Blessings #171 – Inspirational Lives

Yesterday one of the people who has inspired me over the years died.

His name was Tom.

HollowforthI moved to Preston as a young student over 25 years ago. I didn’t really know anything about Preston, but I did know some people. These people helped me to find a local church where I could fit in, and I’m still part of that church.

One of the things that attracted me to this community was a set of handshakes. There was a particular set of handshakes from people who had hands that were big, rough and sturdy – hands that had done a solid days work over a number of years.

There was also a set of smiles and twinkles in eyes that talked of a life of purpose and a deep knowledge of the important things.

Tom was one of those people.

Tom’s background was completely different to mine.

He was a farmer and I was young student, the son of an engineer.

He’d lived all his life amongst his extended family. My family was, and still is, scattered all over the world.

He was from a different era. I suppose I’ve always thought of him as old, but your perception of old changes as you get older yourself.

He’d known hardship and heartache that I have never experienced.

Tom was an inspiration.

I’d sit in prayer meetings and listen to Tom pray. He’d talk to his Father God in a way that spoke of an intimacy I craved.

I’d watch Tom in church as he sung praise to his Father God and see his face light up. He wasn’t just singing words he was worshipping.

I’d speak to Tom and he’d show a knowledge about my family’s life that demonstrated deep care for people beyond his immediate concerns.

On one occasion Sue and I joined Tom on a trip to Glasgow where we were to minister to a small church. Tom had taken the young pastor there under his wing showing a commitment to join people in their ventures.

I’ll miss that handshake and I’ll miss that smile and I pray that my life might follow Tom’s inspirational example.

Blessings #170 – Trusty Old Clothes

I’m writing this post sat on the lounge at home. I’ve worn a suit all day, but now I’m wearing a trusty pair of walking trousers.

They are a favourite.

InvernessI couldn’t tell you how long I’ve had them; long enough for the labels inside to have to writing left on them. When I bought them they were an olive colour. I’m not sure what colour you’d call them today other than the obvious ‘faded olive’.

These trousers have travelled some miles. If I’m flying somewhere and had a choice of what to sit in for the next 8 hours I’d choose these trousers.

They’re walking trousers and they’ve done some walking. I have in my mind that when I bought them they were advertised as quick drying and that’s still true today. It’s one of the reasons why I love them. I tend not to go walking if it’s going to rain all day, but you can’t go walking in the UK without expecting a shower.

But as well as walking these trousers have also journeyed with me as I’ve visited the beach, camped out, mowed the lawn, hung a picture, watched the television, read a book, driven the car and sat by a lake. They’ve been with me on all sorts of adventures.

These trousers are part of my history and carry that history in their fibres. There’s a couple of places where they are a bit worn out and a few places where there are little rips. Some places have faded more than others, some places appear as vivid as they were when I bought them. A bit like my history.

Weaved through all of these fibres of history is another thread. A different thread. A thread  that manages to touch all of the other fibres adding vibrancy. This thread doesn’t fade and doesn’t wear out.

Blessings #169 – The Visits from the Little Voices

For those of you who don’t know, I am the father of two children who are well into their teens, actually one of them is about to enter his twenties.

WatendlathThe other evening I got home from work, put my bike in the garage and walked through the front door. I could immediately hear that there more than the usual number of people in the house and all of them were in the kitchen. As I listened I realised that there was an extra voice, a little voice.

We don’t really have any little voices anymore.

We were being visited by the little girl from next door. Today’s activity was cake baking. Birthday cake baking to be precise.

Little voices have a way of saying things with a delight that we lose somewhere along the passage of time. There’s a wonderful honesty too.

I love it when the little voices come to visit.

Jesus had a particularly special place for people with little voices, and not just children.

The Bible talks about children, women, widows, orphans, servants, aliens, foreigners, the outcast and the indebted, all of whom still have a little voice in our society today.

About children, though, Jesus had this to say:

The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: "Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in." Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.

Mark 10

We should love to have the little voices at the centre of the kingdom too.

Blessings #166 – Shared Experiences

Last weekend the Chastney family joined with the family of friends for a picnic at a nature resave that’s recently opened near our home.

BrockholesAfter a good while eating the usual al-fresco food as we sat at the tables near to the play area we decided to take a stroll around some of the paths.

We set off through some woods, across some grasslands and around some ponds. We stood for a while as a Skylark sang to us from a dizzy height. We then took a path down towards the river Ribble. It was a scorching hot day (for England) so we meandered along the river until we came to a point where we could get down to the water. Paddling and skimming followed – then into the middle of the fun someone shouted out “Kingfisher”.

