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Abraham’s Table

In June 2020, 13-year-old Adeola “Abraham” Olagbegi, who lives in Jackson, Mississippi, was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, a rare and life-threatening blood disorder. His body was not producing enough blood cells to support itself and Abraham’s life was in danger because of possible bone marrow damage. When he was asked how he felt about this serious diagnosis Abraham said, “I am a person of hope, so when you come against a big mountain, you have to remember you have a big God.” Thankfully, in November 2020 Abraham had a successful bone marrow transplant.

When he was recovering Abraham was told he could make a wish through the Make-A-Wish charity that grants wishes to children with serious illnesses. Most children choose a special treat like a PlayStation, or a special trip out, or to meet a celebrity. Abraham was different; he wanted a long-lasting wish. On his way home from a doctor’s appointment Abraham shared his idea with his mom, Miriam, “Mom, I’ve thought about it, and I really want to feed the homeless.” Abraham’s mom replied, “Are you sure Abraham? Are you sure you don’t want a PlayStation?” In an interview Miriam said, “As parents, we could only hope to raise good, God-fearing, productive members of society. We’ve always tied to instil giving into our children. Sometimes we get things wrong and sometimes we get things right; so, it’s nice when things go right.”

In September 2021, Make-A-Wish helped Abraham organise a day to hand out free food in Jackson, with food and donated by local businesses. They fed about 80 people that day. Abraham said, “When the homeless people get the plate, some of them would come back and sing to us and thank us. And it just really feels good, it warms our hearts. My parents always taught us that it’s a blessing to be a blessing.”

Abraham’s wish is still not fulfilled. Make-A-Wish will help Abraham feed the homeless every month for a year. Every third Saturday of the month, with the help of local churches and businesses, food will be provided to feed up to 80 homeless people. Abraham has called his new ministry “Abraham’s Table” and hopes it will continue after August 2022. Miriam says, “If I was out there on the streets, homeless, I would want somebody to think of me and to do something special for me.” Abraham also wants the people whom Abraham’s Table helps to know God’s love. Psalm 34, verse 8 expresses his heart for homeless people in Jackson, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

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Facing our fears

Fear is in the air. During the pandemic many people have been afraid of catching the virus, of being seriously ill and even dying. Every day we are told on national television how many people are infected and how many have died. Some scientists are forecasting a very difficult winter ahead with more people dying from the virus and from seasonal flu. At the COP26 Climate Change Conference some scientists have projected the devastating consequences of global warming. Unless world leaders act now it will be too late.

Young people are being especially impacted by fear. They look to people like Greta Thunberg who has become a global voice on climate change. She is disdainful of the broken promises of world leaders to effect change while saying, “We owe it to young people to give them hope.” Greta says, “But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day, and then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Fear can be a good response. Good parents teach their children to be careful crossing roads because they may be knocked down by a car. They teach their children that fire burns and that electricity can give them a nasty shock. Such fear protects us from danger. It only does us good. But fear can also paralyse us, especially when there is little we can do to avoid the danger, and our safety depends totally on the actions of others. This fear is increased when people constantly tell us there is no God. We are on our own in this vast universe and there’s no one there to help.

The Bible tells us that knowing the living God enables us to face our fears. David, who was a courageous man, said, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” In a time of national crisis, God spoke to the people through the prophet Isaiah, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.” In Psalm 23 David says that when the Lord is our shepherd, we can even face death without fear: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

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The Wonder of Reconciliation

In May 2019, 15-year-old Leah met up with a group of friends in a car park in her hometown of Northallerton. Connor, who was 17 years old, gave Leah MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, a Class A drug. Connor was involved with county lines gangs which target vulnerable teenagers and use them to supply drugs. After taking the drug Leah collapsed and died. Connor was charged with supplying drugs and was sent to prison.

After the trial Leah’s mother, Kerry, and Connor’s mother, Tammy, were introduced to each other through restorative justice which brings those harmed by crime and those responsible for the harm into contact with each other with a view to repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward. Kerry didn’t want to meet Connor but agreed to meet Tammy.

