A love that changes us

When you read the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus you are struck by the number of individuals he met and helped. He responded to people of all kinds and always had time for them. No-one was unimportant to Jesus. An encounter with Jesus was a life-changing experience. Jesus visited the house of Zacchaeus, a covetous tax collector, and that day Zacchaeus became a changed man. A woman, who had lived a very sad life, talked to Jesus at a well and, for the first time, met someone who truly loved her.

The transforming love of Jesus is still being experienced by people today. We know a young lady who has had a very sad life. She grew up in a very unhappy home and in her teens moved into a hostel where she was, humanly speaking, alone. There was no-one to love and support her. Later, she had to leave the town in which she lived to find a place of safety for herself and her children. She has been a wonderful mother but, during a time of very great stress, all her children were taken into care. She, and they, were heartbroken.

On Christmas Day last year, she went to an evening service at the church she had been attending. She was feeling very low, but that night God showed her that the story of Jesus is true and she experienced God’s love in a way she had never known before. She knew a real peace in her heart and was transformed. She was a new person. She still had to face all the problems she had before, but the love of Jesus had transformed her and given her new life. Everyone who knows her can see the change knowing Jesus has brought to her life.

When she was baptised she told her story. She said, “Since I have known Jesus as my Saviour I have found peace in my life. I still experience hard times but have learned how to deal with them. I listen to hymns and sing along with them. I read my Bible and pray to God and he gives me the strength to cope and to come through the hard times. I find strength and great encouragement in God’s promises. I know that in the future there will be other hard times but I know that because my saviour Jesus Christ is with me I will be able to face them and deal with them. I can do everything through Jesus who gives me strength.”

I know who holds the future

Just before midnight on New Year’s Eve clocks in countries using Greenwich Mean Time were adjusted as one second was added to 2016. This was done to compensate for a slight slowdown in the Earth’s rotation caused by a small wobble in the Earth’s rotation. The National Physical Laboratory, which is responsible for the UK’s national time scale, uses an atomic clock to provide a stable and continuous timescale. This is the 27th time a leap second has been added.

We live in an amazing universe that is wonderfully stable and predictable. It’s hard to believe it all came into existence by chance. The book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, begins with a majestic account of God creating the heavens and the earth in six days, or rotations of the earth on its axis. On the fourth day God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.”

Recognising there is a Creator provides stability and hope for our lives as a New Year begins. Many years ago a young man we knew died in road accident. Just after Christmas he was on his way to work when his car hit ice and he lost control. The car hit a tree and David was very seriously injured. After some days in intensive care he died. His wife, Brenda, was a Christian. In her deep sadness she found strength in God and hope as she faced the future. This hope was expressed in the words of one of the hymns we sang at David’s funeral. They speak to us all as we enter this New Year.

“I do not know what lies ahead, the way I cannot see, but One stands near to be my guide, He’ll show the way to me. I do not know how many days of life are mine to spend, but One who knows and cares for me will keep me to the end. I do not know the course ahead, what joys and griefs are there, but One stands near who fully knows, I’ll trust his loving care. I know who holds the future and He’ll guide me with his hand, with God things don’t just happen, everything by Him is planned. So as I face tomorrow, with its problems large and small, I’ll trust the God of miracles, give to Him my all.”

Don’t be afraid

The result of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union came as a surprise to many people. The full implications of the decision to leave the European Union are not yet clear, but the result has already created leadership crises in both major political parties. The decision has also revealed significant fault lines between those who live in Britain: young and old, north and south, rich and poor, England and Scotland. During the campaign, and since, two words have often been used – fear and uncertainty.

Fear is not always a negative emotion. In our daily lives fear can protect us from danger. We warn a child not to touch hot things, in case they get burned. We teach them to be careful crossing the road, in case they are knocked over. The Bible teaches us that the fear of God is the basis of morality. The book of Proverbs says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Being conscious of God and showing reverence and respect for him provide a context in which we can seek to live a righteous life. Secular thinking encourages us to eradicate any sense of our ultimate accountability to God, but the wise person listens to their God-given conscience.

Fear can also be destructive. We may be afraid about the future and the bad things that might happen. We may be afraid of death and the way in which we will die. The Bible helps us to cope with our fears. Jesus often reassured people when he said, “Don’t be afraid.” His presence and power and his love for them calmed their fears. When a religious leader begged him to heal his little daughter who was dying, and they were delayed on their way to the house, Jesus said to him, “Don’t be afraid, just trust me.” In Psalm 56 David wrote, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

Trusting God is so important as we face the uncertainties of life. He is a refuge and strength for all who put their trust in him. In Jesus God offers us peace in all the troubles of life and a sure hope for the future. Edward Bickersteth’s hymn says, “Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown? Jesus we know, and he is on the throne. Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours? Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers. It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease, and Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace.”

The God of hope

A New Year has dawned. The holiday is over and life is returning to its normal daily routine. The days are dark and wet, and the credit card bills will soon arrive. The new year is a time to look forward, but the future looks very uncertain. Following the floods, climate change is on many people’s minds. Stock exchanges are fragile and the economic future is not good. The moral foundations which undergirded our society are being eroded. It’s clear that our leaders are facing problems that are too big for them.

In the middle of the first century the apostle Paul wrote a letter to Christians in Rome. The moral corruption, that would eventually lead to the the fall of the Roman Empire, was already taking hold and these Christians were facing persecution. Paul himself would soon be imprisoned for his faith in Jesus and would be martyred, along with many other Christians, at the command of Nero. The personal future of Paul and the Christians was very uncertain.

