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Preparing to meet God

This is the time of year when students receive their A level and GCSE exam results. It is an anxious time! Some are elated as they achieve the grades they need to move on to university or sixth form. Others are very disappointed when they fail to achieve the necessary standard.

It is a crucial time in the life of each student. Success opens the way for the future; failure seems to cast a shadow, although this is by no means always the case. This year many A level students who had hoped to go to university will not find a place, despite having achieved good grades.

In the preparation for the exams teachers encourage their students to work hard in order to achieve the best possible grades. Not all students take the advice and some hope that by a combination of natural talent and good luck they will get through. Often, however, the exams reveal their lack of preparation and poor results follow.
In many aspects of our lives we face assessment. Most employees have some form of appraisal which indicates their performance and effectiveness in their job. It is good to be appreciated and praised, but not easy to take constructive criticism which indentifies areas of weakness and poor performance.

The Bible teaches that at the end of our lives we must all appear before God to be judged. This judgment will be totally fair and will be based on how we have kept God’s laws. There is no escape from God’s justice. Tyrants and evil people may seem to get away with their evil deeds, but God will call every one of them to account and they will be justly punished. History provides many examples of unspeakable wickedness. It is a great comfort to know that those who have done these things will give an account of themselves to God, who knows all things.

But the certainty of God’s judgment is a solemn thing for us all. None of us has kept God’s law. All have sinned and have fallen short of what God requires. I need someone to stand with me on that day who will be my Advocate and Saviour. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners like me. On that great day I will plead not what I have done, but what he did for me. It is my only hope.

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Compassion for those facing disaster in Pakistan

The floods in Pakistan have been devastating. They began more than two weeks ago in the mountainous north-west of Pakistan and have swept south across a quarter of the country including its agricultural heartland. The monsoon rains continue to fall and have affected 20 million people in an area the size of England.

At least 1500 people have died and diseases like cholera threaten the lives of many more, especially children. People have lost their homes and possessions, their animals and crops and face a very uncertain future. They need food, emergency shelters, medicines and clean water. The long term economic consequences for Pakistan are very serious. This disaster is the latest in a string of disasters this year that have affected millions of people in many parts of the world.

We live on a very beautiful planet which provides a rich abundance of natural resources, enough to provide for everyone. Yet in several ways we are reminded that all is not well. Disasters reveal the massive power of natural forces against which we feel helpless. Human sin and corruption spoil and mar the lives of many and often contribute to the effects of natural disasters.

Disasters are not a sign that the people who experience them are especially sinful. Many who suffer are young children. In the Bible we are told of the experience of Job, a very rich man who lived a righteous life. Yet he suffered great personal tragedy as he lost his crops, animals, home and all his children. In the face of this tragic loss he put his trust in God saying, “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.” In all this Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

We often strive to understand why such things happen and want to find answers to our questions. The answers are at best tentative and partial. Job experienced something better. God didn’t answer all his questions, but he drew near to Job in his anguish and suffering. God showed him his compassion and mercy so that Job could say, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” Let us pray that those who are suffering so much today will not only receive the humanitarian aid they so desperately need but will also know the compassion and mercy of God.

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Love in action in Afghanistan

Last week 10 members of a medical team, working with the Christian organization International Assistance Mission, were shot dead in Afghanistan. One of those who died was a British doctor, Karen Woo. She died alongside 6 American and 1 German colleagues, and 2 Afghan interpreters, as they provided eye care in remote villages in North East Afghanistan.

The motive for the killing is unclear. The Taliban have claimed they were killed because they were Christian missionaries who were telling people about Jesus Christ. Others think the motive was robbery because all their possessions were taken. Whatever the motive, it was an act of mindless evil. International Assistance Mission has worked in Afghanistan since 1966 and provides medical care to ¼ million Afghans each year.

Karen Woo had given up a well-paid job, with BUPA, to work in Afghanistan for minimal financial reward. Her motive for doing this was a desire to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans and spread the word about their plight. On a visit to Kabul in 2009 she gained an insight into how the lives of ordinary Afghan people are being affected by the conflict. She knew that working in Afghanistan put her life in real danger. She was due to be married in 2 weeks time.

