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The Hope Mars probe

This week the Arab world’s first mission to Mars was launched. An H-2A rocket carrying the unmanned Al-Amal, or Hope, probe lifted off from the launching pad at Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan. This UAE project is one of three racing to Mars, including Tianwen-1 from China and Mars 2020 from the United States, taking advantage of a period when the Earth and Mars are nearest. Hope is expected to reach Mars’ orbit by February 2021. The launch was met with great excitement in Dubai. The UAE Mars mission’s deputy project manager Sarah al-Amiri said it was “an indescribable feeling” to see the probe blasting off and added, “This is the future of the UAE.”

The Bible presents us with a big view of God. The opening words of the book of Genesis are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The majestic account goes on to describe God’s creating activity including the sun and the moon and then adds the simple, but staggering, statement, “He also made the stars.” Recent exploration of the universe has discovered that there are more stars than there are grains of sand on the seashores of earth.

In Psalm 8 David expresses his sense of awe at the greatness of God, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.” People all over the world can gaze in wonder at the heavens God has created. In Psalm 19 David wrote, “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 reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

David was also amazed that he could know this great God personally. He was just one small man on a tiny planet in a vast universe, but God knew him and he knew God. In Psalm 8 he wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.” The UAE probe, Hope, is well-named. When we know the God, who knows us, we have a sure hope and a future that is secure.

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When tragedy strikes

After school on 13 January the school minibus dropped 7-year-old Samuel Barker at his home in Monmouth. Tragically Samuel was then knocked over by the minibus. His mother, Cat, rushed to him and knew the moment she got there that little Samuel was not alive. She said, “I was there in seconds, I picked him up off the road and put him on my lap. I knew he was dead straight away and there was no suffering. I praised God for his life and that I knew exactly where he was now, and that it had been so quick. I kissed his head – his very tousled hair.” Cat and two friends then prayed as they waited for the ambulance to arrive.

Cat and her husband are Christians and have known God comforting and strengthening them in their grief. The day after Samuel died, Cat went to the school and explained to his class that Samuel is in heaven. After praying with them she went outside to the playground and comforted other parents. Cat is “desperately sad” for the driver of the minibus and prays that he will not be wracked with guilt.

Cat said, “Samuel was exuberant and bouncy. There was never a dull moment. He often had messy hair, paint on his jumper, and muddy knees. He made the best of every moment.” A year ago, Cat bought some new notebooks for Samuel and his two brothers. Samuel was very excited to receive his notebook and took it to his bedroom. He sat down at his desk and started busily writing.

This is what Samuel wrote that day, “I love Jesus and God because they look after me and are nice to me. They love me very much and they make me better and they are the best adults in the whole wide world. And I love them very, very much. They are so nice to me. So, I will always believe in them. They like me so much. They are so, so, so, so, so kind to me and I trust them. They give me strength. He loves me all the time, I praise the Lord. I can trust in them. They are the best. I am so excited to go to heaven. I will never hurt myself. I will never, never get a stitch. And he died on the cross for me. He saved my life.”

Cat said, “The Bible tells us that all you need is the faith of a child. You don’t need to have a degree in theology or your life together perfectly. You just need to say, ‘Yes – I believe, help me in my unbelief.’”

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God cares about you

Mental health is in the news. More people in Britain than ever before are experiencing depression and anxiety. In 2018 a total of 71 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were dispensed in England. This is almost double the number dispensed in 2008. The trend in other parts of Britain is similar. GPs fully investigate a patient’s circumstances and other alternatives, such as talking therapy, before prescribing anti-depressants and many people find their mental health improves when they take them.

This time of year creates additional anxiety for many people. The days are shorter and darker and financial pressures increase with Black Friday sales and the cost of paying for Christmas. Many people are already in debt and this is likely to increase in the coming weeks. The general election has added to the stress and the uncertainty about Brexit. The parties are displaying a greater level of hostility to one another and the genuine interests of different groups within our society are being set against each other. People are divided and there are fears for the future.

Jesus spoke about anxiety and how we can cope with it. He lived at a time when his country was under Roman rule and harsh taxes were imposed on the people. So Jesus reminded the people about God’s care for them, “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more 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?”

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

The best talking therapy is talking to God in prayer. He knows us, cares about us and is willing and able to help us. The apostle Peter said, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

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The ministry of angels

Last summer Stephen Parker and his two sons, 17-year-old Mason and 8-year-old J.T., were working on a Toyota Prius at their home in Sugar City, Idaho. Mason had cut his hand and had gone into the house when the car collapsed on Stephen. He called out to J.T. to jack the car up quickly. Stephen was totally trapped and soon passed out. He thought he was going to die because it seemed impossible for J.T., who weighs just 50lbs, to jack the car up. It had taken both Stephen and Mason to jack the car up the first time.

