The peace of God

A few years ago we were given a red mug with the words “Keep Calm and Carry On” on it. The design of the mug is based on a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II. The aim of the poster was to raise public morale in anticipation of the mass air attacks on major British cities. In 1940 and 1941 the Blitz killed more than 40,000 civilians and destroyed more than 1 million houses in major cities around Britain, but the 2.5 million copies of the poster were never used. However, the British people, especially those living in London, show amazing courage and resilience in the face of the terrible bombing they endured.

The motto on the poster was an appeal for stoicism – a “stiff upper lip” and calm resolve in the face of adversity. Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy which encourages people to subdue their emotions through self-control and fortitude. Today, a stoic is seen as an unemotional person who seems to be indifferent to pain, pleasure, grief or joy, and who accepts hardship without any display of feelings or complaint. In hard times a stoic does not look for, or expect, love and comfort, but simply accepts what life throws at them.

In his letter to the church at Philippi the apostle Paul presents another approach to the challenges of life. He wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.”

When he was in Philippi Paul had been unjustly beaten and imprisoned. At midnight, when he and his companion Silas were in prison, they prayed and sang hymns to God. Their response to suffering was to rejoice in the Lord remembering his love for them in Jesus and thanking him for the many times he had blessed them in their lives. They knew that, even in prison, the Lord was with them. So they prayed to him and gave thanks to him and asked him to help them and give them his peace. When we experience adversity, as we all do, it is good to pray to God and rejoice in who he is. He hears our prayers and will give us his peace.

Growing together in God and in love

On 22 May this year Jaquie Farmer married Andy Goncher in a church service in Marietta, Georgia. It was a very special day for Jaquie and her family and friends as she walked down the aisle. In July 2008, when Jaquie was 17 years old, she dived into her friend’s swimming pool and broke her neck. She said, “I remember floating face down, unable to move and thinking I was going to drown. I could hear the girls laughing, thinking I was just joking or something. When I was finally pulled out of the pool and knew my mom was being called to come and get me, my body blacked out.”

In the hospital, Jaquie could feel all her limbs, but couldn’t move them. She asked her mother, “Am I going to be in a wheelchair forever?” Holding back tears, her mother said, “If God wants you to walk, you’ll walk.” Jaquie says that at that moment her faith kicked in and she was determined to be “normal” again. Her first glimmer of progress came when, to her doctor’s surprise, she was able to move her big toe. Jaquie spent hundreds of hours in physiotherapy, and on her own in the gym, working to regain the ability to stand. Her dream was to walk down the aisle on her wedding day.

Looking at the photos of her wedding day brings tears to Jaquie’s eyes. She said, “It’s so easy to forget how miraculous it is that I can walk now, since it’s a journey I’ve been going through for 8 years. When people react with such emotion and awe, it reminds me just how blessed I am. Andy and I have now been married for 3 months. I’m so thankful for his servant’s heart and willingness to put in the work that a good marriage takes. I’ve learned so much from him in the past 3 years and I can’t wait to continue to grow together in God and in love.”

We are all liable to life-changing accidents and illnesses. When tragic events happen to us, or to those we love, it is so important to turn to God. God has sustained Jaquie through dark and difficult days. She has experienced his love in Jesus in a new way. She knows that Jesus is always with her and that there is nothing that can ever separate her from his love. As they share the joys and sorrows of married life, Jaquie and Andy are looking forward to knowing God’s love for them more and more.

Reflections on the River Amazon

I have been in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. At Manaus two great branches of the Amazon River meet – the Solimões and the Negro. It is one of the great sights of the natural world. The water of the Solimões is light brown and the water of the Negro is black. As the 2 great rivers converge the waters do not immediately mix, but flow together side by side for many miles. The massive scale of the Amazon River is difficult to appreciate until you actually see it. One fifth of all the fresh water which flows into the oceans of the world comes from the Amazon. When the Amazon flows into the sea it takes 70 to 80 miles before the fresh water is fully mixed with the salt water.

The book of Ecclesiastes explores the meaning of life when lived without God. The author wrote, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.” The water cycle of rain and evaporation means that rivers continually flow and yet the sea does not overflow. Many generations of people have lived by the Amazon River, travelled on it and fished in it. They are now no more, but still the river flows. What does this say to us about the meaning of our lives?

In the Bible rivers are a symbol of God’s blessing. There was a river in the Garden of Eden. In his vision of heaven, in the book of Revelation, John says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.”

Water is also a symbol of spiritual refreshment and heavenly blessing. In Psalm 23 David says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” In Revelation 7 John says, “For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” So the beauty of rivers like the majestic Amazon points us to the deep and lasting fulfilment we can find in God himself, who created us to know him.

The Servant Queen and the Servant King

King George VI died on 6 February 1952 and his daughter Elizabeth acceded to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II. I was a young boy at the time and remember the day because normal radio programmes were cancelled, including Listen with Mother! That day I did not hear the familiar words, “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”

Queen Elizabeth has now reigned for 60 years, the second longest reigning British monarch in history. She has won the love and respect of her own people and many people around the world. In 1999 Australians were offered a choice between Queen Elizabeth and becoming a Republic and voted for the Queen!

At the beginning of her Diamond Jubilee year the Queen thanked people for their wonderful support and encouragement and wrote a message to the nation. “In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope that we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness, examples of which I have been fortunate to see throughout my reign.” She said she was looking forward to the future “with a clear head and a warm heart.”

In the New Testament we are exhorted to pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” This is remarkable when you remember that many Christians, including the apostle Paul who wrote those words, died at the command of the Roman Emperor! Paul taught that “the authorities that exist have been established by God” and are “God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.” Queen Elizabeth is an excellent example of a monarch who has whole-heartedly served her people. We thank God for her and pray that he will continue to bless her.

Even the best of earthly kings and queens reign only for a time, but Jesus Christ is the King of kings and reigns forever. He came into the world “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Living under his gracious reign brings true freedom and unmitigated blessings. His commands are always for our good. He loves us and protects us from all harm. We are glad to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen!”