As Kerry and Tammy talked, they were able to understand each other’s situation. Kerry realised that they had both lost something. Tammy knew her son was involved with the gangs and had tried, without success, to get help for him, including reporting him to the police. She felt a deep guilt and shame over Leah’s death. Kerry told Tammy that Leah was her “best friend”, and that she felt “a lot of hatred” about how she had died.

Following their meeting Kerry and Tammy decided to launch a campaign “Do You Know MDMA?” to get the message out that drugs kill. Kerry says, “People will look at us and think it’s an unlikely friendship. They will see us as two separate people, but we are both grieving. They are both our children. I feel if we can tell our story we can try to educate people. Leah died and I can’t let that be for no reason.” Many people have been deeply moved by Kerry and Tammy’s story and pray that because of their campaign other young people will not die from taking drugs.

Reconciliation is a powerful thing and is at the heart of the Bible’s message. All of us have sinned and rebelled against God but through his Son, Jesus Christ, God has at great cost provided the way of reconciliation. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’ For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”

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Give us this day our daily bread

The fine weather in September helped farmers to clear the fields of the final crops and finish harvest. The warm, late summer sunshine meant that the crops were in good condition for storage. We all benefit from the hard work of farmers throughout the year that ensures we have the food we need. There have been complaints that some supermarket shelves have been empty, but the reality is that they have been less full than usual. We enjoy an abundance of good food at reasonable prices.

Some countries have serious problems because of a shortage of water. In Ethiopia, rising temperatures are making it harder and harder to grow food. If the rains don’t come, farmers have no option but to watch their crops wither and die. In Uganda, the poorest families face a daily struggle without clean water and decent sanitation and food supplies are uncertain. In Afghanistan, it is estimated that 14 million people, including 2 million children, about one in three of the population, are food insecure and food prices are rising.

Many churches and schools hold Harvest Thanksgiving services at this time of year. The familiar harvest hymns remind us of the goodness of God: “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain, the breezes, and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain. The winds and waves obey him, by him the birds are fed; much more to us, his children, he gives our daily bread. We thank Thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good, the seedtime, and the harvest, our life, our health, our food. No gifts have we to offer for all Thy love imparts, but that which Thou desirest, our humble, thankful hearts. All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above. Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love.”

As we give thanks for God’s bountiful provision for us for another year, let’s remember those in our own country and in other countries who are in need. Planet earth is unique. It produces an abundance of food, enough to feed everyone on the planet and up to 10 billion people. As we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” let’s remember the millions of people in our world, men, women, and children, who, because of poverty and human greed, don’t know where their next meal is coming from and let’s do what we can to help them.

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Sara’s Story

Sara grew up in a loving home and enjoyed a very happy childhood in a small rural village in North Wales. As a child she suffered from severe asthma which involved frequent visits to hospital. Her visits to hospital gave Sara the desire to be a doctor so she could help other people as the hospital staff had so often helped her. She was offered a place at Medical School in Liverpool. But things didn’t turn out as Sara expected.

During her second term in Medical School, she was taken ill with meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia. She became very ill very quickly and was soon in intensive care on a life support machine with multi-organ failure. The septicaemia had also caused the circulation to her feet to stop, so 10 days into her illness, as a last resort, the doctors took the very difficult decision to amputate both her legs below the knees. She was in a coma for 6 weeks then woke to the news that she had lost her legs and life would never be the same again.

Sara says, “Although it was a time of fear and uncertainty about the future, I knew deep within my heart that I had been kept alive for a reason. As I look back now, I can see how God was working through it all, because as a 14-year-old I had put my trust in Jesus to be my Saviour. I had been living far from God, but by dying on the cross Jesus took the punishment I deserved and gave me forgiveness and the promise that he would never leave me nor forsake me. In my darkest hours, he was there, when it seemed a totally hopeless situation, I knew I had to trust his plan and purpose for my life.”

