The power of forgiveness

When the Allied forces surrendered Singapore to the Japanese in 1942, Tony Lucas, who died recently, was one of 80,000 troops who became prisoners of war. For the next three and a half years he, along with many others, were slave labourers on the construction of the Burma-Thailand railway. Tony was one of 17,000 PoWs packed into Selarang barracks, which was designed to take 800, with all water supplies, barring one tap, disconnected to compel them to sign a pledge not to escape.

Tony was transported by rail to Thailand. Thirty prisoners were locked into each airless steel-roofed truck, in toxic heat. The journey lasted five days. Lucas thought he would die; several did. In Thailand, hacking out the 258-mile railway line, reveille was at 4.30am, followed by a three-mile march through the jungle to the area the Australians named “Hellfire Pass”. Men worked in pairs, alternately swinging a 7lb hammer and holding a 3ft iron bar. They never returned before 10.30pm.

He and the other prisoners survived on a daily ration of a cupful of degraded rice. Tony suffered dysentery, malaria and jungle ulcers; his weight dropped from 11-stone to 6. On his twenty-first bout of malaria, an Allied doctor gave him a massive dose of paludrine. After that he remained free from malaria, but contracted cholera whilst helping carry corpses out for burning. On one occasion a guard, who was nicknamed “The Undertaker” because he had killed prisoners with an iron bar, attacked Tony and knocked out 3 of his teeth.

After the war, Tony suffered nightmares and terrible bouts of depression. Understandably, he at first despised the Japanese. However, as he understood more he realised that it was the military in Japan and not the wider civilian population who were responsible for the atrocities. Later, in his work with an associate company of ICI, he visited Japan on business and showed a remarkable capacity to forgive the extreme suffering he experienced. A forgiving spirit is much more powerful than a spirit of hate and vengeance.

Tony was a private person who had a very deep Christian faith. His father was an Anglican clergyman and, from childhood, Tony had been taught about Jesus and his great love for a sinful world. Tony often prayed the Lord’s Prayer including the words “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He also knew that when he was dying on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I am with you always

Many people in the UK today live on their own. In 2016, there were 7.7 million one person households; 54% of whom were women and 46 % were men. Between 1996 and 2016 the number of one person households increased by 15% for those aged over 65 and by 51% for those aged 45-64. In contrast, during that period the number of one person households fell by 12% amongst those aged 25-44. Some younger people are living with their parents longer than in previous generations and others are sharing accommodation with friends. In wealthy societies increasing numbers of people are choosing to live alone. In Scandinavia, for example, nearly 50% of the adult population live alone.

Not everyone who lives on their own is lonely, but many are. Those who have experienced the pain of marriage breakdown and those who have been bereaved feel it acutely. For them, living alone, eating alone and returning to an empty house at the end of each day is something they never really get used to. Communicating with “friends” through social media may help, but is not the same as human companionship and sharing the ups and downs of daily life with someone we love. It is good to have to consider someone else’s needs as well as our own. An elderly widow who lived next door to us told us that living on her own meant she could be tempted to be very selfish.

Jesus experienced profound loneliness when he died on the cross. On the night before he died he told his disciples, who had been his close companions over the past 3 years, “The time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” Yet, the next day, as he suffered on the cross, he experienced total aloneness as he paid the price of our sins. Out of the darkness he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Later, as he prepared to die, he knew the Father’s presence again. His last words were, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.”

One of the great promises Jesus made to his disciples, as he sent them out into a hostile world to proclaim the good news of the Gospel, was “I am with you always.” Knowing Jesus as Saviour and Lord means we are never alone because, through the Holy Spirit, he really is with us.

Thoughts on being a parent

On a recent visit to Vietnam the Duke of Cambridge was interviewed on a popular English-language talk show. He was asked about being a father to Prince George and Princess Charlotte. He said, “There’s been wonderful highs and wonderful lows. But I’ve struggled at times. The alteration from being a single, independent man to going into marriage, and then having children, is life-changing. George is a right little rascal sometimes. He keeps me on my toes, but he’s a sweet boy. And Charlotte, bearing in mind I haven’t had a sister … so having a daughter is a very different dynamic!”

Since he has had children William has worried more about the future and hopes his children will inherit a better world. He said, “When you have something or someone in your life to give the future to, I think it focuses the mind more about what you are giving them. Are you happy that you have done all you can to leave the world in a good state? People are living with an enormous amount of stuff that they don’t necessarily need. I would like George and Charlotte to grow up being a little bit more simple in their aspirations and outlook and just looking after those around them and treating others as they would like to be treated themselves.”

The Duke’s concerns are shared by many parents. What kind of world will we hand on to our children and grandchildren? How can we prepare them for the future? When he first came to the throne, King Solomon asked God for wisdom and discernment so that he would be able to rule his people well. Some of the wisdom God gave him related to family life. Solomon knew the importance of teaching his children God’s truths and being an example to them.

The things Solomon taught his children provide a sure guide for the Duke of Cambridge and all parents. Solomon wrote, “My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favour with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Blessed are the merciful

Early one morning in October 2014 Brian Herrick dropped his partner and three sisters at East Midlands Airport for an early-morning flight to Malaga. On his way home he was waiting at a red light, just a few miles from the airport, when a lorry crashed into his car. Brian died as a result of the accident. His partner and sisters heard the news of Brian’s death as soon as they arrived at Malaga and flew straight back to East Midlands.

