Honour your father and mother

The number of older people in our society is increasing. 10 million people in the UK are over 65 years old. In 20 years time there will be more than 15 million, growing to 19 million by 2050. Within this total, the number of very old people is growing even faster. Now there are 3 million people aged over 80. This is projected to double by 2030 and reach 8 million by 2050. Today one-in-six of the UK population is over 65; by 2050 it will be one-in-four.

The average length of life is increasing significantly. A man born in 1981 might expect to live to 84 years, but for a boy born today it is 91. Women can expect to live, on average, 4 years longer than men. However, those who live to greater ages do not necessarily enjoy good health in their later years. This presents a massive challenge of caring for the elderly, both in terms of cost and quality of care. Recent cases have revealed serious mistreatment of elderly people in care homes and these problems are likely to increase.

God’s plan for our care throughout our lives is the family. The love between marriage partners is the foundation. In his Bible commentary Matthew Henry reflects on the account of the creation of men and women, and the institution of marriage, in Genesis Chapter 2. He writes, “The woman came out of a man’s ribs. Not from his feet to be walked on, not from his head to be superior, but from his side to be equal, under his arm to be protected, and next to his heart to be loved.” The mutual love of their parents provides a secure environment in which children can grow up and be cared for.

In later life the family can also provide care. The early Christian churches cared for widows, especially those who had no-one to care for them. But they also emphasised the importance of the family caring for their older members. Paul wrote, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God very much.” It is a privilege to be able to care for our parents, who have given us so much. It is an even greater privilege to be cared for in our latter years by our children and grandchildren and to be surrounded by their love.

Riches that last forever

The Sunday Times Rich List 2014 has been published. It profiles the 1,000 richest individuals and families in Britain. A fortune of at least £85 million is needed to be included on the list. In the past year the total wealth of those on the list has increased by 15%, with a combined fortune of almost £520 billion. Britain has more billionaires per head of population than any other country in the world. The business tycoon brothers who top the list are worth £11.9 billion. The Queen is ranked 285th in the list with £330 million, just £30 million more than Simon Cowell.

The Bible doesn’t condemn rich people, but it does warn against the dangers of being rich. It’s easy to trust in our riches and not to acknowledge God’s goodness to us. When Israel entered the Promised Land, God warned his people against pride and complacency. When they enjoyed the abundance of the Promised Land and became very rich, they might say to themselves, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ Instead he encouraged them to be thankful and to remember his kindness in giving them the ability to produce wealth.

It is also important to think of the future and the uncertainty of life. Jesus told a parable about a rich farmer who had a bumper harvest. He built new barns to store all his crops. Then he said to himself, “You have plenty of things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus said, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich towards God.”

The riches that really matter are eternal and within the reach of us all. Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich.” Jesus did not seek to enrich himself but to enrich people like us. He laid aside the amazing riches of heaven, which he had every right to enjoy, and came to this earth to die on the Cross for our sins. He did this so that, through his self-sacrifice we, who are poor and needy, might receive riches that last forever.

The Judge of all the earth will do what is right

The trials of high profile men who have been accused of historic sexual abuse are in the news. Some accusations go back more than 40 years. Children and young girls were abused by powerful men who told them that, if they reported the abuse, no one would believe them. As a result, many have suffered in silence, while the abusers have enjoyed successful careers and big salaries. But the past crimes of their abusers, now elderly men, have come to light and justice is being done.

Many, however, are troubled that some of the most serious abusers of children have died and escaped justice in this life. They seem to have “got away with it.” But, is this true? Can we escape the consequences of our sins by dying? Something in the very depth of our being says that this cannot be right. The wicked acts of those who, for example, sexually abuse young children or torture and kill innocent people must be called to account. The Bible teaches us that, after we die, we must all appear before God. He “will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.”

Justice is something to be admired. The wisdom of King Solomon was widely known. One day two prostitutes came to him. They lived in the same house and each had a baby boy of the same age. One night, when they were asleep, one of the women lay on her son, without knowing it, and he died. When she realised what had happened, she took her dead son and put him next to the other woman, then took the live baby as if it were her own. When the other women awoke, and saw the dead baby next to her, she knew it wasn’t her baby. She came to Solomon in the hope that he would give her justice.

After listening to both women Solomon said, “Bring me a sword. Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.” One woman said that seemed fair, but the other said, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” Solomon said, “Give the living baby to her; she is his mother!” Everyone who heard what Solomon had done held him in awe because of the way he administered justice. We, too, should hold God in awe because he is the Judge of all the earth and he will do what is right.

Do not be anxious about anything

A report from The Mental Health Foundation provides an insight into the extent of depressive illness in Britain today. 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem in the course of a year, with anxiety and depression being the most common. 1 in 10 children have a mental health problem, and depression affects 1 in 5 older people. Women are more prone to anxiety and depression than men, but suicide rates are 3 times higher amongst men than they are amongst women.

The Bible provides real help to those who are anxious and depressed. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul knew that it is not helpful to simply tell people not to worry, so he gave good advice about what we should do. When we are anxious or afraid we should pray to God. We should talk to God about “everything” – big things and small things. When we pray, we should give thanks, remembering all the good things God has given us. We can thank him for the gift of life, a beautiful world, our family and friends, food and clothing, and his amazing love shown in the gift of his Son, Jesus. This puts our situation into a proper perspective, because when we are anxious and depressed we tend to forget all the wonderful blessings God has given us.

Then we can ask him for his help and strength to face our problems. Anxiety and fear can paralyse us, but God can help us to overcome them. When we pray, God also gives us his peace, which transcends all understanding. Some years ago I visited a friend who had suffered a heart attack. He was in the coronary care unit and I could see his monitor. I asked him whether the doctors had told him when he would be able to go back to work. Immediately his heart rate jumped to double the rate it had been, although there was no apparent change in his face. He was obviously very anxious about the future. We read together Psalm 56, verse 3, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” Then we prayed and asked God to take away his anxiety about the future and to give him his peace.