Let the little children come to me

Recent high profile trials and reports have highlighted the horrifying extent of the sexual abuse of children and teenagers in Britain over the past 50 years. High profile celebrities, and gangs of men and women, have committed heinous crimes against hundreds of children. When those who have been abused spoke up they were not believed or were even blamed for what had happened to them. Time and again no-one took any action against the abusers who were, therefore, free to continue in their wicked ways. Some serial abusers have died before their crimes were uncovered and are thought to have “got away with it.”

The Bible teaches that children are very precious and must be protected. Children were very important to Jesus. On one occasion mothers brought their children to Jesus, but his disciples tried to send them away. They may have thought Jesus didn’t have time for children. When Jesus saw it he was indignant and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them

On another occasion the disciples asked Jesus a question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” Then, very solemnly, he added, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

So children and young people must be zealously guarded from predatory paedophiles and all who would seek to harm them in any way. All of us must also learn to have simple childlike trust in God, who has wonderfully revealed his love for us in Jesus. The words of William Walsham How’s hymn speak to us all, “It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be, that God’ own Son should come from heaven, and die to save a child like me.”

Coming home

In the coming weeks birds, who have migrated to warmer countries for the winter, will begin to return to Britain. In recent years a pair of swallows was spotted on the last day of February. Swallows winter in Southern Africa and fly more than 9000 miles to return to Britain. Returning early has its risks, especially if we have a spell of cold winter weather and their food is in short supply.

If we have a happy home, then coming home, after being away, is a very positive experience. Familiar places, and people we know and love, are very reassuring. Home is where we belong and find security. When we are at home we can relax and know we are accepted. When we arrive at our home we don’t knock the door so that someone can let us in, because we have a key to the door. However enjoyable a visit to another place may be, there is nothing quite like coming back to our own home.

Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons. The younger son asked his father if he could have his share of the inheritance. When his father gave it to him, the son left home and went to a distant country. He wanted to be free to enjoy himself and do what he wanted to do. It wasn’t long before he had spent all the money and was alone in a strange place. He realised that there was only one place to which he could go, so he set off on the long journey home. He knew he would have to admit to his father that he had made a big mistake, and had done many wrong things, and ask for his forgiveness. As he got near his father’s house, his father saw him and ran to him and embraced him and kissed him. He experienced his father’s love in a way he had never known before, because he had been taken up with himself and the pleasures the world offers. Now he had truly come home.

We all need to know where we belong and to come home to God. Like the son in Jesus’ story, we may feel we have failed and be sad and lonely. We need to experience the love of God in Jesus as we have never known it before. Augustine, one of the early church fathers, wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

He liveth long who liveth well

Men and women in England are living longer, according to a report from Public Health England. Men aged over 65 can expect to live to the age of 84, and women to the age of 86. In North East England, Scotland and Wales, however, the situation is not so good where men cannot expect to live quite so long. Most deaths in England now occur when people are over 80 years old, so the report emphasised the importance of not only length of life, but also quality of life. One factor, they said, in ensuring a better quality of life is developing a healthy lifestyle.

In Psalm 90, written more than 3000 years ago, Moses says, “The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty, if we have the strength; yet the best of them is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass away, and we fly away.” All those years ago people lived a similar length of time to people today and they also experienced the troubles and sorrows of life. Like us, too, they realised that time passes so quickly. As we get older, time seems to pass even more quickly!

The challenge for us all, however old we are, is to use the days of our life well. In Psalm 90 Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” In the Bible, wisdom is not so much about intellectual ability as about practical daily living. The wise person puts the principles God teaches us, and has written in our hearts, into practice. Solomon, who was a very wise king, wrote, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.”

The wise person also thinks, not only of this world, but of the world to come. Horatius Bonar, the 19th century Scottish hymn writer, who lived to the age of 81, wrote a hymn which is not often sung today. “He liveth long who liveth well; all other life is short and vain; He liveth longest who can tell of living most for heavenly gain. He liveth long who liveth well; all else is being flung away; He liveth longest who can tell of true things truly done each day. Fill up each hour with what will last; buy up the moments as they go; The life above, when this is past, is the ripe fruit of life below.”

Remembering Jane Stuart Smith

I recently read the obituary of Jane Stuart Smith, who died on 14 January at the age of 90. She was an American opera singer who made a career on the Italian stage, including appearing with Maria Callas. Her last official performance was in 1959, as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre. In 1960, when she was at the height of her powers, she became a Christian and left the world of opera. When, later, Jane was asked why she gave up her operatic career she replied, “I gave it up for the Lord. The world of opera is a wicked place. You have no idea about the temptations I faced. My problem was that I loved those temptations.”

Jane knew privilege and success. She was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1925. Her father, Robert, was president of the Norfolk and Western Railway. As a teenager she served as a page at the White House when Franklin D Roosevelt’s was President. Her father hired the Carnegie Hall for her New York debut. After singing the title role of Puccini’s Turandot at the Detroit Grand Opera Festival in 1951 she was described as “a woman of commanding beauty, both of person and voice”. In Italy she appeared in Milan, Palermo and Cesena, where the stage was carpeted in flowers after her performance; in Venice she arrived for a performance of Tosca on a gondola.

In 1956, while visiting Switzerland, Jane met Francis and Edith Schaeffer, who founded the L’Abri Fellowship in their alpine home near Geneva. Francis and Edith’s home was a place where people could find honest answers to their honest questions and experience practical Christian love. They called it L’Abri, the French word for “shelter,” because they wanted to provide a shelter from the pressures of a relentlessly secular world. Through meeting the Schaeffers, Jane came to know Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour and she joined the L’Abri Fellowship.

Jane’s life was distinctive because she made a definite decision to avoid temptations to sin and so turned her back on fame and fortune. She had found something much more precious; a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a life that was real. Jesus told a parable about a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, when he found one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Sixty years ago, Jane made a similar, decisive choice, and now she is in heaven with Jesus, her beloved Lord and Saviour.

In times of emergency

As I was driving home one evening on the motorway I was passed by a paramedic vehicle travelling at high speed with its emergency lights flashing. I wondered to what kind of emergency they were responding and prayed that they would arrive in time and that the person’s life would be saved. I also thanked God that I was safe and well.

It is a great blessing to live in a country where, in a medical emergency, we can dial 999 and know that a paramedic team and ambulance will immediately be dispatched to help us. We will be given immediate treatment. Early treatment by paramedics saves many lives. Then we will be taken by ambulance, or sometimes even by helicopter, to the A&E department at the nearest hospital to be treated by a highly skilled medical team with the best available equipment. For all this skilled care we will pay nothing! What an amazing privilege!

In some years the number of life-threatening calls reaches more than 3 million. The aim is to reach 75% of those calls within 8 minutes and for a vehicle that will take the patient to hospital to arrive in 19 minutes. In most cases this is achieved. What a massive relief it is when we speak to the emergency operator and they tell us a paramedic team and ambulance are on their way to help us!

There are many other kinds of emergencies we experience in life. All of us experience fears and anxieties. We have problems in our relationships; with our marriage partners or with our children. We may lose our job or get into debt. We may lose our homes. Someone we love may die; a parent, a partner, a child, or a close friend. We may feel very alone. At such times to whom can we turn for help?

David wrote Psalm 34 at a very difficult time in his life and remembered the way God had helped him. He said, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” What an encouragement David’s experience of God’s help is for us to pray to him when we, too, are in great need!