Pauline Cafferkey recovers from Ebola

The interview with nurse Pauline Cafferkey, now recovered from the Ebola which nearly took her life, was cause for great joy. This courageous lady went to Sierra Leone to help save lives amidst the deadly Ebola outbreak that continues to ravage that country and others nearby. Out of love for other people she put her own life at risk. There are, no doubt, people in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone, alive today because of the dedication of Pauline and her colleagues working with Save the Children.

On her return, soon after Christmas, she was unwell and was, eventually, diagnosed with Ebola. She was taken to a specialist isolation unit in the Royal Free Hospital in Barnet. There a highly skilled medical team used their skills and the available resources to save Pauline’s life. Having seen patients dying in Sierra Leone she said she was “definitely frightened.” She remembers one point, when she was critically ill and it seemed she might die, when she said, “That’s it, I’ve had enough.” But she came through that crisis and is now clear of Ebola. She is looking forward to going back to her family and her normal life and normal job.

Today good news stories are like oases in the desert. We are bombarded by accounts of the wicked deeds of evil people and the dreary preoccupations of our political leaders. It is no wonder that many suffer from some degree of depression. So the story of a Scottish lady who loves and cares for others at great personal cost is refreshing and heartwarming. We rejoice that her life has been spared and wish her well for the future.

The Christian message is good news. It tells us of Jesus who, motivated by a deep love, came into this world so that through him we might find abundant life. When he was unjustly sentenced to death and crucified his disciples were devastated. They felt as if there was no hope for the future. On the third day, however, everything changed when they saw their risen Lord and their hearts were filled with joy. Jesus had triumphed over sin and death and had given them a sure and certain hope. His promise to them was, “Because I live, you will also live.” He can also give us hope in the darkest experiences of life. One hymn says, “When all things seem against us, to drive us to despair, we know one gate is open, one ear will hear our prayer.”

A new morality

In the Western world we are experiencing a moral revolution. There is now a new morality. What has, for hundreds of years, been regarded as wrong is now right. What was right is wrong. Positive words are used to give the impression that this is all for the better. Promoting the new morality is “progressive”. Politicians tell us they are doing “the right thing.” This is not a claim to be acting morally but that they believe they are adopting the right policy to deal with an issue.

The new morality involves key words and ideas: “freedom”, “choice”, “equality”, “discrimination”, “phobic”, and “human rights”. Armed with theses concepts we can justify almost any action and can present anyone who disagrees as bigoted, out of touch or opposed to the onward march of “progress”. The new morality is intolerant of anyone who disagrees. Anyone who disagrees is attacked, denied the right to express their views and, sometimes, even criminalised.

But morality is fundamental to the lives of every one of us and to any society. Being honest matters. Being faithful to our marriage partners is vital to social stability. Respecting people who are different from us is really important. To disagree with people of another faith or of another sexual disorientation is not “phobic”, but arises from our moral convictions and spiritual beliefs.

A Muslim may fundamentally disagree with a Christian who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, but he isn’t Christian-phobic, which means being afraid of Christians or Christianity. He just disagrees with them. Normally such a disagreement does not lead to violence. I have Muslim friends. Love and respect for one another transcend differences of religious belief and practice.

The new morality has no place for God or for absolute moral principles that apply to us all. But God has given us two great commandments, which embrace all the important principles of true morality. We are to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Love for God involves worshipping him, honouring his Name and enjoying the weekly day of rest he has ordained. Loving our neighbour means honouring our parents, not killing our neighbour or taking his wife, not stealing his possessions or telling lies about him, and not being jealous of what he has. Any individual or society that abandons these moral principles is like a ship adrift on the ocean without power or compass.

Finding peace in an uncertain world

The sight of millions of people marching through the streets of Paris was deeply moving. Men, women and children were there. Most were French, but people from other nations joined them, including 50 heads of states. Many were secularists or Christians and some were Muslims. They were united in their horror at last week’s bloodshed on the streets of Paris in which French Islamic terrorists killed 17 people including journalists, cartoonists, shoppers and police officers. The marchers were expressing their identification with those who died and their families in their grief. The marchers were determined to affirm the founding values of the French Republic: liberty, equality and fraternity. After a minute of silence many chanted over and over, “We are not afraid!”

The marches expressed the unity of the human race that underlies our superficial differences. Some events are so significant that they bring people together in an expression of our common humanity. The graphic images of gunmen killing defenceless people mobilised a united opposition to such subhuman barbarism. Because of the way God has created us we must reject evil in all its forms and affirm the preciousness of every human being. We have a responsibility of care for one another, even those who are strangers, and are commanded to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

Now the march is over, however, and people have returned to their daily lives there is a heightened sense of anxiety and vulnerability. There will be more terrorist incidents because some people in our world are committed to using violence in order to achieve their ends. These problems will be with us for many years. How are we to respond?

We can be sure that justice will be done because God judges all people in righteousness. All of us must one day stand before his judgement throne. When we die we pass into his holy presence. Those who committed the terrorist atrocities in Paris have already been called to account by the living God who does what is right.

We can also find personal peace and security in an uncertain world through experiencing God’s love in Jesus. In the letter to the Romans the apostle Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I am making everything new!

