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Murder on Christmas Eve

Late on Christmas Eve 2012 Alan Greaves kissed his wife, Maureen, as he left the house to go to his local church in High Green, Sheffield, to play the organ at the midnight service. It was a special Christmas for Alan and Maureen because their youngest daughter, a missionary working in Mozambique, was home for the first time in several years. It was a bitterly cold night.

Alan never got to the church because he was attacked by two young men with pickaxe handles who savagely beat him around the head leaving him unconscious. Maureen, who had gone to bed to wait for Alan’s return, heard an ambulance go past their house and quietly prayed that God would help whoever needed medical help

Two Police officers rang Maureen’s doorbell just after midnight to tell her Alan had had an accident. Not knowing how serious Alan’s injuries were, Maureen drove to the hospital expecting to be able to bring him home to share Christmas Day with the family. As soon as the consultant walked into the room Maureen knew it was bad news. She asked, “Is he dying?” and the consultant said, “I’m afraid so.”

On the way to the room where Alan was Maureen prayed, “Please Heavenly Father, be with me on this very unexpected journey and may this great heartache I am going through be for your glory.” When she got to the room, she couldn’t recognise her beloved husband because his injuries were so horrific. She knew he was dying. She sat with him for two and a half days until he went to heaven to be with Jesus. Maureen and their 4 children were truly heartbroken and felt the loss of Alan deeply.

When, a few days later, Maureen spoke to reporters they asked her why she still believed in God if he had allowed this to happen? She replied, “I can sincerely say that I have never felt angry with God. Ever since becoming a Christian I have believed, read and loved the Bible. It is God’s message to humanity and explains so much of what is going on in this world. Terrible things happen because people have turned their backs on God. Instead of asking ‘Why?’ I ask, ‘How am I going to get through this?’ As a Christian, I have Someone who is walking the journey with me. God is there, and he makes all the difference. Whoever I meet knows that I have suffered, but I can share with them that God’s peace and presence with me has been real throughout the years.”

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Pauline Cafferkey recovers from Ebola

The interview with nurse Pauline Cafferkey, now recovered from the Ebola which nearly took her life, was cause for great joy. This courageous lady went to Sierra Leone to help save lives amidst the deadly Ebola outbreak that continues to ravage that country and others nearby. Out of love for other people she put her own life at risk. There are, no doubt, people in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone, alive today because of the dedication of Pauline and her colleagues working with Save the Children.

On her return, soon after Christmas, she was unwell and was, eventually, diagnosed with Ebola. She was taken to a specialist isolation unit in the Royal Free Hospital in Barnet. There a highly skilled medical team used their skills and the available resources to save Pauline’s life. Having seen patients dying in Sierra Leone she said she was “definitely frightened.” She remembers one point, when she was critically ill and it seemed she might die, when she said, “That’s it, I’ve had enough.” But she came through that crisis and is now clear of Ebola. She is looking forward to going back to her family and her normal life and normal job.

Today good news stories are like oases in the desert. We are bombarded by accounts of the wicked deeds of evil people and the dreary preoccupations of our political leaders. It is no wonder that many suffer from some degree of depression. So the story of a Scottish lady who loves and cares for others at great personal cost is refreshing and heartwarming. We rejoice that her life has been spared and wish her well for the future.

The Christian message is good news. It tells us of Jesus who, motivated by a deep love, came into this world so that through him we might find abundant life. When he was unjustly sentenced to death and crucified his disciples were devastated. They felt as if there was no hope for the future. On the third day, however, everything changed when they saw their risen Lord and their hearts were filled with joy. Jesus had triumphed over sin and death and had given them a sure and certain hope. His promise to them was, “Because I live, you will also live.” He can also give us hope in the darkest experiences of life. One hymn says, “When all things seem against us, to drive us to despair, we know one gate is open, one ear will hear our prayer.”

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Finding Forgiveness

Mikhail Kalashnikov died on 23 December 2013 at the age of 94. He designed the legendary AK-47 assault rifle. He began designing weapons after he was wounded during the Second World War. He designed the AK-47 rifle for use in defending Russia against the Nazis. Since then the Kalashnikov AK-47 has been the weapon of choice for many around the world, including terrorists. It is a lethal weapon and has killed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.