Near the end of the letter Paul wrote, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.” These words speak to us today. Hope for the future comes not from ourselves, or from those who have power and influence, but from God. He is the God of hope! As we entrust ourselves and our future to him he fills us with joy and peace. Ultimately the world and our lives are not at the mercy of evil people, but are in the hands of a gracious God who gives us a hope that is real.

A few weeks before Christmas, in the little village of Capriana in Moldova, something happened which is a sign of the hope God gives to ordinary people. God has given some Moldovan Christian ladies a deep love and concern for the forgotten people living in the terrible closed institutions in Moldova in which people are locked away, often for very trivial reasons. Life in the institutions is very harsh and, normally, there is no hope of release. A new house, Casa Ana, has been built in Capriana, which is now the home of 6 ladies from one of these closed institutions, and it was officially opened before Christmas. One of the Christian ladies involved in establishing the home said, “We wanted to give these people a future and a hope!” That’s exactly what “the God of hope” does for us as we entrust ourselves, and our future, to him.

You can watch a short video of the opening of Casa Ana at https://vimeo.com/148361564

Building our Lives on Jesus’ Teaching

We are facing some big challenges. Global is changing the pattern of our weather. We are using up the world’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate. HIV/Aids continues to claim many lives around the world. Our large national debts will take many years of pain to reduce. We are still learning how to live alongside each other in our multi-cultural society.

All these problems, and many more, will not be easily or quickly solved. The actions of this generation are creating problems which our children and grandchildren will have to face and try to solve. Many parents and grandparents are apprehensive about the future of their children and grandchildren.

There is, however, a bigger problem for our children which we seldom seem to consider. There is a moral and spiritual vacuum. Do we ever consider the moral and spiritual values we are passing on to our children and grandchildren? As a nation we have swept aside the moral and spiritual principles on which our society has been built. The sanctity of life, the importance of personal moral purity, the sacredness of marriage and the absolute necessity of honesty and integrity have been undermined. The new “progressive” thinking is based on the autonomy of human beings to think and do whatever they like. In reality we are not moving into greater enlightenment but into moral and spiritual darkness. The consequences for future generations are disastrous.

Sadly, in this situation many churches and Christian leaders are failing the people. Their own personal doubts about the Christian faith, their lack, in some cases, of personal morality and integrity, and their desire to be politically correct and popular mean they are incapable of giving clear moral and spiritual teaching. Christian churches generally seem to lack credibility.

It would be good for us all to sit at the feet of Jesus and to learn from him in childlike trust and dependence. He spoke with authority, unlike the religious leaders of his day. His words continue to speak to the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world today. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, Chapters 5 to 7) he said that those who hear his words and put them into practice are like a wise man who built his house on the rock. History has proved that lives built on the teaching of Jesus are able to withstand all the storms that life throws against them.

I know who holds the future

As another year begins it is pleasant to greet family and friends with the words “Happy New Year!” The greeting is sincere and comes from the heart. A new year brings new hopes and expectations. It is a new beginning, full of possibilities. This year, however, I have been very conscious that the coming year will not be easy for many people in the world and for a number of my family and friends. We are passing through difficult times and the future for many is uncertain.

A few weeks before Christmas one of our neighbours lost his wife, who died suddenly while in hospital. He faces this year living alone in the home they had shared for so many years. Some of our good friends are receiving treatment for cancer. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are very unpleasant and underneath the surface there are many fear and anxieties. The 9 year old daughter of some friends faces a major operation this week to remove a brain tumour. If all goes well there will be a long period of recovery and adjustment. Some are experiencing long-term unemployment and wonder if they will find a job this year, others are anxious about possibly losing their job.  They are uncertain how they will cope with the loss of income and, possibly, the loss of their home. So I have not greeted them with the words “Happy New Year!” but, “May the Lord go with you into the coming year!”

Some years ago a young man whom we knew died following a road accident between Christmas and New Year. He was driving to work early one morning when his car skidded on ice and hit a tree leaving him seriously injured. For some days he was unconscious in hospital before he died. His young wife was devastated by the loss of her husband. They had only been married for a short time. She chose a hymn for his funeral service which expressed her faith in God as she faced a very difficult and uncertain future.  “I know who holds the future, and I know He holds my hand; With God things don’t just happen, everything by Him is planned. So as I face tomorrow, with its problems large and small, I’ll trust the God of miracles, give to him my all.”  God did indeed go before Brenda and provided for all her needs.  As you enter this New Year “may the Lord go with you!

Hope for the Future

It is a beautiful autumn morning. The sun is shining and the sky is blue. The evenings are noticeably colder and there have been a few slight frosts. The summer is passing and the winter is approaching. Another year will soon be over.

The passing seasons remind us that time is always moving and our little lives pass by so quickly. Those who are older say that, for them, it seems as if time passes even more quickly than it used to. It is only too easy to look backwards and to wish that we could regain our youth or return to the happiest days of our lives. But there is no way back. It is to the future that we are travelling. We cannot stop the world and get off.

One of the recurring themes of the Bible is hope for the future. At the beginning of time, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and were sent from his immediate presence, God gave a wonderful promise, which pointed forward to the coming of Jesus. A man born of the woman’s line would reverse the defeat and disaster of Eden and win a great victory for his people. When the Jewish people were facing 70 years of painful exile in Babylon, God gave them a promise to hold on to. “I will come to you and fulfil my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

The last night before he went to the Cross Jesus spoke to his disciples about his resurrection and told them, “you will see me again.” He also told them that he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house and promised, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

God is the source of all hope. In Jesus he broke into the apparent futility of this world to give us a future and a hope. Trusting in him we know the best is yet to come. There is a place where there is no night, no pain, no tears, no parting, and no death. There God dwells with his people in blissful and unending blessing. We have his word for it.