As the New Year has begun we have greeted each other with the words “Happy New Year!” As we look forward to the coming year what grounds are there for hope and happiness? The world is full of problems and the early campaigning for the General Election in May is not very reassuring. We may also be facing problems in our personal lives or in the lives of those we love. We all need to find a real hope for the future.

The last book in the Bible is called Revelation. It was written at the end of the first century by the apostle John. He was an old man, the last surviving disciple of Jesus, and was living in lonely exile on the rocky island of Patmos. He and his fellow Christians were experiencing terrible persecution because of their faith in Jesus. His fellow apostles had already been martyred. Then John was given a wonderful revelation of Jesus Christ that gave him hope personally and that has also encouraged and sustained Christians throughout history.

The book is a series of visions that vividly portray that throughout history there will be times of great wickedness and suffering. The visions also show that God’s gracious purposes in Jesus Christ will ultimately triumph and his people will be kept safe. John himself received comfort and hope through the words of Jesus to him, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

The book of Revelation closes with a wonderful vision of the new heaven and the new earth. John writes, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Then a loud voice from the throne said, “Look! God’s dwelling 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. I am making everything new!” Whatever we may be facing as this New Year begins, and whatever may happen during the year, we can find a sure hope in God’s promises and in his ultimate purpose for his world in Jesus.

The Prince of Peace

The coming of Jesus Christ has made a real difference to this world. In the days leading up to Christmas this year there was a real sense of joy as Christmas carols and music were played in many places. Jesus has brought joy and peace to countless people. He lifts us above the struggles of our daily lives and the troubles of the world. Christmas has now passed but the blessings that Jesus brings to our lives continue.

One of the greatest blessings that Jesus gives is peace. The angel of the Lord announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Then a great number of angels appeared praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

Jesus came to bring peace and reconciliation between God and us. By nature we all rebel against God and assert our right to go our own way. This is the root cause of all our personal problems and the many conflicts in the world. We need to find forgiveness, peace with God, and new life in Jesus. One carol rejoices in this, “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born King! Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.’”

When people come to faith in Christ their lives wonderfully change. On my recent visit to the Hupla people in Papua I saw many men with spears and other weapons. In the past they were always fighting with each other and with neighbouring tribes, but they don’t do that anymore because they have come to know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.

The Christmas Truce in some parts of the Western Front on Christmas Day 1914 is an example of the remarkable influence of Jesus Christ on ordinary people, even those caught up in a terrible war between “Christian” nations. The British and German soldiers agreed to maintain a truce on Christmas Day and some met each other in No Man’s Land between the respective trenches. They exchanged gifts and souvenirs and sang Christmas carols in English and German. The following day the battle resumed! Let us pray that in the coming year we, and the peoples of the world, will know the true and abiding peace which only Jesus gives.

Christ is born in Bethlehem!

Mary and Joseph lived in the small Galilean village of Nazareth. Joseph had known Mary from a very early age and she had been promised to him in marriage. She was still in her teens and he was the village carpenter. They loved each other very much and were looking forward to being married and making their home in the village. They could not have known that God had wonderful plans for them that would fulfil his promise that through the descendants of Abraham all nations on earth would be blessed.

One day the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her not to be afraid because the Lord was with her. The angel told her that she would supernaturally conceive a child and give birth to a son. He said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Mary’s humble response to God’s purpose for her life was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

When Joseph realised that Mary was pregnant he was devastated and assumed, very understandably, that she had been unfaithful to him. He did not want to her to be publicly disgraced so planned to end their relationship quietly. Then, one night, God revealed the truth to him in a dream. An angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” So Joseph married Mary and had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.

This was the beginning of the greatest story ever told. God had promised to provide a saviour and out of love for a sad and sinful world he gave the gift of his only Son to be that Saviour. Jesus was also called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This Christmas, and every day of our lives, each of us needs to know God’s love for us, the forgiveness of our sins and that he is with us. Then we can joyfully sing, “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born King: peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!’ Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; with the angelic host proclaim ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

As we sat in Bali airport waiting for our flight it was a very pleasant surprise to hear the music of a familiar Christmas carol, “Joy to the world”, being played. The carol joyfully affirms that the coming of Jesus into the world is a reason for all to rejoice. “Joy to the world! The Lord is come, let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing.” Jesus, who was born in lowly circumstances in Bethlehem, is King of kings. “He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove, the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.”

It seems as if two different celebrations are being held at this time of year. For some it is “Winterval”. In the dark days of mid winter this festival offers happiness through spending, feasting and parties. It is very expensive and leaves the headache of paying the bills in January. It is really good, in the busyness of modern life, to take time to be with family and friends and to give and receive presents, but surely there is more.

Jesus is at the heart of Christmas. His birth is a wonderful reason to celebrate because his coming brought true and lasting joy. In the words of another Christmas carol, “O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

There are real similarities between Bethlehem, when Jesus was born, and our 21st century world. The people in Bethlehem that night were busy because their lives had been disrupted by the demands of a Roman census. They had had to travel from their own communities to Bethlehem and many were stressed as they tried to find a place to stay. It wasn’t a good time to pause and take note that a child had been born in a nearby stable who fulfilled the promises made by God from the beginning of history.

