David, the King of Israel, wrote many psalms in which he reflected on his relationship with God. He rejoiced that the Lord was his shepherd, cared deeply for him and met all his needs. The words of David have brought comfort and strength to generations of people around the world. In Psalm 139 David speaks of God’s intimate, personal knowledge of him. “O Lord you have searched me 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.”
David was conscious that he, and everyone else in this world, lives in the presence of the living God. He knew that God had given him life. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because am fearfully and wonderfully made. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
When we lose touch with God it is difficult to face the big issues that life brings to us. Today some people are advocating the legalisation of assisted suicide. They want the National Health Service to provide medical help for people to end their lives. They say that, because assisted suicide is illegal, some terminally people are being denied “freedom of choice” and “autonomy.” These proposals are presented in the name of compassion but really are very serious.
Our laws are based on a high view of the value of every human life. Our society is committed to providing loving care for those suffering from debilitating, terminal illnesses. As doctors and nurses surround terminally ill patients with loving care and expert medical treatment, they affirm the value of every human life.
It is very hard indeed to watch someone we love suffering from a terminal illness, but we do not have the right to take their life or to encourage them to take their own life. If our laws are changed, many people will have to live with the fact that they took an active role in the death of a loved one. It is so much better to find the strength we, and they, need in the promises of God. David wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Temptation is a very powerful influence on us all. Every day we are bombarded with temptations to do things we know are wrong. In the recent riots in London a 23 year old student was walking past a supermarket in Brixton which was being looted. He succumbed to temptation and took bottles of water worth £3.50. When he realised a policeman had seen him do it he threw the water away and tried to escape. He was caught and arrested and immediately admitted what he had done. He was of previous good character, pleaded guilty and expressed genuine remorse for what he had done. He and his family were shocked when the District Judge sentenced him to 6 months in prison.
The student’s barrister explained that her client had not been involved with the looters who originally broke into the supermarket. She described how he succumbed to temptation and now deeply regretted it, “My client is incredibly ashamed. It was opportunistic. He was walking past. He saw the store was unsecure and got caught got up in the moment.” On hearing of the sentence one person commented, “A lot of people would take the opportunity to take something if they thought they would get away with it.”
The Bible tells us how Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation in Eden at the beginning of history. God had provided them with an abundance of good things. Every day they enjoyed warm fellowship with God. However, when Satan tempted them to disobey God, and to eat the forbidden fruit, they rebelled against God. They, too, bitterly regretted what they had done. The consequences of their actions have affected every person born into the world. From that moment on all of us share in their fallen nature.
Temptations come suddenly. The student did not set out that night intending to steal but, when the opportunity presented itself, he did steal. In the moment of temptation we give no thought to the consequences of our actions. Giving in to temptation is always destructive, which is why we need help to resist temptation. We can find that help in Jesus Christ, who was tempted in every way as we, but who did not sin. If we ask him, he will give us strength to resist temptation. On the cross he also suffered the punishment our sins deserve so that through him we might find forgiveness and begin a new life.
The riots of the past week have come as a shock to many people in Britain. The pictures of criminal damage, looting and assaults, many carried out by young people, gave an insight into the serious problems facing us as a society. More than 3000 people have been arrested in London alone. Many people have already appeared in court and been sentenced. There seems to be a determination to make examples of those involved in the rioting and to impose the maximum possible sentences.
The Prime Minister has spoken of a “moral collapse” and has said that our society is “broken.” He says that the state system has incentivised “some of the worst aspects of human nature”. If this is true, then it is the result of us having rejected our Judaeo-Christian heritage. The new “morality” promoted by leaders in all sections of our society is the old immorality. What used to be seen as wrong is now right. It is no surprise that this revision of “private” morality has led to chaos and public disorder.
Many have been surprised that some of the people involved in the riots are well-educated and well-off. For many years we have been told that all people are essentially good and that education and material prosperity create good citizens. But now it can be seen that those who are well-educated and prosperous, including some MPs, journalists and policemen, are capable of dishonesty and criminal behaviour.
The Bible teaches that, from our birth, we all struggle with a sinful nature. We know what is right, because it is written on our God-given conscience, but we still do wrong things. It is important to teach our children what is truly right and wrong but also to recognize that they will struggle to do it, just as we do.
The law offers us no hope. It only punishes the guilty. That is why some people, who were previously of good character, have been devastated to be sent to prison. The law offers no mercy, but in Jesus Christ, God does show mercy. The worst of people can make a new start. The Holy Spirit can change our hearts. However serious our sins may be, God offers us forgiveness when we receive Jesus as our Saviour. If our nation is truly to recover from its brokenness then God’s grace in Jesus Christ, not just the harsh application of laws, needs to be central.
One of the early credit cards in Britain was called Access. The adverts encouraged people to apply for an Access card with the strap line “Access takes the waiting out of wanting.” Before the advent of credit cards people saved up for the things they wanted and paid with cash. Having a credit card meant that you didn’t have to wait. A small plastic card gave you buying power. You could buy now and pay later. Somewhere in the adverts it mentioned that you would pay interest on the money you borrowed, but people decided to worry about that later. It was not long before some began to realise that just paying off the interest was very expensive and that buying with a credit card was not cheap!
The present economic crisis in America and Europe is about national debts and repaying money that has been borrowed. America has agreed, after a long debate, to increase its credit limit so that it can “pay” its debts. The total national debt of America amounts to trillions of dollars. It is a debt that will never be repaid and the assessment of America’s ability to keep making payments has been downgraded. The richest country in the world is in serious trouble, as also are some countries in Europe, and all because they have borrowed too much money.
Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” He was drawing attention to one of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”
Whether we are adults or children we all want what someone else has. A teenager wants the latest mobile phone or designer clothes, because their friends have them. Adults want that new house, new car or holiday because their friends of neighbours have them. In order to get them we go into debt in the hope we will be able to make the repayments. Today, sadly, many people can’t repay their debts.
Jesus reminds us that true happiness does not come from our possessions. Consumerism is ultimately an empty and unhappy experience. Real life and true contentment are not found in created things, but in knowing our Creator, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.
The scale of the United States of America’s debt is staggering. A fierce battle has been fought in the Senate and Congress about raising the ceiling for the national debt from $14.3 trillion to $16.7 trillion. Successive American administrations have overspent. Raising the debt limit has implications not only for Americans but also for all of us. If the increase is not agreed then the richest nation in the world will not be able to pay its bills. In the past investors have assumed that America is a very safe place to put their money and that the dollar is the most secure currency, but now that confidence has been seriously undermined.
Not all Americans are wealthy. There are great contrasts between the rich and poor. But life in America is very different from the experience of millions of people around the world who survive on just one dollar a day. The people affected by the famine in the Horn of Africa have even less, they have nothing, and some are losing even their lives.
When we are wealthy and doing well it is easy to forget God. As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land Moses warned them not to forget God. He said, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees.” In America and Europe many have forgotten God and his moral laws. Secularism and materialism have turned the hearts and minds of many people away from God. They worship created things rather than the Creator. It is time for us to remember him and to thank him for all the good things he has given us.
Those who are poor and vulnerable often look to God for help and put their hope in him. God, who made the heavens and the earth, cares for them and hears their prayers. The Psalmist writes of God’s faithfulness, “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow.” As we face the problems of life we, too, can look to him for help and know that he hears our prayers.