephants. It was all about how elephants are absolutely terrified of honeybees. Elephants have often been portrayed as being scared of tiny mice, which isn’t true, but I’ve never heard about their fear of honeybees. 

 

If a honeybee senses danger or threat it releases a chemical called a pheromone which acts as a warning to the rest of the honeybees, who then come out in force to defend their ‘threatened’ colony. 

 

However, unlike a human who doesn’t appear to be receptive to the bee pheromone, the elephant is. And that’s all it needs to make the worlds largest land animal retreat in absolute fear!

 

Now compare this to my very adorable and selectively intelligent, black Labrador, who once saw one of my dahlia bulbs and decided it was good to eat! This was after sniffing it several times and physically recoiling from the scent. He spent the following few hours running in circles. He seemed to be having a wonderful time….a wonderful, dizzy time, but I can’t help thinking he was seeing unicorns and pink squirrels and rainbow cats!

 

The Bible is a book that is full of good advice, and warnings, and examples of what happens when we choose not to listen. It’s not a book dictating to us, we have free choice, but God gives us guidelines to help us and protect us and show us a better way. With such good advice all in one book it would seem the perfect guide for life! And yet we are often stubborn and determined and don’t like being given advice. The ‘I Don’t Need Your Help’ syndrome! We all suffer from it! 

 

The Bible says, ‘Fools are headstrong and do what they like; wise people take advice’.

 

The advice that the Bible offers us may not seem great at the time, maybe we want to go and yell at the person who is annoying you in the queue, maybe you’re really tempted to go to ‘that’ place, maybe you’re trying hard to tell yourself that it’s ok to do ‘that’ thing because nobody is looking?…….

 

Proverbs says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way’.

Proverbs 3:5-6

 

A dahlia bulb isn’t the only wrong thing that my daft dog has eaten over the years! He won’t listen to my warnings, but maybe I’ll do a little better listening to God’s?

 

 

'R-E-S-P-E-C-T' - 25/05/21

“You must not commit adultery.”

Exodus 20: 14

 

Have you ever been disappointed and maybe hurt by someone’s behaviour so much that you have struggled to believe that you would ever be able to trust them again?  There is a saying that goes ‘trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair’ – I hope that that isn’t true but I think it is fair to say that if we do something that causes someone to lose trust in us, then it is often hard work to earn that trust back again.

 

Once again we have a commandment that, on the face of it, is clear and straightforward in its meaning.  But I would suggest that the principles behind this commandment go beyond the relationship between spouses.  All of the relationships we have with those around us are built on some level of trust – when I order food in a restaurant, I trust the chef not to poison me; when I get into a taxi, I trust the driver to get me to my destination safely; when I chat with a friend, I trust that I won’t become the subject of gossip.  But I wonder what people think of me?  In my daily interactions with people am I always to be found trustworthy?  Today’s commandment isn’t simply an instruction to married couples (although it is that as well) but it is an instruction to all of us as to how to behave in all of our daily relationships.  This might be both those close relationships as well as those transient interactions we have with strangers - we should display attitudes of respect, integrity, honesty and love that lets those around us know that we value that relationship.  

 

In practical terms what this means is that our own desires, wishes and greed must come second to the needs of those around us.  In the book of Philippians we read “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves”.  If we are concentrating on the needs of others, our own desires fade into insignificance.

 

How amazing it would be if we became known as a community of people who were known for our reliability and trustworthiness; for the love that we show to all around us and the respect, integrity and love from which all of our actions came.  That love and respect is evident in every helping hand, every caring text and every concerned phone call.  It is evident when we laugh with one another and when we cry with one another.  Let’s keep on keeping on because with every small (or big) act that shows we value others above ourselves, our relationships grow stronger with one another and grow stronger with God.