This single word turned our afternoon into a whole different experience.

Eyes immediately scanned the line of the river in expectation of a blue flash. Adults and children alike were transfixed. Like Meerkats looking for danger we were all alert and focussed in the same direction.

I’ve only ever seen Kingfisher as a flash of colour coming into view and leaving just as quickly.

What we experienced that day was much more than that.

There were a pair of Kingfisher who flew from tree to tree along the opposite riverbank. They sat in full view on perches as they scanned the water below for potential food. We even watched them diving into the water and retrieving fish glistening silver in the sun.

The two pairs of binoculars that we had with us were passed up and down the line as together we tried to make sure that we didn’t loose the objects of our focus amongst the foliage.

As we stood there on the riverbank others came to ask us what we’d seen and the sharing broadened.

There are all sorts of events in my life that I treasure but I’m struggling to remember any that I experienced alone. All of the best experiences have been shared experiences and the very best have been experienced with those that I love.

In the Bible the book of Acts tells of the events that happened during the early days of the church. In the middle of this book is a definition of togetherness and community that most people would regard as an ideal:

The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, "That’s mine; you can’t have it." They shared everything.

Acts 4:32

Shared experiences give a glimpse of why we are built for community and not for isolation.

(No pictures I’m afraid, my camera battery was dead. Emily took some wonderful pictures, but she hasn’t posted them yet)

(Update: I did have a picture, but from a previous visit.)

Blessings #165 – Cycling (to work)

When I was younger I had a paper-round and like many people I used a bike.

Kilchurn CastleThere were all sorts of bikes, I even used a bike that had been my Mum’s. I fell out with that particular bike when it’s front wheel locked up one day, throwing me in the air and leaving me with a nice scar in my side.

I’ve no idea why I blame the bike because the incident was completely my fault. If I’d tied my shoelaces properly they would have got stuck in the spokes.

There was a certain fashion to the paper-round boys at that time. We fancied ourselves as real bikers (not cyclist, but bikers). In the winter we wore large leather gloves that came half way up our forearms. Our bikes had to have large cow-horn handle-bars. We would imagine ourselves twisting the handle-bars, with the noise levels rising as the revs kicked in and we floated away into the distance.

It was, of course, a fantasy. The only way that I was going anywhere was through my own power as my legs turned the peddles. Wobbly peddles, riding on worn our bearings, pulling a squeaky chain, through a misaligned derailleur, onto a wheel with even more worn out bearings, to drive a wheel buckled by too many abrupt meetings with curbs.

On one particular occasion this collection of engineering mismanagement nearly cost me my life. I was peddling along (I’d like to say’ powering along’ but I don’t think I was ever that boisterous) when I decided that I needed more speed to manoeuvre around a stationary car.

I stood up on the peddles and pushed hard. As I stamped down the chain bounced off the gears and my stamp met no resistance. The combination of forced flipped the bike from underneath me.

Kilchurn CastleAs the bike wrapped itself around me the two of us fell to the ground in a crumpled heap in the middle of the road. With my head on the tarmac I opened my eyes to see the number plate of a double-decker approaching fast and breaking hard. The fact that I am writing this is testament to the responses of the driver and has ability to bring his vehicle under control.

The wide handlebars may have made us feel cool but they were useless when it came to delivering the papers to the alms houses down the narrow alleyway that ran alongside the local common-land.

The large leather gloves were useless for handling the papers and just sucked up the water in the rain.

It didn’t matter what the weather was – the papers needed delivering.

The last house on my normal round was to one of the alms houses. It was there that every morning I received a welcome smile from the elderly couple who lived there.

I’ve been reminded of these events recently. Following a rather thin cycling history since those days I’ve recently been pressing the peddles as a method of getting to work.

These events are part of my heritage and occupy a scene in my story. Each of us is, in many respects, the combination of these events, our stories create our history which forms our heritage.

As a father I see that part of my role is to help to build similar memories for my children. I’m very thankful that I can look back on my history and see many enjoyable occasions and I’d love my kids to have the same heritage.

My cycle to work is quite different to my paper-round experience. I have the luxury of choosing when I go in. If it’s too windy or too wet I can choose to take the car. I’ve purchased the bike through a scheme at work which means that it’s a nice new bike which I’m endeavouring to look after.

All-in-all it’s a much more enjoyable experience.

Blessings #164 – A Story about a word

Stories can have a number of beginnings, but this story starts in a very traditional way, a homely way, a familiar way. Some of the best stories do.