The murder of these people was an irrational act. The team was bringing desperately needed medical care to many people who will now have no one to help them. Our own reactions can also sometimes be irrational. We react against the God who made us. We feel, mistakenly, that our lives are better without him, yet every day he showers his blessings indiscriminately on us all.

The lives of the medical team were a powerful testimony to the difference Jesus Christ makes. They were willing to put their lives in danger in order to enrich the lives of others. They came alongside people of another nation and religion to show Christian love to them.

The example of this team reminds us of Jesus himself. He went around “doing good.” He brought healing and hope to many people and restored sight to blind people. Ultimately he came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” As he hung on the cross he prayed, “Father forgive them.” Those who live and serve in the same spirit remind us of him and make this world a better place.

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Good news in a world of trouble

Many of us are addicted to the news. We can tune into 24 hours news bulletins in at any time to see news of events around the world and can also be avid readers of the daily newspapers. Have you noticed that the vast majority of news items are bad news. Every day we are told of violent deaths, disasters, terrorism and economic troubles. Is it any wonder that many people suffer from depression?

I remember one man saying that he always turned to the back pages of the newspaper first, not so much because he was a sports fan, but because the back pages told him about human achievements rather than human failures. Sometimes, to alleviate the barrage of bad news items, news broadcasts finish with a small positive story, which is often humorous.

In daily life we often have to cope with bad news. Losing our job, being diagnosed with a serious illness or the death of someone we love will cause us considerable stress. As we grow older, bad news tends to become more frequent. We all have a great need for some really good news.

The message about Jesus Christ is good news. When Jesus was born the angels announced “good news of great joy.” At the beginning of his public ministry he proclaimed the good news of God’s Kingdom, calling people to turn from their sinful lives and to trust in him. This emphasis on our sinfulness is often seen to be negative, but much of the bad news we hear is related to people who have done bad things. Jesus said that we all need to change, whether we are religious or not.

It is a wonderful thing to know that a new beginning is possible. Sinful actions may offer a temporary happiness but, eventually, only bring us grief. Through Jesus Christ our sins, however many they are and, however serious they may be, can all be forgiven. Last week I watched a DVD of a church service in Moldova. The man leading the service and the 4 men leading the singing had all been members of the mafia but have now become Christians. Their lives have been transformed. They have given up their lives of crime and are now telling people about Jesus. Their lives have a new direction and new meaning and they want others to know Jesus too. Now that’s a really good news story which offers hope to us all.

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Hope in the Cross of Jesus

The murder of 2 year old James Bulger in Liverpool 1993 shocked the nation. He was abducted from a shopping centre in Bootle and murdered by two 10 year old boys. They were the youngest convicted murderers in modern British history. The two boys were given a custodial sentence until they reached adulthood, initially until the age of 18, and were released on lifelong licence in June 2001.

The recent court appearance of Jon Venables on child pornography charges has brought the horror of little James’s death back into our minds. There are some crimes which are so serious that we struggle to know how to deal with them. We have deep sympathy and compassion for James’s father and mother, who must think about James every day and who long for justice to be done. They believe the boys who killed James have not been adequately punished for the terrible crime they committed.

None of us ultimately escapes the consequences of our sins. We are all accountable to God, “for we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Our sins are serious and God’s judgement will fair and just. On that day no-one will feel that justice has not been done. His judgement is final, there will be no appeal. This is a deeply solemn reality for us all.

The seriousness of our sins is also seen in the Cross of Jesus Christ. God sent his own dear Son into this world to be the Saviour of sinners. God’s only Son came to pay the price of our sins and to die in our place. We could only be forgiven if God’s justice was satisfied and “there was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.” Forgiveness has been secured at an awful cost, but the Cross of Jesus offers hope to us all.

On the day Jesus was crucified, two other men were also executed. One man died in bitterness, cursing Jesus, but the other man said to him “don’t you fear God? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

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Which came first the chicken or the egg?

Scientists from the universities of Sheffield and Warwick have provided an authoritative answer to the old conundrum, “Which came first the chicken or the egg?” Dr Colin Freeman from Sheffield has said ‘It had long been suspected that the egg came first, but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first.’ Using a super computer called HECToR, based in Edinburgh, scientists “zoomed in” on the formation of an egg. They identified a protein in the chicken’s ovaries which is crucial in kick-starting crystallization, the early stages of forming a shell. Predictably evolutionists have been quick to attack this discovery as contrary to the evolutionary theory so widely believed today.