God has given us his only Son, whose name is Jesus, because “he will save his people from their sins.” “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

The Hupla People receive the Bible

Last week I was in the beautiful mountain village of Soba in Papua for the dedication of the Hupla Bible. For the first time the 6000 Hupla people have the whole Bible in their own heart language. It was a time of great joy and celebration. It has taken more than 25 years work to translate the Bible and the main translators Mathias, who is a Hupla, and Sue, who is from Ireland, rejoiced in the completion of what, for them, has been a labour of love.

Sue first arrived in Papua in 1978 as a young nurse and for 19 years lived amongst the Hupla people in Soba. It took her 2 days to walk through the mountains from the highland city of Wamena to Soba. At other times the journey took 15 minutes by light aircraft to the small airstrip that had been cleared in the village. In 1994 Sue joined the Bible translation team.

Before they heard the good news of Jesus the Hupla people, like the other 250 tribes in Papua, lived in constant fear and oppression from evil spirits and the spirits of dead relatives. Fear of these spirits controlled every part of their lives and they offered many sacrifices to appease the anger of the spirits.

There was also frequent fighting amongst the clans within the tribe and with other neighbouring tribes. The practice of revenge and ‘pay back’ killings meant that there was no end to the fighting. Many died and others suffered terrible injuries. The people also practised cannibalism. Although the people lived in very beautiful mountains and valleys their lives were very dark. Now that many of the people know Jesus, things are very different.

In each village there were special places where only the men were allowed to go. If a woman or child entered that place the spirits would be angry and they had to be put to death. One day a little girl, who was looking for her father, unknowingly entered the forbidden place. She was taken to her father who knew what he must do to appease the spirits. He took his little girl to a nearby waterfall and threw her into it. Later when missionaries came to that village and told the people the good news of Jesus the father said, “If you had only come sooner my little girl would not have died!” All of us experience fear, but the perfect love of God in Jesus overcomes all our fears.

The transforming power of God’s love

I am visiting Papua in Indonesia. Papua is the Western part of a large island north of Australia. It is an amazingly complex society. The people of Papua, who number two and a half million, speak 250 different languages. Many of the people live in remote areas amongst the mountains and valleys of this very beautiful country. In the 1950s Christian missionaries first brought the good news of Jesus to the tribal peoples of Papua. They lived amongst the people, built relationships with them and learned their languages.

The missionaries faced many challenges and dangers. In 1968 two missionaries, Stan Dale and Phil Masters, were killed by warriors from the Yali tribe. Despite this tragedy others continued the work and many of the Yali people experienced God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus. Their lives, and the life of the tribe, was transformed.

One of the first Yali men to come to faith in Jesus was Dongla Kobak. His father, Andeng, was the cult priest of the tribe and Dongla had been expected to succeed him. But Dongla’s life was decisively changed when he became a Christian and he became a leader in the church. He could not read but he learned the Bible stories the missionaries taught the people and then he taught his children those stories.

One of his sons, Otto, came to know Jesus as his Saviour and Lord and worked amongst the young people in the churches. In 1988 he joined the team translating the Bible into the Yali language. He dedicated the next 12 years of his life to this work so that the all the Yali people would be able to hear and read the Word of God in their own heart language. The complete Bible in Yali was published in 2000. Earlier this year, at the age of 50, Otto died of TB.

Otto’s experience of God’s love for him in Jesus transformed his life. Like the Apostle Paul he could say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Otto’s whole life was committed to sharing the good news of Jesus with others and he died secure in the knowledge that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Now he is in heaven, in the presence of God, and is experiencing his love more deeply than ever before.

The heavens declare the glory of God

The European Space Agency has made history by successfully landing a robot on a comet in deep space. After 10 years, and a journey of more than 4 billion miles, the Rosetta spacecraft sent its fridge-sized Philae lander down to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was travelling at 40,000mph. Philae landed safely and, despite some technical problems, sent back data for 60 hours. Rosetta is also maintaining its orbit around the comet and sending back data. Scientists had hoped that this mission could help unlock answers about the formation of the Solar System, the origins of water on Earth and perhaps even life itself.

This amazing achievement is testimony to the intelligence and skills God has given us as human beings. Each of us is a little speck in a vast universe. We are fragile and vulnerable, yet the Bible tells us we have been created “in the image of God.” In the 17th century Johannes Kepler, a German mathematician and astronomer, discovered his laws of planetary motion. He said he was aware of “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

In every generation scientists and philosophers have tried to understand the meaning of life through studying and observing the wonderful universe in which we live. The more they have learned the more they have been amazed and humbled. In the 18th century the philosopher Immanuel Kant said, “Two things fill my mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often I reflect on them, the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me.” In the 20th century Albert Einstein, the theoretical physicist and philosopher of science, said, “Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must feel humble.”

Through his creation God speaks to people in all nations on earth. In Psalm 19 David says, “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 display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the earth.” Reflecting on the coming of Jesus, God’s eternal Son, into the world, the apostle John wrote, “He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”