Kalashnikov was the son of a Russian peasant family who loved his nation. He became a national hero in the fiercely secular Communist state. For most of his life he was not a religious man. In the last few years of his life, however, he experienced great spiritual concern as he thought of the carnage the AK-47 rifle had wreaked around the world.

At the age of 91 Kalashnikov turned to God. When he first entered an Orthodox church he experienced a sense of “excitement.” Later he was baptised in the Orthodox Church, professing his faith in Jesus Christ as his Saviour, but still did not find the peace he was seeking. Six months before he died he wrote a long letter to Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church in which he wrote, “My spiritual torment is unbearable. I keep having the same unsolved question: If my rifle killed people does that mean that I, Mikhail Kalashnikov, am responsible for people’s deaths, even if they were enemies?”

The experience of Mikhail Kalashnikov reminds us that if we are to be ready to die and appear before God we need to experience his forgiveness. We, too, can reflect on our lives and all we have done. We may not have designed a lethal rifle, but all of us have done many wrong things which we cannot change. Our words and actions have broken God’s moral law and have often caused pain and sorrow to others.

Kalashnikov could not simply forget what he had done. He needed to find forgiveness. He turned to the only One who can and will forgive. In Jesus, God makes wonderful promises. “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, purifies us from all sin.” It is never too late, or too soon, to come to him and experience the forgiveness Kalashnikov sought and we all also need to find.

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Titus Oates – a Brave Man

On 16 March 1912 Antarctic explorer Lawrence “Titus” Oates made a very big decision. He was one of the party led by Captain Scott who wanted to be the first men to reach the South Pole. They had succeeded in reaching the Pole only to discover that a team led by Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, had beaten them by 35 days.

On the return journey Scott’s party faced extremely difficult conditions. One man had already died, and Oates’ feet were severely frostbitten, which meant the whole part was making slow progress. This, and the shortage of food, was endangering all their lives, but the rest of the party refused to leave Oates behind. When he woke on the morning of 16 March Oates knew he had to sacrifice himself in order to give the others a chance of survival. Scott wrote that Oates said to them; “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He walked out of the tent into a blizzard. His body has never been found. Sadly the rest of the party also died just 9 days later, 11 miles from safety.

Captain Scott wrote in his diary, “We knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.” Titus Oates’ biographer said “Titus Oates was an ordinary man who was made extraordinary by the circumstances he faced at the end of his life”. The words and example of Titus Oates have been an inspiration to many.

One of the two great commandments God has given us is, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” None of us needs to be taught to love ourselves, it comes naturally, but to love someone else with that same intensity of love is not so easy. Titus Oates’ actions are an example of what it means to obey God’s command. Oates desperately wanted to live, but his weakness was endangering the lives of his companions, so he did for them what he would have wanted them to do for him.

The supreme example of self-sacrifice is seen in the death of Jesus Christ. He said, “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” The apostle Paul wrote, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

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I am with you always

David, the King of Israel, wrote many psalms in which he reflected on his relationship with God. He rejoiced that the Lord was his shepherd, cared deeply for him and met all his needs. The words of David have brought comfort and strength to generations of people around the world. In Psalm 139 David speaks of God’s intimate, personal knowledge of him. “O Lord you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”

David was conscious that he, and everyone else in this world, lives in the presence of the living God. He knew that God had given him life. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because am fearfully and wonderfully made. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

When we lose touch with God it is difficult to face the big issues that life brings to us. Today some people are advocating the legalisation of assisted suicide. They want the National Health Service to provide medical help for people to end their lives. They say that, because assisted suicide is illegal, some terminally people are being denied “freedom of choice” and “autonomy.” These proposals are presented in the name of compassion but really are very serious.

Our laws are based on a high view of the value of every human life. Our society is committed to providing loving care for those suffering from debilitating, terminal illnesses. As doctors and nurses surround terminally ill patients with loving care and expert medical treatment, they affirm the value of every human life.

It is very hard indeed to watch someone we love suffering from a terminal illness, but we do not have the right to take their life or to encourage them to take their own life. If our laws are changed, many people will have to live with the fact that they took an active role in the death of a loved one. It is so much better to find the strength we, and they, need in the promises of God. David wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”