More than 3000 years ago the book of Genesis declared, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The opening chapter describes the creative acts of God who, by his divine power and wisdom, brought everything into being, including animals and birds with the power to reproduce.

Faith in God’s creative power is so important. The universe is not an accident but has come into existence for his purpose. We are not simply links in a long and meaningless evolutionary chain, but people created by God to know and love him. Because of him each of us is valuable and our lives have meaning.

The sheer beauty and magnificence of the creation declares the glory of God to all people around the world. The creation tells us that God is good and has given us a beautiful world in which to live. We are not at the mercy of our own fears, or chance events, because the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.

One of the most amazing things about God’s world is the formation and development of a baby within its mother’s womb. David wrote, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Each new life is unique and precious in God’s sight. You and I matter to God because he created us and gave us life. He also sent his Son into this world, “born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those under the law.” Jesus Christ is the way to God and through him we find peace with God. He promises his presence now and the sure hope that one day we will live with God in a new creation where suffering, pain, crying and death will be no more

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The Water of Life

We have enjoyed a lovely summer with many sunny days. It is no surprise, therefore, that already hose pipe bans have been introduced in some parts of the country. Water is a valuable resource, essential for life, it must be conserved.

Jesus once met a woman by a well. He was on a long journey and was resting by the well. He was thirsty and she had come to draw water. Every day she went to that well to draw water and to carry it back to her home. Jesus asked her if she would give him some water to drink. She refused because she was a Samaritan woman and he was a Jewish man, and Jewish people normally had nothing to do with the Samaritans. In fact the woman’s need was greater than the need of Jesus for water. It is the same for us. We need God’s help rather than him needing our help.

Jesus spoke to the woman about her need and the weary routine of life, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again.” Even the most necessary and pleasurable experiences of our lives don’t last. He also spoke about the sadness and pain she had known in her life. She had been married five times and was now living with a man. She had been rejected and divorced by a series of husbands. The hurt and pain of it all must have been overwhelming.

Although the woman had rejected his request Jesus made it very clear that he was willing to help her. He told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is speaking to you, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” She did not realise that she was speaking to God’s Son, just as many people today don’t recognise the uniqueness of Jesus. He is not just another religious teacher, but the Saviour of the world who meets our deepest needs.

We have only to ask him and he will give us new life. This new life brings deep inner satisfaction and peace in the midst of a troubled world. He told the woman, “those who drink of the water I give will never be thirsty again.” That day she came to know Jesus as her Saviour and her life was transformed. His promise still holds true, to all who ask him he gives the living water of new life and peace with God.

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There are no atheists on the battle field

In the past month more coalition soldiers have died in Afghanistan than in any previous month. Many of them are young men. They died in a foreign land far from their families and home country. Our soldiers, alongside others, are seeking to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban and the world from terrorism.

As you read these words British soldiers will be on duty in Afghanistan putting their lives on the line again from snipers bullets and roadside bombs. All the soldiers I have heard interviewed have spoken with great dignity about their determination to do their duty. They know the dangers. They have seen some of their colleagues killed and maimed and know that one day the same thing may happen to them. Their courage is a great example to us all.

In a recent interview a senior soldier said, “There are no atheists on the battle field.” When men and women face the real possibility of death they inevitably ask vital questions which the rest of us seek to avoid. Many of us try to escape from reality and give little thought to the future and to eternity. When you carry the bodies of your fellow soldiers back to camp and know that you might be next it is important to find answers to the big questions.

The hope we all need is found in Jesus Christ. He died as a young man at the hands of those who hated him enough to want to kill him. Their hatred was irrational, but they saw him as a threat to their interests and their way of life. As he died he prayed, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Those who loved him took his body down from the Cross and lovingly laid him in the tomb.

On the third day Jesus rose from the dead! The tomb was empty and he appeared many times to his disciples. He gives a living hope to all who trust in him. The “intellectuals” of every age, in their comfortable little world, have scoffed at the idea and declared resurrection cannot happen. What do they know? Those who live in the real world, like the soldiers in Afghanistan, pray to the living God and commit their lives to Jesus. He always hears such prayers and promises that though we die yet shall we live.