 

 

'Not Out Of Date' - 24/05/21

I’m surrounded by equipment that is well built, very professional, but out of date. It all works and does what it was designed to do but is no longer appropriate for the world we live in. It’s like having a bicycle in very good condition that still works and is reliable, but it just happens to be a Penny Farthing. If you moved house and discovered a large shed hidden by trees which contained amongst other items a genuine vintage Penny Farthing you would certainly be surprised. If it was in working condition one of your options would be to sell it. I’ve looked on eBay and found one priced at £3, 499! My guess is that you would sell it rather than ride it. It’s amazing what people will buy just because something is old, not to use it but just to own it. As years go by, many things change for a variety of reasons; if you’re old enough to have grandchildren, how did you get to school, how did you spend your spare time, where and how did you go on holiday? Tell that to your grandchildren and watch their reactions. I’m sure many of you consider your way of life to have been better than theirs. But things change, it’s not just equipment that becomes redundant, lifestyles and attitudes go the same way. During the pandemic many aspects of life needed to change; it will be interesting to see how many people and organizations prefer the new ways. 

 

As Christians get older and look at today’s world and its culture, music, politics, attitudes etc., there’s a real danger that they begin to feel redundant and weary. That’s not how God sees us; each of us has been given a race to run; a course to complete. Paul said, “My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.” We have lost in recent years people we loved and who were loved by God. They have gone ahead of us because they completed their God-given tasks and are now enjoying their reward. Whatever we think about today’s world and our place in it, God still has plans for us and we read, ‘He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young people stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.’ 

 

Our days here are not determined by age but by God’s purposes, so let’s ‘hope in the Lord’ and aim to ‘complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.’

 

 

‘Bee Thankful!’ - 23/05/21

 

May 20th was World Bee Day. An annual celebration of ‘the bee’. This tiny creature is absolutely fascinating! 

 

Bees live in colonies and they all have a role. Every single bee is important to the colony. The Queen Bee is the chief! Her primary role is to lay eggs....up to 2500 a day! 

 

The drone bees are male bees, their job is to mate with the Queen! 

 

And then there are the worker bees. These are the bees that go out to collect nectar and bring it back to the hive. In the hive they hand it over to other worker bees who chew the nectar for about half an hour. After this time, the honey is almost ready and is placed in the honeycomb. Oh yes, the honeycomb, a mathematical phenomenon! A structure made by the bees, out of beeswax, which consists of perfect hexagons all joined together! 

 

If all of this isn’t stunning enough, one worker bee creates about one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its very short life, so for every teaspoon of honey you consume, you have at least twelve bees to thank! 

 

And then there’s the actual health benefits to honey, being known to reduce the risk of certain diseases and some types of honey have even been used to aid the healing of burns and ulcers. These tiny buzzy creatures are simply incredible! 

 

Having been reading about bees this week I was reminded of two things! 

 

One is our obligation to care for our environment! Bees need our help!! Do plant more flowers and leave water out for them to drink. Without bees many of our plants/crops will suffer. 

 

And secondly, how incredible is our world! The tiny world of a bee is absolutely incredible! Intricate! Mind blowing! And this is just one insect! There are over one million known insect species in the world, but thought to be millions more. Each one different, important, and fascinating! 

 

In Psalm 24 we read, ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it...’ While some people may struggle to believe that a God in Heaven could be the ‘creator of creation’, I truly struggle to believe that this vastness, diversity and beauty, where everything has a purpose, could be created by other means.

 

The bible says, ‘for nothing is impossible with God’. 

 

I look at the humble bee and have one of many reasons to believe it to be true.

 

 

'Get Out Of The Way' - 22/05/21

Do you have that terrible feeling when you wake up late and then realise you are going to have to be quick? You know you are going to have to be super-fast, showering, getting dressed, having breakfast, making the lunch, jumping in the car, dropping the kids off and starting work, so much to do and I am late!!!

 

And then your in the shower and you leave your towel on the back of the door across from the shower, the clothes you wanted to wear aren’t clean so you have to choose something else, the dishwasher did not get switched on so there are no clean dishes, you run out of milk for a hot drink, no snacks for lunch and then a driver who insists on driving very carefully and slowly, giving maximum space to all other vehicles on the road but not allowing you to overtake…….. “Get out of the way!!!”

 

Sometimes, it feels like everything is going wrong, everyone is against you, you can’t do what you want to do. Have you ever felt like having a complete tantrum like a toddler?!  

 

But then you talk to someone who is very calm and collected, they can see your frustration and simply suggest you take a few minutes to relax and get your head in the right place. In that small moment, you can suddenly breathe. It wasn’t so bad, everyone got where they needed to be, no one was injured, no one was actually late, it was fine.

