The God of Second Chances

A New Year is beginning. Starting something new gives us an opportunity to do better. Some people make New Year resolutions. It is good to resolve to change for the better and do things differently from the way we have in the past. When we were in primary school and had made lots of mistakes and crossings out on a page in our exercises book the teacher would tell us to turn to new page. It was good to be able to start again.

We all fail in life and regret many things we have done. We cannot change the past. There are broken relationships, moral failures, dishonest actions and words, bitterness and resentment, and things we intended to do but didn’t. Often we find it difficult to move on and carry with us the memories of our past failures.

The Bible tells us of a God who is the God of second chances. Many of the great men and women in the Bible made big mistakes and committed serious sins but God didn’t cast them off and reject them. Peter, who was a leader in the early churches, told Jesus that whatever happened he would never let him down. He said he was ready, if necessary, to die for Jesus. But on the night Jesus was arrested and condemned Peter denied 3 times that he even knew him. Peter wept bitterly and was overcome with the realisation that he had totally failed his Lord in his hour of need.

Early one morning after Jesus had risen from the dead he appeared to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times Peter replied, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” In this way Peter was restored to ministry and leadership in the early churches. He always remembered the wonderful way in which the Lord had restored him. It made him more able to help others who had also failed.

We live in a very unforgiving world. The media highlight the failings of well known people and sometimes destroy them. God is not like that. In Jesus he offers us the opportunity to put all our past failures behind us and to start again. He gives us hope that the future will, with his help, be better than the past. Let’s pray that 2014 will truly be a new beginning and a Happy New Year!

To us a Son is given

The birth of a baby is always special. At Christmas we remember the birth of very special son to Mary and Joseph, a young couple living in the small Galilean village of Nazareth. Mary was probably a teenager and Joseph a little older. They had fallen in love with each other and had been pledged to be married. However, before they were married something amazing happened. Mary was told by an angel that she would supernaturally conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. When she told Joseph she was pregnant he, understandably, assumed she had been unfaithful to him and planned to divorce her quietly. Then in a dream God told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife and to give the son who would be born the name Jesus, which means “the Lord saves.”

Mary and Joseph were a godly couple who wholeheartedly embraced God’s plan for their lives, even though this had very big implications for them. They knew that their son was the long promised Messiah for whom the Jewish people had been waiting. More than 600 years earlier the prophet Isaiah had said, “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Now, in the birth of Jesus, God’s promise was fulfilled.

Because of a Roman census Mary and Joseph travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which was the town of King David, from whom Joseph was descended. It was there that Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. Shepherds caring for the sheep on a cold Judean night were told by an angel, “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.” Later the wise men from the East also came to see the child.

Jesus has transformed the lives of millions of people from all nations as they have responded to him in simple faith and trust. One well known carol says, “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.”

Glory to the new born King!

2 billion Christians around the world will soon celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. One in three people in the world are followers of Jesus. This is an amazing statistic. Jesus came from a small village in Galilee. His parents were ordinary people. He learned his father’s trade and was a carpenter. He never travelled more than 100 miles from his home. His remarkable ministry lasted just 3 years. When he was 33 years old he was executed by the Romans. Yet today millions of people from every nation on earth profess to be his disciples. How can this be explained?

Jesus was the Son of God. One of our carols says, “He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all.” When the wise men from Persia, who followed the star, found the baby they “bowed down and worshipped him.” They recognised him as a divine King and offered him their gifts. Because Jesus was the Son of God he rose again from the dead. It was not possible for death to keep its hold on him. One of his disciples, Thomas, who at first doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead, saw him personally and said, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus came in fulfilment of God’s promise. From the beginning of time God had promised that a child would be born who would bring blessing to the peoples of the world. Through this child God’s great purpose for his world was going to be fulfilled. God is still carrying forward his gracious purposes for the nations. Today the good news of Jesus is being proclaimed around the world and many are receiving him as Saviour and Lord. One day “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.”

Jesus came to give us hope. The world into which he was born knew great sadness and pain. Our world today is very much the same. Jesus is the One who gives us sure and certain hope in this life and when we die. Many carol services close with these words, “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth. Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new born King!”

Nelson Mandela – a man of peace and reconciliation

Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95. He was the dignified figurehead of the struggle against the evils of apartheid in South Africa. He led a peaceful transition of his country in a way which won the admiration of people around the world belonging to all sections of society. He was, for so many, an inspiration and a figure of hope. In June 1964 he was found guilty of sabotage and given a life sentence which he served initially on the notorious Robben Island, off Cape Town. When he was released, after 27 years in prison, he demonstrated a remarkable spirit of forgiveness and led a powerful movement for peace and reconciliation in his beloved South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If that man wasn’t there the whole country would have gone up in flames.”

Nelson Mandela experienced hardship and struggle throughout his life culminating in his long years in prison. Yet those years changed him in an amazing way. The authorities intended to destroy him but instead he emerged as a man of great dignity and towering stature. Desmond Tutu said he needed that experience to transform him from being an angry man into the man of peace and reconciliation he became.

Nelson Mandela believed passionately in the equality of all people but also knew that this could only become a reality for people in South Africa if he won the support of all sections of their deeply divided society. At his inauguration as President he said, “Never, never, never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”

In the Bible Joseph suffered greatly at the hands of his brothers and other people. His brothers nearly killed him before selling him as a slave in Egypt. There he was unjustly imprisoned and forgotten. When he was released he became the Governor of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. Like Nelson Mandela he emerged from prison as a man of great wisdom and forgiveness. Later he said to his brothers, “Don’t be afraid. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish the saving of many lives.” There is a far greater strength in the willingness to forgive than there is in a spirit of hatred and vengeance. The supreme example of this is Jesus who taught us to love of enemies and on the cross prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

When tragedy strikes

Last Friday evening family and friends in Glasgow were at a social evening of live music at The Clutha Bar. The bar is one of the top 3 venues for live music in Glasgow with a family atmosphere. That same evening a police helicopter took off, with a civilian pilot, a police woman and policeman on board, on a routine operation patrolling the skies over the city. When the helicopter was almost back at its base it suffered a catastrophic failure and crashed into the roof of The Clutha Bar. The 3 helicopter crew and at least 6 people in the bar died, and 32 were injured. None of those involved could possibly have anticipated what happened.

The words of the Book of Common Prayer remind us of the uncertainties of life and our vulnerability. “In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord?” None of us knows what a day may bring. Tragedies come unexpectedly and without warning. We can do our best to help and comfort each other, as the people in The Clutha Bar and the emergency services did so well on Friday evening, but only God can meet our deepest needs.

In the Old Testament we are told of the great sufferings of Job. He was very wealthy. He knew God and lived a righteous life. Yet he also experienced great personal tragedies. On the same day he lost all his possessions and his sons and daughters who were also killed when a strong wind struck the house they were in and it collapsed. On hearing the news Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

The sudden tragedy that has come upon people in Glasgow speaks to us all. We, too, are vulnerable and need God’s help. The Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte’s hymn, written when he lay dying from tuberculosis, has brought comfort to many. “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes; shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”