God has helped Sara to face the challenges of each day. She completed her medical training, works as a doctor, and is married with two grown-up children. She says, “I have learnt to count my blessings; I make the most of what I can do and enjoy, rather than focusing on the negatives and what I have lost. I am not angry with God; how can I be? Being a Christian does not make us immune from these things but having God as our rock and refuge when the storms of life hit makes all the difference. I am an ordinary girl, who prayed a simple prayer at the age of 14 and found an extraordinary Saviour, who will continue to be my help and strength through this life and into the next.”

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Perfect love drives out fear

The desperate and tragic scenes at the Hamad Karzai International Airport in Kabul have vividly portrayed what terrorism is all about: producing terror in men, women, and children. The ordinary people in Afghanistan are in profound fear of the Taliban and thousands want to flee from their home country to avoid savage punishments or death for alleged offences against Sharia law. Taliban means “students”, who have been schooled in conservative Islamic teaching and are committed to militant Islam. The development of the Taliban in Afghanistan has been encouraged and financed from outside the country.

One of the accusations Jesus faced was from conservative Jewish leaders who alleged that he and his disciples didn’t keep the “traditions of the elders.” Over the centuries various Jewish religious leaders had added to God’s Law hundreds of their interpretations of that law so that keeping their “traditions” had become more important than the Law itself. Jesus said their “traditions’ contradicted God’s Law and made it null and void. The conservative religious leaders hated him for this. All religions are liable to such gross distortions and become especially dangerous when imposed on people by religious zealots.

Early one morning Jesus was teaching a crowd in the Temple at Jerusalem when a group of strict religious leaders appeared. It was one of the great annual pilgrimage feasts and they brought with them a woman they said they had caught in the act of adultery. They told Jesus that the law of Moses said that such women should be stoned and asked him, “What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into either contradicting the law of Moses or offending the Roman authorities who didn’t allow the Jews to carry out capital punishment.

Jesus knew these men were hypocrites. They had brought the woman, but had let the man go free, and were pointing their fingers at the woman to conceal their own sinfulness. So, he said, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” God’s love in sending his Son to pay the price of our sins creates in the hearts of all who experience it a profound gratitude and a deep love for God.

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I am safe, I am loved

On 18 March 2018 Kenyatta Barron made a desperate emergency call begging for her life and the life of Ronnie, her 7-year-old son. Ronnie’s father had just stabbed him and set him on fire in their home in Hillsborough County, Florida. That same night, Ronnie’s father murdered Ronnie’s mother and sister. Homicide detective Mike Blair responded to the emergency call: “By the time I arrived that night, we were told there was a child being medevacked to Tampa General, but he was not expected to live.”

Mike visited little Ronnie while he was recovering. He brought Ronnie gifts from his favourite American football team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and a bond began to form between them. Mike says, “The easiest way to surmise about this is it’s been a ‘God-thing’ for us.” One night, when Mike was leaving, Ronnie took his hand and asked him, “Could you watch a movie with me?” Mike and his wife, Danyel, were planning a date night that night. Mike said to her, “Hey, instead of doing our date night, do you mind if we watch a movie with this kid?” Danyel readily agreed. She and Mike have 5 children of their own and Danyel said, “I had already known that I would want to take Ronnie home with us, starting that night.”

A Guardian Ad Litem was supervising Ronnie’s care and Mike and Danyel happened to meet them in the hospital. Mike said, “If he ever needs anything, just give me a call.” Soon after, as Mike was driving past the church where he and Danyel are members, the guardian called asking, “Do you know of somebody who can help us out?” Danyel knew the time had come: “I had already started praying that God would soften Mike’s heart and say, ‘OK, yes, we have a place and Ronnie belongs home with us’.” Mike and their other children were already right on board. The children had said to Mike, “Dad, you just need to go with Mom on this; we need to start fostering.”