Once upon a time, in a land not that far from here a Servant middling-in-age was walking along with his Master. They often walked this way, but not as often as the Servant would like.

During a day of unfamiliar weather the Master turned to the Servant and said – “I have a treasure for you to find”

“I treasure, really” said the Servant excitedly “what kind of a treasure”.

“This is no ordinary treasure” said the Master “it is not gold, or silver. It’s not even made of precious stones, but it is beyond all worldly wealth. No one could buy this treasure and keep it to themselves.”

Excited by the thought the Servant was now beaming from ear to ear. All sorts of thoughts were flashing through his mind – what kind of treasure could this be?

The Master continued “This treasure is small, very small actually, and yet is great in stature”

The Servant’s heart sank a little. He didn’t really like guessing games. His wife liked guessing games, but they just made him feel a bit dim.

The Master wasn’t playing guessing games though; he was talking about an adventure, a voyage, a discovery.

And so the Master continued “This treasure is already in plain view; it’s out in the open for everyone to see. Be careful though, sometimes it’s not really the treasure at all that’s there, sometimes it’s fools treasure.”

This still sounded like a guessing game to the Servant and he was feeling a bit dim.

The Master knew his thoughts and so he started to make himself very plain indeed “The treasure that I am giving you is a word. Only a small word, but a mighty and powerful word. I will reveal this word to you in a new way and write it into your heart. You’ll see this word in places you’ve never seen before and it will shout out at you. When it doesn’t shout, be careful because it’s not the real word, it’s a foolish use of this mighty word when people really mean a smaller easier more cosy word.” And still the Master continued “This word is also an unforgiving word, it doesn’t allow compromise and you certainly can’t shrink it or put it in your pocket.”

The servant wondered when it was going to stop being a guessing game and turn into something else.

At the moment the Servant had a panic “What if I do forget the word, what if I lose the treasure?”

The Master concluded “The treasured word that I am giving you is fortunately very easy to remember. Let me spell it for you, are you ready: The first letter is A as in Apple, the second is L as in Lion and the third is the same as the second”

“A.L.L -’All’ is that it. A.L.L.” thought the Servant to himself, he was far too polite to speak it out, even though he knew the Master could read his mind.

In due course the Servant did indeed see the treasure and it was in plain view so why hadn’t he seen it before?

And so the walk ended and the journey began.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1

Blessings #163 – Garden Pottering

Today I had enough time to potter in the garden.

I love that word – potter.

So much of life has a tightly defined plan and we can spend our lives trying to fit all of the things that need to be done into the time available.

Sometimes the schedule can take the joy out of the task at hand.

Pottering is different, it allows us to take the time to enjoy the task.

One of my favourite places to potter is the garden. There’s always something to do in a garden. I bit of potting on here, some weeding there, some trimming over here, some rearranging around there and you feel like you’ve achieved something.

Pottering is always better when you also feel like you’ve achieved something – gardens are wonderful for a sense of achievement.

Blessings #162 – The Swallow’s Return

I’m sitting in front of a large window on a sunny spring day. Outside is a field where male pheasants are doing a dance and crowing a call to attract all the ladies in the area.

Bolton Abbey in a Glorious SpringBeyond the field is a conifer wood that was obviously planted in an age when the concentration of trees was clearly an important factor.

The sky is blue with a scattering of white and light grey clouds. I watch the clouds as they journey across the sky.

As I sit and enjoy the natural rhythm of the scene a see two black dots rise above the conifers.

With forked tail and arched back wings for speed they dart and dash. Approaching the window they show off their white breast and red throat.

Within seconds they’ve covered the width of the field and then just before they hit the glass they separate, one to the left and the other to the right.

Bolton Abbey in a Glorious SpringThey circle the building clockwise and anticlockwise three or four times. If they could talk I’m sure they would be shouting “we’re back, we’re back”.

The swallows have returned from their journeying.

We no more give honours to fools than pray for snow in summer or rain during harvest. 
You have as little to fear from an undeserved curse as from the dart of a wren or the swoop of a swallow.

Proverbs 26:1 & 2

(The pictures are from Bolton Abbey, the scene I describe was in the same valley, but in a different location)

Blessings #161 – Coincidences?

Before I went to bed last night I was thoroughly discouraged.

BorrowdaleThere’s quite a rant in my journal.

Sue and I had a chat about it which made me feel a bit better, but I was still down.