 

Sometimes in our own small world things can seem really intense but in reality there is no need to panic.

When Jesus was with the disciples, they had spent the day talking to a growing crowd next to Lake Galilee, the crowd was so intense that Jesus had to talk from a boat on the water. At the end, He asked the disciples to take him to the other side of the lake and in the journey a storm came to the lake. Jesus was not just calm, he was asleep. The disciples were terrified and shouted to Jesus for help. Jesus commanded the storm to be quiet and still, he asked them “Why were you afraid? Do you not have faith?”

 

There are times when we are fearful or stressed or anxious, but we have a God who can calm the waters and the wind. In our times of trouble, lets remember that God is with us and he can bring us a peace like no other.

 

 

'Loyal Supporter' - 21/05/21

Another domestic football season is fast coming to an end. I for one will heave a sigh of relief. I can spend the next few months without checking my phone every couple of minutes to see the latest scores. No more having to calculate what my team's result means when compared to the fortunes of their competitors. No more hanging my happiness upon the outcome of the efforts of a bunch of men kicking a ball around. I can now spend more of my time following the fortunes of my favourite Major League Baseball team instead!

 

What is it about sport that makes so many people feel this way? Other hobbies may be engaging, entertaining and even educational, but none seem to have the emotional effect provided by sport. Why do we stick with the team of our choice through thick and thin? If we try a hobby and find that we are not as proficient as we might have hoped, then often we give it up. If our artistic efforts prove that we are to oil painting what Picasso was to spot welding, then we move on to something else... perhaps spot welding. If the scarf we started knitting six months ago now resembles a woolly boa constrictor, we set aside our needles and burn the pattern. If our green fingers fail to produce the crops we hoped would fill our larders, we give up the allotment and return to the supermarket vegetables - but no matter how badly our chosen team perform, we don't abandon them. We stick with them through thick and thin. They may delight and disappoint us in equal measure, but we continue to support them. We still take an interest and remain emotionally engaged no matter what.

 

It seems that God feels the same way about us. No matter what we do, He sticks with us. We behave and perform just like a sports team; we have good days and bad days; we delight Him and disappoint Him in equal measure and He is always by our side.

 

Of course, the difference is that whilst we offer support to our team, we are simply part of an amorphous mass of supporters who are anonymous individuals to our favourite players. I'm sure they enjoy having people cheer them on, but there is no relationship between us. God on the other hand, has a personal relationship with each and every one of us. He cares for us deeply and offers us so much more than simple vocal support.

 

He created us, He loves us and He offers us life in all its fullness, not just for today, but for eternity and nothing will change that, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Let's take a moment to remember that God is our greatest supporter and, “Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever”.

 

 

'Hang On' - 20/05/21

Fortitude. ... It means fixity of purpose. It means endurance. It means having the strength to live with what constrains you.”
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel 

 

Wolf Hall (2009) is a  fictional historical novel by Hilary Mantel. It is set from 1500 to 1535, and is a fictional account of the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII.

 

The idea of carrying on in the most difficult of circumstances is a trait that is often admired in our culture today. We see it in many different ways in public life, such as Olympic athletes battling on through injury to win championships. We see it in public figures who keep persevering to achieve success. Did you know that before Henry Ford founded the Ford motor company he had had 5 failed business ventures which left him bankrupt! James Dyson made over 5000 versions of the dyson vacuum before he found one that worked, and Thomas Edison made over 1000 unsuccessful lightbulbs before he created a successful one!

 

In our own lives we have all had experience of situations where we have had to keep on going, even when it seemed like the world was against us. It may not have made the evening news, but I am sure we have all had days where just getting out of bed was a major achievement.

Whether this is one of those days, or a great day, or something in between, Jesus is in it with us. Paul experienced this in his walk with Jesus. When he was writing to the Corinthians, after being beaten and imprisoned for his faith, he wanted to remind his fellow Christians that Jesus is with us, even in the really tough times

2 Corinthians 4 8-11

'We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken….. Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us.' 

 

We all have different lives and different constraints upon them, but whatever your day looks like, look to Jesus, and let his light and love shine through you as you make your way through the day. He will not let you down.

 

'It's The Way I Tell 'Em!' - 19/05/21

When was the last time you really laughed? Where you watching TV? Chatting to a friend? At home witnessing someone do something funny? Can you remember the last time you really laughed? Or was it too long ago?