At a recent hearing at Nottingham Crown Court the driver of the lorry, Luke Bates, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving. He said his attention had been distracted and he had not seen the red light until it was too late. At the court Brian’s family asked the judge not to send Luke to prison because they did not want his 2 young children to be left without a father. They also realised that Luke would have to live for the rest of his life with the memory of the devastation he had caused. The judge said he wished to respect the humbling request from the family and sentenced Luke to a two-year driving ban and a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.

Brian’s sister, Kathleen, told the judge, “We were brought up as Christians and were taught to be compassionate and humble. We felt so sorry for Luke’s wife when we saw her bring their young baby to the court. We weren’t going to benefit from sending him to prison. I’m sure my brother, who was a kind and gentle man, would have done the same in our position.” Outside the court, Brian’s relatives hugged a distraught Luke.

Mercy is a rare, but beautiful, quality. Our society loves to blame people and condemn them. Some people try to justify their wicked acts because they are retaliating against what other people have done to them. Jesus taught that true strength and dignity is seen not in revenge and “getting our own back”, but in mercy. He said, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” When we show mercy to someone who has wronged us, and forgive them, we release the potential for healing and restoration both for them and for us. It is also good to remember that one day each of us must appear before the Judge of all the earth whom we hope will show us mercy.

A father’s love remembered

The celebration of Father’s Day seems to be more low key than Mother’s Day, yet the vital role of fathers needs to be affirmed. As children are growing up they need good fathers. I am thankful that I experienced my father’s love for me. He maintained discipline in the home and sought to instil moral principles in me. There was a small stick in the home which was used, very occasionally, to correct me when I did something wrong. The main thing was not the punishment itself, but the fact that I accepted my father’s right, as the head of the family, to discipline me.

My main memories of my father, who died nearly 40 years ago, are of his loving care and constant interest in me and my life. When I was playing in the school rugby or cricket teams he would often travel many miles to be there and watch the game. It was good to talk together later about the match and to identify the things I could do better. In this, and other ways, my father played a key role in my growth and development. He also wisely provided for my daily needs making sure that I had enough but not too much.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer it took a little time to realise that the situation was serious. He had two operations, neither of which succeeded in removing all the malignant tumours. Over the weeks that followed he gradually grew weaker as he fought a number of infections. When I visited him in hospital it was a time for me to try to help and encourage him. We were able to talk about ultimate realities and to pray together. It was a precious time.

Before his first major operation my father read the Gideons’ New Testament which was by his bedside. He read God’s answer to Paul’s prayer for healing. God did not promise Paul that he would be healed but told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” These words gave my father a peace and strength when, the next day, he went to the operating theatre. He didn’t know what the outcome would be, but he knew that, whatever happened, God, his heavenly Father, would be with him. Many children today have not experienced the love of an earthly father, but all of us can, in Jesus, find and know the love of a heavenly Father.

This is my Father’s world

For the past few days I have been staying in North Wales. The weather has been glorious with bright sunny days and blue skies. It has been wonderful to see the countryside in all its splendour; Bala Lake, the Mawddach estuary, Cader Idris and the Bwlch-y-Groes pass. The trees are full of new leaves, the bluebells and various flowering shrubs are in full bloom, presenting a mass of colour. When I was leaving the farm of some friends a peacock stood in the road and presented a full display of its glorious plumage.

All these things spoke powerfully to me of the majesty and glory of God. Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” Before I became a Christian I didn’t recognise God’s handiwork in his creation. One hymn says, “Heaven above is softer blue, earth around is sweeter green; something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen: birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauty shine, since I know, as now I know, I am his and he is mine.”

It is wonderful to realise that, in his Son Jesus Christ, the great Creator God has drawn near to us so that we can know him as our heavenly Father. As our Father he cares for us in all the joys and sorrows of life and provides for all our needs. An old hymn says, “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees and skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.”

Last week I attended the funeral of a good friend who had died very suddenly. When we were at the graveside the sun was shining and you could hear the birds singing. Whilst we were sad we also rejoiced that our friend was now with God in heaven. As I looked at the beauty of God’s creation I began to think of what it must be like to be in heaven. If this world of space and time is so wonderful, heaven must be even more glorious. In the Bible we are told, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Give us this day our daily bread

24-Hour news coverage is a feature of modern life. Millions watch the various television news channels for as much as 8 hours a day. There is a fascination with the latest “breaking news” and with the reports through the day which concentrate on the “big” stories. People are afraid of missing something important. When big events happen the news coverage is saturated with the various angles of the story.

News reports give the impression that they are helping us to stay in touch with the real world but many of the stories they cover are not relevant to our daily lives. At best news reports give us a small, selective, sample of what is happening in the world. I watched a programme recently on D R Congo which described the genocide in that country over the past 15-20 years in which more than 6 million people have died. The reporter said it was the largest number of deaths in any country since the Second World War, yet there have been hardly any reports about it.

Our daily lives are not newsworthy. Most of our time is taken up with the ordinary routine of life. It is encouraging, therefore, to know that God cares about us and our ordinary lives even though we will never make the news headlines! He knows about the stresses and anxieties we experience and he cares about us. We are living in difficult economic times. For many families, unemployed people and pensioners it is hard to find the money for their daily needs. Billions of people in the world live on less than a dollar a day.

Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they are?”

As the winter comes to an end there are more birds around. They wake early to find their food for the day. Perhaps you put food out for them because you care about them. Jesus said that his heavenly Father cares about us very much and knows what we need. So he taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven…Give us this day our daily bread.”