But J.T. first adjusted the jack and then began jumping up and down on the jack’s handle. Slowly the car began to rise, freeing his father and enabling him to breathe. Then J.T. ran to get Mason, who called 911. Stephen, who was in a critical condition, was flown to hospital by helicopter. He had 13 broken ribs, but no internal damage. The American Red Cross of Greater Idaho has awarded J.T. one of its “Real Heroes” awards for 2017. When he returned home from hospital, Stephen asked J.T. to try to jack up the car again, but he didn’t have the strength to do it. When he asked J.T. how he had done it before, he replied, “Angels!” J.T.’s mother, Jodi, says, “This whole thing is a miracle.”

The Bible clearly teaches that angels exist; they are personal, supernatural heavenly beings. When Jesus was born, a heavenly angelic choir appeared to the shepherds. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus prepared to die on the cross, “an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him.” After the resurrection of Jesus, an angel rolled the stone way to reveal the empty tomb. When the apostle Peter was imprisoned for preaching the good news about Jesus, an angel of the Lord led him out of the prison.

Angels are one of the ways in which God cares for his people and gives strength to face the big problems and challenges of life. The Bible says, “Angels are only servants – spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.” Jesus taught that we all need to learn from the childlike faith of young children and their straightforward trust in God. When we are facing things that are just too hard for us, like J.T., we can ask God to help us. J.T. knows that his father, whom he loves dearly, is alive today because God sent his angels to take care of him.

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All good gifts are sent from heaven above

A wet spring and a hot summer have meant that Britain has enjoyed one of the best harvest seasons for many years. Dry weather in late August enabled farmers to harvest many of their crops and gather them into their barns. They have been able to “make hay while the sun shines!”The autumn harvest is also very good. British apples are sweet and colourful because the warm summer weather has increased the sugar levels in the fruit.

In many churches harvest thanksgiving services are being held. They remind us that “all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.” God has made this little planet on which we live a place of wonderful abundance. The past 100 years have seen a massive growth in world population; from 2 billion in 1927 to more than 7 billion today. Yet despite this massive growth more than enough food is produced around the world to feed everyone. In Britain the major supermarkets offer a bewildering variety of foods from all over the world.

It is so important to be thankful for all that God gives us. This is true whether we have a lot or a little. Real life and happiness is not found in having wealth and lots of “stuff”. Children and adults who have everything may learn the value of nothing. Sometimes those who have least are most appreciative of what they have. When my wife was in hospital for an operation there was an elderly lady in the bed opposite hers. One day my wife noticed that the lady was not able to reach the food that had been left on her bedside table. She went over and offered to help her. As my wife held the cup the lady sipped the soup and said “O that’s lovely, thank you so much!”

I have met Christians in very poor countries whose daily life is very simple, but who are a great example to me in the wonderful spirit of contentment they display. Each day they pray to God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is a prayer we can all pray. Day by day God does provide our needs. We can bring all our anxieties for today and for the future to him and ask him to provide – and he will. God is also able to give us a spirit of contentment. The apostle Paul wrote, “If we have food and clothing, with that we will be content.”

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Prince George is born

The birth of Prince George has been welcomed around the world. The joy of Kate and William in the safe arrival of their son has been plain for all to see. The birth of George has been a very public event, but the most important things have happened in private. A young couple, who are very much in love, have experienced first the wonder of conception and now of birth. A precious little life has been committed to their care and already George has felt the security of the warm embrace of his mother and father. They love him and will do everything they can to care for him and protect him. George is a precious gift from God to them.

Long ago King David reflected on the wonderful way in which God had created him. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”

William and Kate, too, have marvelled at the way in which George has grown and developed within the protection of his mother’s womb. Every detail of who he is has been ordained by God – his little fingers and perfect nails and the similarities he bears, even as a baby, to his mother and father. The greatest thing about George is not his royal descent, but that he has been created in the image of God. He is unique human being who, like us all, has been created to live in daily fellowship with his Creator and to experience the love of the Saviour, Jesus Christ.

None of us can know what lies ahead of Prince George, but his little life is full of immense potential. King David recognised his dependence on God’s wisdom and guidance. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious are your thoughts concerning me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” We pray that at this very special time, and in all the days to come, William and Kate, and baby George, will know the wonder of God’s love for them and his care expressed in every detail of their lives.

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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.”