 

Life can sometimes be really tough can’t it? Stress and upset, illness and worry. It can become overwhelming. Laughter may feel like a distant memory. 

 

It’s a well-known fact that people who have particularly difficult and stressful jobs can often find humour to be a great help. In fact they would go as far as to say that laughter is essential!! I found this to be particularly true in some of the relief and development roles that I had overseas. When circumstances can feel desperate, overwhelming and quite hopeless, laughter can be the greatest of medicine. 

 

So do you have a favourite comedian? How about Ken Dodd?...

 

‘ I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law for 18 months, I don’t like to interrupt her!’

 

Or maybe Eric Morecombe?....

 

‘My neighbour asked if he could borrow my lawnmower, I told him of course he could, so long as he didn’t take it out of my garden’.

 

Ronnie Corbett?...

 

‘ I wasn’t a very athletic boy. I was once lapped in the long jump!’

 

Tim Vine?...

 

‘So I said to the gym instructor, “Can you teach me to do the splits?” He said, “How flexible are you?” I said, “I can’t make Tuesdays”. ‘ 

 

The bible says, ‘A cheerful heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit makes one sick’. 

 

This isn’t about ignoring the struggles and pain that we ourselves, or those around us may face. Nor are we to dismiss the daily news and ignore the tragedies that are happening internationally. But it’s about finding a moment of relief. A moment of light-heartedness. A moment where mental and physical batteries can be recharged. A moment to release a whole lot of stress with one big laugh.

 

If you’re needing to laugh, find that person or those people who can bring a big smile to your face. And if you are somebody who is able to laugh and encourage, pick up the phone and pass that gift on to somebody today.

 

The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.

Proverbs 11:25 

 
'My Name is...' - 24/03/21

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.

 
 
'Enjoying His Company' - 23/03/21

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. 

 
 
'The Bag is Ready' - 22/03/21

‘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.

 
 
'Don't Be Negative' - 21/03/21

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.

 
'How To Become a Hermit' - 20/03/21

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.

 
'Sheep' - 19/03/21

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.

 
'Negative Numbers' - 18/03/21

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.

 
 
'We Become What We Behold' - 17/03/21

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.

 
'I Love It When a Plan Comes Together' - 16/03/21

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.

 
 
'Everyone's a Winner' - 15/03/21

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’.

'THANK YOU' - 14/03/21

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."

Psalm 139:1-10

 
'Doing What I Tell It' - 13/03/21

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

Proverbs 3

"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.

 
'Effort' - 12/03/21

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.

'Humility' - 09/03/21

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.

 
'Look At Him Now' - 08/03/21

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.

 
'A Man Of Few Words' - 07/03/21

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.

'Staying Connected' - 06/03/21

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.

'Love is Worth it' - 04/03/21

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.

 
'You're Useless' - 03/03/21

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. 

 

 

 

'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.

 
'What Day Is It???'  - 21/04/21

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!”

 
 
'Being a Super Fan' - 20/04/21

“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.

 
 
'Sing Because You Can' - 19/04/21

 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.”      

 
'Let's Dance'- 18/04/21

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.

Amen.’

 
 
'The Presence of Absence' - 17/04/21

“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

'Do You Need a Toilet Roll' - 13/04/21

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!

 
 
'Shhhhhhh' - 12/04/21

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.

 
 
'Ouch, I Think I Might've Dislocated Something!' - 11/04/21

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.

 
 
'A Giraffe In Melling!' - 08/04/21

“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.

 
'So What's Next?' - 07/04/21

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? 

'Rules' - 06/04/21

“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.   

 
 
'Which Paper?' - 04/04/21

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.

 
'He Lives!' - 03/04/21

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
He lives

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
He lives

He’s alive

Death where is your sting?
Grave, your victory?
Jesus holds the key
He reigns forever and ever 

He lives

https://youtu.be/8rDlHIsAUPM

'The Wonderful Cross' - 02/04/21

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.

Mark 15:22-25 

‘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

https://youtu.be/oaO3XOI8P6w

 
'Worthy Is The Lamb' - 01/04/21

‘....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.

 

https://youtu.be/LAplJ0_jDFc

'Here is Love' - 31/03/21

‘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’.