Now Ronnie has a new forever home. He says, “They are really nice people. They are the best moms and dads, and they really take care of me. There is no one else better than them. I am safe, I am loved, and I am part of this family.” The love Mike and Danyel have shown to Ronnie is like the love they themselves have experienced from God. In Jesus, God loved them with an amazing love and adopted them into his family. God is their heavenly Father, and they know they are safe forever.

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God’s moral law matters

For the past 16 months we have lived under emergency laws made by the Government to protect us from the Covid-19 virus. Most people have kept these laws and recent events have revealed the strong disapproval felt towards those who break them. Ordinary people, who have kept the laws, resent people in power breaking them and demand that they pay the price for doing so.

However, it has also become clear that fundamental moral laws, for example about adultery, are now seen as being of little importance. Breaking a temporary man-made law about social distancing is more serious than sinning against God. The deep pain and distress experienced by marriage partners and children when marriage vows are betrayed is profound and long lasting. The dysfunctional nature of our society, and of many individual lives, can be traced to the fact that we have set aside all the Ten Commandments.

Jesus was fiercely criticised by the religious leaders of his day because he didn’t keep the hundreds of petty rules they had created, called “traditions”. Jesus accused them of hypocrisy because their man-made traditions had become more important than God’s Law. He asked them, “Why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honour your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honour their parents and so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition.”

Only when we face up to our sins against God can we experience his forgiveness. Jesus showed mercy to those who had broken God’s laws. One day the religious leaders brought a woman to him whom they had caught in the act of adultery. They said that according to the Law such women should be stoned to death. Then they asked Jesus, “What do you say?” He replied, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left with the woman still standing there. Jesus said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. Then Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and leave your life of sin.”

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Love your enemies

Sadly, there are many examples of hatred in our world today. Hatred between peoples leads to conflict, such as the present hostilities between Israel and Hamas. In Africa inter-tribal conflicts blight the lives of many people. The systematic persecution of the Uighur Muslims in China seeks to rob them of their human dignity. Many Rohingya people in Myanmar have fled to Bangladesh because of the brutal military regime in Myanmar. Some people use social media as a vehicle for hateful messages and threats of violence.

In Britain legislation has been enacted against “hate crimes”. The Metropolitan Police define a hate crime as, “Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.” This can include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property.

In the hostile worlds of both the 1st and 21st centuries the teaching of Jesus is radical and challenging. In the Sermon on the Mount he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus not only commanded us to love our enemies, but he also exemplified it. He came to bring reconciliation in the face of the deep-seated hostility between human beings and God. Even in the hearts of apparently respectable people there can be a deep hostility against God. Yet God, who could justly condemn us, sent his Son to be our Saviour. On the Cross God made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. The Cross was a place of deep hatred as Jesus’ enemies tried to destroy him. Yet as he hung on the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” The life and teaching of Jesus shines a bright light of hope into the darkness of our world.

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King of kings

At the beginning of the last week of his life Jesus rode in triumph into Jerusalem. Great crowds of people, who had come to Jerusalem for the annual Passover Festival, acclaimed him as their king. Jesus was riding on a donkey as the crowds spread their garments on the road ahead of him while others cut branches from trees to spread on the road. Jesus was in the centre of the procession as the people cried out, “Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD! Praise God in highest heaven!”

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, written more than 500 years before, “Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey – riding on a donkey’s colt.’” God had told the people how they would recognise their true Messiah. He would not come as a conquering king riding on a horse at the head of a mighty army but in humility because his kingdom was not a worldly kingdom.

As he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, Jesus began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”

Human acclamation is fickle. A few days later the Roman Governor, Pilate, before whom Jesus was on trial, said to the same people, “Look, here is your king!” “Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!” “What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. So, Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.

Over the past 2000 years people from many nations have joyfully recognised Jesus as their King and gladly submitted to him. The words of a modern song express it well, “King of kings, majesty, God of Heaven living in me, gentle Saviour, closest friend, strong deliverer, beginning and end, all within me falls at your throne. Your majesty, I can but bow, I lay my all before you now. In royal robes I don’t deserve I live to serve your majesty.”