This morning I went out on my walk (because I was working from home), put on my iPod and chose a podcast to listen to. I didn’t notice the title of the talk, I picked it because of who was speaking.

Within 5 minutes I realised that today was the day to be listening to this talk. It was a talk on, yes you’ve guessed it discouragement.

The speaker spoke of three areas where we get discouraged:

  • By looking at how things used to be.
  • By looking at how things are in other places.
  • By comparing yourself to how others are doing.

Ah, that would be me then.

He then went on to talk about how this kind of discouragement was destructive and how to combat it. Just what I needed.

It’s funny how coincidences happen when we pray.

Blessings #160 – Sun’s Rays

Borrowdale Sun Rays

Blue and grey, whispers and black swirl above my head.

This is Borrowdale waiting for spring.

Down in the valley brown and green are starting their change of watch.

Of all the trees the Holly stands alone in it’s splendour of green and red, but not for much longer. Soon the skeletons of bark will burst to life in glorious foliage of every green hew..

Herdwick retain their fleeces, it’s too early to relinquish them. They’re ladies in waiting, foraging as they await the appropriate time.

This is Borrowdale in February.

The guitar man in my ear sings:

Sun’s up, uh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

A Kestel swoops low across the fells looking for food, Deer in the woodshe’s dressed in his showing off clothes making sure the ladies know where he is.

The deer in the woods looks upon my stumbling attempts to climb the hills with a certain disdain then bounds off into the skeletons of bark.

Great Gable and Scar Fell keep the remnants of the winter snow under a blanket of cold grey cloud.

The snow drops in the valley below decorate the side of the river signalling the coming seasons.Borrowdale Snow Drops

This is Borrowdale waiting for spring.

Then a twist of grey followed by a shift in the whispers and the glorious rays break through, spotlighting the valley floor and the river below. Above the river a heron glides leisurely above the florescent waters looking for a place to fish.

Rods of light illuminating the droplets of rain left by the black. The rays are always there, but they aren’t the same without the rain to illuminate them.

The sun is always present, but sometimes the clouds make it appear all the brighter.

The guitar man in my ear has a new song and new words:

But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight —
Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

Blessings #159 – Thursday Morning Breakfast

Most Thursday mornings I go to a friends house for breakfast where three of us get together for a chat and a pray.

There’s no agenda, there’s no pressure, there’s no expectations even, we even overrun the scheduled time – breakfast, chat, pray that’s about as detailed as it gets. But or all their informality those times are so very special indeed, wonderful actually.

There are things I can say in those times that I can say in few other places.

There are feelings that i can reveal without fear of being judged or fixed.

It’s a wonderful safe place where I get to spend some time with some special friends.

In a world of face, pretence, uncertainty, perception, marketing, change, chatter, selfishness, disruption, one-up-man-ship and front it’s a time and a place that I find I increasingly need.

I believe that true worth isn’t found in the clammering of the masses, but in the day-to-day love of the few.

Blessings #158 – The Free Radical

There are times in my Christian walk when I get to a point of comfort, a place where I think I am reaching the goal that I have been aiming for. It’s at these times that the Radical Jesus pops his head around the corner to remind me of just how insipid my walk really is.

Jesus is so radical that sometime we find excuses for the things he say. We try and explain them away with a nice little story or we tell ourselves that he didn’t really say what he said.

Here’s an example of what we do. Jesus said:

"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

Matthew 19

So we invent some story about a camel walking on it’s knees through a doorway in a gate. In other words we tell ourselves that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said, he really meant something different.

Jesus was a radical. He used a lot of parables, I’ll accept that, but when Jesus was straight talking, as he was here, he meant what he said. In other words – if you are rich it’s time to be very worried.

I’ve never bought the nice sweet simple story of a camel on its knees, it’s twaddle. Jesus was far too radical for that, he was really, really, really saying that riches do not get you into the kingdom of God.

Here’s another example of radical thoughts from the mouth of Jesus:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5

Jesus goes on from these words to drive into the detail.

On murder,

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment

On adultery:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

On divorce:

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

On oaths:

But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne… All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

On revenge and justice:

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Is there anyone who could stand against such standards – surely not. Those standards are just too radical.

Don’t get me wrong here I’m not sitting beating myself up about how terrible I am. When Jesus, the free radical, makes an appearance I am reminded, again, of my utter reliance upon him.

His statements remind me that there is absolutely no chance of me working my way into a place of favour with God without the inestimable grace that he makes available to each one of us.

After his camel through the eye of a needle statement the disciples responded:

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 19

It’s not about us – what a blessing.