Matthew 26:14-16 

 

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. 

 

https://youtu.be/FX6u6ULIdmk

 
 
'No Mess Too Great' - 30/03/21

"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.’"

Luke 7:36-50 

 

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.

 

https://youtu.be/ore7feFfD40

 

'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.’”

Matthew 21:12-13 

 

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!

https://youtu.be/PcKoYGNj0BU

'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’

Luke 19:41 

 

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!’ 

Jesus wept.

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.️

https://youtu.be/ZvvKa9vyixw

 

'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.

 
 
 
 
'Just When You Thought It Was Easy' - 18/05/21

“You must not murder.”

Exodus 20: 13

 

According to the Oxford Dictionary the definition of murder is “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another”.  You will be pleased to know that I can honestly say that I have not murdered anyone.  In fact, I will go one step further and say that (to the best of my knowledge!) I don’t know anyone who has murdered anyone.  So surely that makes for a very brief Sunrise this morning and we can all get on with our day…I’m afraid not.  The thing is, while this week’s commandment sounds pretty straightforward, Jesus actually expanded on it in the book of Matthew – “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘you must not murder.  If you commit murder, you are subject to judgement.’  But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgement!”  

Anyone else feel like Jesus moved the goal posts there?

For most of us it is relatively easy to abide by a ‘do not murder’ law – but to agree not to be angry with someone is something far more difficult to agree to.  The first thing to say is that there is such a thing as righteous anger – anger at injustice, anger over a selfish act, anger when an innocent person is harmed – we need to get angry over these things, we need to find ways to express our anger at such things so that we can bring about change for good.  However, the anger that Jesus is referring to is anger that comes from a place of hatred and rage.  Once again, Jesus is asking us to look into our hearts and examine our motivations.  We may refrain from committing murder but if we are consumed by anger and hatred, those things will simply get in the way of everything else we try to do and come between us and God.  Once again, we are reminded that God doesn’t just see and judge our actions but sees and judges our hearts, our intentions, our thoughts and our motivations - not so easy after all.  

As we go about our week feeling really good about ourselves that we haven’t committed murder, let’s remember to humbly examine our hearts and make sure that we’re not harbouring any unresolved anger or hatred.  Let’s use the words of the Psalmist as our prayer that not only will our actions be pleasing to God but our intentions, our thoughts and our motivations will be found to honour him:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

'Foundations For Life' - 16/05/21

At the back of our house many years ago we employed a landscape gardener to build an area of decking. It was quite large and substantial and was good looking with a lovely balustrade complete with spindles, newel posts and very functional steps into the garden. We were very proud of the elegant addition to our property. It became a place to meet people, chat and have coffee. It even had for some years, overhead weather protection. I took great delight in sitting out there in any kind of weather between 6am - 8am before going to work. Inevitably the years and the cold/hot/wet/windy weather conditions began to cause deterioration in the timber which led to our interfering family pointing out (rightly) that it may not support our weight for much longer. My wife and I joked about who would go through the floor first and we laughed a lot about something that wouldn’t be funny if it happened. Then one afternoon, one of my daughters turned up with her muscular husband; he was carrying a crowbar and worryingly she was armed with a large mallet. We backed off. Two hours later we were presented with what appeared to be the result of an earthquake and two highly satisfied,  violent, family members. It took us two seconds to realize that life had changed in an afternoon. It needed four cars, two trailer trips and two bin loads to clear the debris. Our family now sleeps at night knowing that they have removed imminent danger staring their dozy parents in the face. When all the wreckage was removed we discovered something very encouraging; the flags that the decking had been built on were undamaged, still in place and still level, with not a single plant or weed in sight. All we need to do is wash it down. Brilliant. The fact that we had not seen or even thought about the hidden flags for fifteen years did not destroy their ability to provide a solid foundation. 

 

Jesus told a parable about two men building their homes; one built on sand and one on rock, you can imagine what happened to the house which had a sandy foundation. This is what Jesus said about the house standing on rock, “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock.” He also said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on the rock.” We all need stability in life, let’s listen to Jesus and build our lives on the rock.

 

Just one problem; the flags are two feet lower than the decking was, so getting out of the house is risky. I think I’ve sorted it; I built two steps out of loose bricks. I imagine that the family will be back soon. With the mallet.  

