One small step for a man

On 21 July 1969 a quarter of the world’s population watched the grainy black and white images of man’s first steps on the moon. They saw Neil Armstrong, the commander of the Apollo 11 mission, step on to the surface of the moon, after a journey of 500,000 miles, and heard him say, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” The news of Neil’s death, at the age of 82 following heart bypass surgery, has brought sadness to many around the world. Walking on the moon was a great landmark in the history of human exploration. Since 1972, however, no-one has travelled to the moon.

Tributes have been paid to Neil Armstrong by his colleagues on the Apollo 11 mission. Buzz Aldrin mourned “the passing of a true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew.” Scott Carpenter said, “He was the best of the best.” His family described him as “a reluctant hero.” Charles Boden, a NASA Administrator, said that Neil Armstrong “will be remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.”

Very few people will ever have the experience of walking on the moon. However, all of us will one day leave this earth and enter into eternity. This is the ultimate step into “a world beyond our own.” Our life in this world is just for a time, but each of us has an immortal soul which can never die. Death involves the separation of our body and soul. Just before he died Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he died his body was taken down from the cross and was buried, but his spirit had already passed into heaven. On the third day the tomb was empty because his body had been raised from death. His resurrection triumph offers hope to us all.

It is important to think about the end of our lives and to make preparations for it. The wonderful achievement of the Apollo 11 mission was the culmination of a great deal of preparation by many people over many years. Jesus Christ came into this world to bring hope to us all when we put our trust in him. One hymn writer wrote, “While I draw this fleeting breath, when my eyelids close in death, when I soar through tracts unknown, see Thee on Thy judgement throne, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”

What is your aim in life?

Many young people have received their exam results. Those who have achieved the grades they needed are happy and ready to take up their degree courses. Those who did not achieve the required grades are sad and are beginning to consider their options. It is important for those who have not secured a university place to remember that they have passed their exams and have achieved A level qualifications which open the way for a variety of excellent careers.

The future for those who are going to university will certainly have its challenges. The National Union of Students has estimated that students beginning their degree courses this September will leave university with an average debt of £53000. Those studying vocational courses will probably find a job soon after they graduate, but there are many graduates who are unemployed and finding it difficult to get any kind of job.

Our society values people according to their achievements. It is assumed that those who achieve high grades in school or university, or achieve sporting success, are more valuable than those of us who do not. In the Olympic Games it was sometimes implied that winning a silver or bronze medal was a failure! They were not the best but “the best of the rest!”

Ultimately the most important thing about us is not what we do, but what we are. Most of us are ordinary people who will never achieve great success in education or sport. Our true value lies in the fact that God created us and we are precious to him. We can find true happiness and fulfilment through knowing him and living our lives in fellowship with him.

What is your aim in life? Young people who want to go to university work hard in order to achieve the grades they need. Athletes who want to win an Olympic medal train hard in order to succeed. As he reflected on the purpose of his life in this world, the apostle Paul said his goal was to please God. He knew that at the end of his life he, and everyone who has ever lived, must stand before God. Ultimately that is the only test that matters. Paul knew his need and rejoiced that God sent his Son, Jesus, into this world to give us hope. As we put our trust in Jesus as our Saviour he gives us real confidence for time and eternity.

Usain Bolt gives thanks to God

The Olympic Games have come to an end. The Olympic Cauldron has been extinguished and the Olympic Park is quiet. Athletes have returned to the 200 countries from which they came. The Olympic Games have gone well and have brought joy to many people. Many world and Olympic records have been broken, so fulfilling the Olympic motto, “Faster, higher, stronger.” Soon the Paralympic athletes will amaze us with more outstanding performances and achievements.

London 2012 has shown the amazing abilities of human beings. Every person on earth has been created by God. He knit each of us together in our mother’s womb and made us the people we are. Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Each of us is unique and very precious to God, whether we are great athletes or not. Mo Farah’s elder brother, Faisal, who farms a simple smallholding in Somalia, is as precious to God as Mo, who did so well in winning 2 gold medals.

Amidst the euphoria following London 2012 many people will be given credit. It is striking, therefore, that after his victory in the 200 metres Usain Bolt, the fastest man in history, put a message on Twitter, “I want to thank God for everything he has done for me cause without him none of this would have been possible.” Usain knows that his amazing ability to run is not simply the result of hours of training and hard work but has been given to him by God. As he grows older his ability to run will diminish but his relationship with God and his experience of God’s love in Jesus can grow stronger and deeper.

We do not often see people from so many nations together in one place. One of the great experiences for the athletes is to live together in the Olympic Village. There is keen rivalry and an intense desire to win but also at the Olympic Games lifelong friendships will have been formed which transcend national identity. There is a wonderful vision of heaven in the book of Revelation, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They cried out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” Unlike London 2012, the joy of heaven never ends.

The Inspiring Example of Eric Liddell

The Olympic Games is going well and many medals have already been won. Winning athletes have been ecstatic whilst others have sometimes been in despair. The pressure to win is very great. After 4 years of preparation, everything depends on the performance on the day and not everyone can succeed. The greater the expectation of success the greater the disappointment when you do not win a medal.

At the medal ceremonies for London 2012 the Chariots of Fire theme tune has been played. The tune reminds us of Eric Liddell, the “Flying Scotsman”, who competed for Great Britain in the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924. When the schedule for the heats of the 100 metres was announced, Eric realised that the first heat would be run on a Sunday. He was a Christian and always kept Sunday as a special day set apart to worship God and rest. He realised that he would not, therefore, be able to compete in his best event and quietly withdrew from the 100 metres. He began instead to train for the 400 metres in which he was not expected to win a medal.

When Eric was at the starting block for the 400 metres race an American man slipped a piece of paper into his hand with the words of 1 Samuel Chapter 2, verses 30 written on it, “ Those who honour me I will honour.” Eric won the race and broke the Olympic and world records. He also won a bronze medal in the 200 metres. Eric’s example of putting God first above everything else continues to inspire people today. Although he was as keen to win as any athlete competing in London 2012 he knew that honouring God was more important.

Eric was born in China in 1902, where his parents were missionaries. In 1925 he went to China as a missionary where he worked amongst poor people and proclaimed the good news of Jesus. In 1943, when the fighting between the Chinese army and the invading Japanese army was very fierce, he was interned at the Weihsien Internment Camp. Whilst in the camp Eric refused an offer to leave and gave his place instead to a pregnant woman. He died in the camp on 21 February 1945 from an inoperable brain tumour. His last words were, “It’s complete surrender.” He had gladly given his whole life to Jesus Christ, and has now received the ultimate victor’s crown which his Saviour won for him.