 
 
'Learning From The Past' - 15/05/21

We recently had to empty and move a book case which has been packed with “stuff” for a long time. Emptying it was straightforward enough and once empty it was easy to move. Then we found items which had slipped down the back, like an old DVD, a hair bobble and a receipt. It needed a good clean but also brought back some fun memories. 

You may have seen in the news, the café, Leaf, on Bold Street in Liverpool, were renovating part of the building whilst they could not have any customers inside and they found an old piece of paper. The paper was actually a menu from 1913 when the same location was a different café and showed a great piece of Liverpool history. The café has even decided to re-create some of those dishes as part of their current menu.

I think its really interesting when you can find things from the past and understand what was happening in times gone by, whether that’s 5 five years ago or 100 years ago. Whether it be a menu from a café or newspaper clipping or football programme, its heart-warming to learn about people’s lives.

Today’s technology can sometimes shorten time and distance so that we can see in real time what is happening around the world and we are hardly ever out of touch with people through mobile phones.

In the future, when people find a hidden item from our world today, what will people think? Will we look back fondly on lockdown and think of the friendships that deepened. Will we remember our loved ones who have not seen or sadly the loved ones who we have lost? Will we look at the WhatsApp messages and pictures wondering what on earth was going on? Finding hidden gnomes in clusters around certain gardens and asking why?

When we look back through the Bible, we see the stories of other Christians, their lives and experiences. What can we learn from reading and hearing about those stories? We can learn that through history God has been the same loving God, that despite the many changes in this world, God’s message is still the same;

'For God so loves the world that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Each day is new but some things never change, what message will you leave behind that will guide people in the future?'

 
'Horsing Around' - 14/05/21

I saw something a little out of place the other day. Three young girls were riding horses along the beach. Now that in itself is not unusual; horses are often ridden along the beach and more often that not, it is young girls that ride them. What was out of place was the fact that all three of the young riders were intent on their mobile phones whilst trotting along. Now I am aware that it is illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving, but I'm not sure such a law exists for those in control of a horse.

 

It was not the potential for equine illegality that caught my attention, but the fact that whatever was drawing the girls attention towards the screens of their phones was drawing them away from the natural beauty of their surroundings. Now I am aware that I am not the first person to lament the ubiquitous nature of the mobile devices that are an everyday accompaniment to modern life, but I was particularly disappointed on this occasion, given the incongruity of the scene I was witnessing.

 

This is not the first time that I have been disappointed by mobile devices, or, more accurately, the content that can be accessed through them. Social media is both pervasive and pernicious, but seems irresistible to many. Now before I sound like an old man having a rant at this new-fangled thing the youngsters get up to nowadays, I must clarify that I am well aware that social media is used and abused by people of all ages.

 

Far too often, people choose to use it as a vehicle to judge, to criticise and to bully. As recently as last week, Premier League football clubs and their players boycotted social media in protest at the abuse that is so regularly aimed at players and managers alike – much of it racist in content. Footballers and other media celebrities are not the only ones to suffer from negative opinions posted online and sadly these unwarranted and unsolicited comments can have a serious effect on the mental health of the victim. It is easy to suggest that no notice be taken of such critical opinions, but not so easy to take that advice on board when you have been hurt by the comments.

 

So, what can be done about it? Well I believe that social media is no different than any other aspect of our lives. I was always told that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. The same should apply to social media. We can use it to effect positive change. So, if you are a user of social media platforms, why not take the time to say something nice. Encourage somebody. Be kind. Find the good in a situation. Let's make the wider social media environment as positive a place as the online Melling Baptist Community has been this past year, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

 

 

'A Place For Me' - 13/05/21

“I am just a tiny person in Africa, but there is a place for me, and for everybody, to sit down on this earth and touch it and call it their own.”
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith.

 

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is a detective novel about a female private detective in Africa, Mma Precious Ramotswe. She starts the first detective agency in Botswana after her father dies.

One of the problems Mma Ramotswe encounters is when people move to the ‘big city’ from their home village, and they end up in all sorts of trouble, because they haven’t settled and found a place where they fit in.

As restrictions around us are eased and we start to emerge from our lockdown cocoons, it can seem like so many things have changed. Some things that we have missed are returning, some things are not. Some restrictions may well remain for us for a long time to come. Home working is now commonplace for many jobs, zoom and video calling as a regular way of keeping in touch is with us to stay, and many high street shops are gone forever, and we can only order online for lots of familiar brands now.

In this brave new world, it can be daunting to work out where we are all going to fit in again, as our roles and places of work and lifestyle may have changed beyond recognition.

God reminds us that there is always a place for us with him. He even goes further than that. He tells us that there always has been, always is and always will be a place for us in his family. We will never be without a home with God.

Psalm 90; 1-2 says this:

Lord, through all the generations you have been our home! 2 Before the mountains were created, before the earth was formed, you are God without beginning or end.

Whilst our circumstances may change, God does not and neither does his love for us. Our past present and future are safe in Gods hands.

As we go about our daily life today, hold tight to the promise that there is always a place for us with God.

 
 
'Tree Hugging' - 12/05/21

So, Lebanon. An incredibly beautiful country with the most stunning coastline, amazing history, fabulous food, dodgy dancing and whopping great big trees!....commonly known as the Cedars of Lebanon. These stunning trees have very wide tree trunks, branches that spread out in every direction, and the roots of the tree are known to go very deep and very wide. Putting it bluntly, these trees aren’t likely to get blown over! They are just beautiful! And as soon as I saw them I wanted to go over to them, walk around them, maybe give one or two of them a hug.....after all, some of these beautiful trees are over 2,500 years old! If they could speak, imagine the stories they could tell. There was just one problem. After the devastating war that took place in Lebanon, the ground next to the trees had been covered in landlines. I couldn’t help but feel so sad that the painful past had left it’s mark.  We all have a past don’t we? The proud moments. The funny moments. The moments you record in a photo album. And we all have moments of pain and sadness. Sadly it’s a part of life. And we can become a lot like a Cedar of Lebanon surrounded by landlines and a barbed wire fence, keeping people at a distance. Have you ever felt like that? I have, and it’s a lonely place to be. We all need friends. Good friends. The kind who will enjoy the good times with us, but still be there for us during the bad times. The kind of friends who will help us remove the ‘landlines and the barbed wire fence’ that surround us. And we need to be those friends to. The Bible tells us we ought to be like Jesus, who was, and still is, the best friend we could ever have. 1 Peter 5:7, says these words, ‘Cast all your anxiety on Him [Jesus] because he cares for you’. So, let’s recognise ‘barbed wire fences’, let’s be something of Jesus to one another, let’s give Him our daily struggles and pain, and let’s draw closer to Him, and one another...even while we’re very much apart.

'Like Father, Like Son?' - 11/05/21

“Honour your father and mother.  Then you will live long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

Exodus 20: 12

Have you ever said or done something and then stopped suddenly in horror as you realise that you’re turning into your mum or dad?  Very often it will be the precise thing that as a young person you swore you would never do but slowly and surely we find ourselves picking up their idiosyncrasies, usually to the huge embarrassment and mockery of our own children!  If I’m honest, I’m watching with fascination as I realise that in just a few more years I will effectively be married to my father-in-law as my husband gradually morphs into him.

Our parents play a huge and important role in our lives but it is often only much later in life that we understand the lessons that they taught us and how they shaped us into the people we become.  As we look today at this 5th commandment we must first understand that it isn’t saying that parents are always right and therefore you must always do exactly as they say (although, if my children are reading this, just remember – mother still knows best!), this is about recognising that none of us are ever completely independent and all self-sufficient.  We owe our parents gratitude and respect for their care of us as children but even as we grow we continue to need one another, it is a lesson in humility as we acknowledge that even if we can only rely on our memory of a parent, we never really stop drawing on the things they taught us - even when it turns out that they didn’t actually know everything!

A mother once said to her children – “Never make fun of having to help me with computer stuff.  I taught you how to use a spoon”  (Sue Fitzmaurice, author)  This is a helpful reminder that we are interdependent on each other – one brought us into this world and supported and taught us but as our children grow and become independent themselves, they then have a responsibility to support and care for the generation before them.   

But neither does the Bible let parents off the hook.  In Proverbs it says “Train up a child in the way they should go; even when they are old they will not depart from it”.  Parents have a responsibility towards their children too, not only to provide for them, but to be an example of unconditional love, honesty and integrity so that our children can learn from a young age the behaviour that God expects of them throughout their lives.

Whether you have parents that you still depend on; parents that depend on you or simply the memory of your parents, let’s give thanks to God for them and honour them for the love and commitment that they have shown us.

 
'Counting The Press-Ups' - 10/05/21

Louis the black Lab and I go walking two or three times each week, so I need to know where the best places are. When I say ‘the best places,’ Louis and I disagree about this because ‘best’ to him means ‘wettest’ but to me it means ‘driest’. I have narrowed our choice down to three local parks and I select which one based upon the time available and the weather. But now another consideration has arisen-people. Last month we arrived at our destination to find the car park almost full at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning. As I squeezed the car into one of the last available spaces I became aware of noises I had never heard there before. There was a lot of screaming and shouting, all of it female. I looked around and saw a young ladies boot camp in progress about 100 yards away. I smiled to myself knowing that we would walk the other way to the park so I opened the door for Louis and was shocked to see him heading for the source of the racket. There were about 40 ladies in two long rows all gyrating to music and being yelled at by the leader and all yelling back. In the middle of this organized chaos was a black Lab attempting to greet everyone. He was delighted by the welcome he received but when he discovered that none of these energetic ladies had thought to bring biscuits he came back to the person who always had some. Since then they have been there every Saturday and Louis always visits them and always gets a noisy welcome. I would like to join them but that would be frowned on. So soon I shall be back in my gym, gently and cautiously trying to recover a degree of fitness. 

 

Many people see fitness as the ultimate aim in life; get fit and life is great. But the reality is that you could be as fit as a gladiator and still find that satisfaction eludes you. The truth is that we are spiritual creations made in the image of God and satisfaction that lasts comes from Him. In the Bible book of Isaiah we read, ‘Turn to the Lord! He can still be found. Call out to God! He is near.’ Physical fitness is wonderful, but there’s more to life. Jesus explained why He came to visit Earth, He said, “I have come in order that you might have life - life in all its fullness.” So let’s keep counting the press-ups and running on the spot, but remember we are spiritual beings and we need more than cute calves and beautiful biceps.

 
'Let's Go Outside' - 09/05/21

George MacCloud, the founder of the current Iona Community in Scotland , was quite a radical minister in the church , some would even say a maverick.  Many folks still take retreats to the island of Iona. The life in that community is simple, pared down, basic. I will shortly be going on a retreat and whilst I relish the time alone with God, the silence, the simplicity and the rest ;I know that this is not where I am meant to be permanently. 

 When writing about Easter George MacCloud wrote this: “The cross must be raised again at the centre of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.”

As I read those words I substitute the word churchmen for Christians. As Christians we are called to be salt and light in our communities, making a difference and carrying Christ into those communities. We are emerging slowly from an enforced time of pared down life and as we emerge we need to remember that we should be ready to carry the good news of the risen Lord Jesus wherever we go. It will require us to be sacrificial with our time perhaps, or it may require us to be bold and brave when we feel anxious inside. 

I have shared these precious words of Jesus before but here they are again as a gentle reminder : Salt and Light

( Matthew 5:13-16) “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage."

 

 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Lets get out there!

 
'Take a Fresh Look' - 08/05/21

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.

 
'It's Got Me Stumped' - 07/05/21

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?

 
 
'Another Person's Eyes' - 06/05/21

“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. 

Matthew 11:28-30

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.

 
'Coffee!...Please' - 05/05/21

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.

 
'Time For a Rest Day' - 04/05/21

“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.  

 
 
'Let's Not Be Choosey' - 03/05/21

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!

 
'I Can't Get No Satisfaction' - 02/05/21

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.

 
'You've Got Mail' - 01/05/21

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.

 
'Can't Buy Me Love' - 30/04/21

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.

 
'Have You Had Your Breakfast' - 29/04/21

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

Ephesians 6 

 '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!

 
'Careful !' - 28/04/21

“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.

 
'What's In A Name' - 27/04/21

“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.

 
 
'Who Is The Man' - 26/04/21

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.

 
I Moved Office! - 24/04/21

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. 

Psalm 121

 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.

 
'Design' - 23/04/21

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.