My talent is a gift from him

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the women’s 100 metres gold medal at the 2019 World Athletic Championships in Doha. Her time was one of the fastest she has ever recorded. This is the fourth time she has won the 100 metres gold medal at the World Championships and the first she has won since becoming a mother. She won gold medals in 2009, 2013, 2015 but missed the 2017 Championships because of the birth of her son Zyon. Shelly-Ann has also won two Olympic 100 metres gold medals. Her nickname is the “Pocket Rocket” because she is just 5 feet tall and explodes out of the blocks. Some experts say she is possibly the greatest female sprinter in history.

Shelly-Ann was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in a deprived community. Her mother, Maxine, was a single parent who worked as a street vendor to feed and care for her family. Recently Shelly-Ann spoke about her childhood, “I suffered from self-esteem issues because I didn’t have nice clothes and a nice house and had to take the bus. I wanted to fit in and would make up stories just to be accepted, so I can relate to issues of poverty.”

Shelly-Ann grew up in church. When she was 12 years old, she made a decision at a church camp that changed her life. “That week was so refreshing because we were separated from the world and I was able to make the decision that Christ is what I wanted. When I came home, I got baptized.” But as a young Christian Shelly-Ann had serious struggles. “I had just started high school. In the second or third form I went off track because I wanted to be with my friends and be a part of the crowd – it didn’t fit in with being a Christian.”

In 2008 Shelly-Ann went to the Olympics and won but was still struggling. “Everything I had asked God for and prayed about I got. I had the money, I had everything I really wanted, but I wasn’t happy. Then in 2009 I won again and still wasn’t happy. I knew something was missing and I decided it was time to go back to church and start living for Christ. Now Christ is in everything I do, and I talk to him every day. People ask why I’m always smiling at the line – it’s because it’s a privilege and an honour to run and God is with me no matter what. Whether I win or lose, it doesn’t matter to me because my talent is a gift from him.”

Facing death

Every day we hear news of people who have died. The present death toll from the hurricane that devastated the Bahamas is at least 43 and the number is expected to rise dramatically. A good friend of mine, who is a doctor, has gone with a medical team from the States to the Bahamas to help. A few weeks ago, a suicide bomb in Kabul killed at least 80 Shia Muslim people who were attending a wedding. There have been 99 violent deaths in London this year, including 20 teenagers who have been fatally stabbed. Elderly and very sick people or all ages will die in hospitals or homes today. Each death brings a precious life to an end and plunges a family and circle of friends into grief.

When facing death, or grieving the loss of a loved one, many people have found comfort from the Bible. As they read the Bible God speaks to them and brings comfort and peace in times of deepest need. One of the best-known passages in the Bible is Psalm 23. One modern translation reads, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honour to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honour me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”

Amidst the uncertainties of life and in the face of death, the last enemy, we all need the help of someone greater than us. David, who wrote the psalm, had been a shepherd and he knew God as the One who was his shepherd. Through his life God had provided everything he needed, and he knew would also be close beside him when he passed through the darkest valley of death. He would not be alone, at the mercy of his fears, because God had promised to be with him. David also knew that death was not the end because God, who had been his shepherd throughout his life, had promised him eternal life, “I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”

Words matter

Words matter. At the marriage of Jack Brooksbank and Princess Eugenie last week their deep love for each other was obvious. The Dean of Windsor declared them to be husband and wife because they made solemn, lifelong promises to each other. Eugenie was asked, “Eugenie, wilt thou have this Man to be thy wedded husband, to live together according to God’s law in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and keep him, in sickness and in health and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?” She replied, “I will.” Jack made a similar promise.

One media organisation hired professional lip-readers to tell them what the Royal guests were saying to each other. It seems even small talk matters! Jesus taught that our words reveal the condition of our inner self and that God will judge us for everything we say. He said, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!”

Those who heard Jesus speaking recognised the authority of his words. During a difficult time in his ministry, when some people turned away from him, Jesus asked his close disciples, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.” Jesus made wonderful promises in which we can have total confidence. One of his promises is, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Some Christian friends of ours invited a neighbour, who is not a Christian, to a meal. After the meal the wife asked the neighbour if she could read a passage from the Bible. The neighbour agreed and the wife read one of the Psalms. As she was reading the neighbour began to cry. When the reading was finished the neighbour explained why she had cried, “In my religion we speak to God but he never speaks to us. As you were reading I felt God was speaking to me!”

Asking the big questions

In December 2015, Major Tim Peake became the first British European Space Agency astronaut to visit the International Space Station. In a recent interview, he said that one of the things he misses most is seeing his home planet from space. He said, “I might see a picture of a spacecraft and suddenly it takes me right back to being on board the space station and looking out at the universe. You do have to kind of pinch yourself and say, ‘Yes, I was up there, looking back at Earth’. It’s mesmerizing; it’s constantly changing, every time you look out of the window you see a different part of the world. You might be at a night part of the orbit looking at thunderstorms or the aurora; you might be in a day time looking at volcanoes erupting and glaciers and lakes, so it’s just stunning both by day and by night.”

Tim has started a new role as an official UK Scout Association ambassador. He said, “As a cub scout I remember going out on those early night hikes and first sleepovers in the outdoors. Sleeping under the stars and looking up is when the big questions come out: What’s out there? How did life begin? Where is it all going?” These are the big questions for us all.

Johannes Kepler was an eminent scientist and a Christian. He developed a love for astronomy at an early age. In 1577, when he was six, he observed the Great Comet and in 1580 the Lunar Eclipse. Kepler is best known for discovering the three mathematical laws of planetary motion. He also discovered the elliptical patterns in which the planets travel around the sun. As he studied the universe Kepler said, “O God, I am thinking your thoughts after you.”

The heavens bear eloquent testimony to God. He created all things, guides history, and knows every one of us intimately. In Psalm 8 the psalmist says, “O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! Your glory is higher than the heavens. When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – the moon and the stars you set in place – what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour. You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority.”

The selfless courage of Andy Peat

In a unique ceremony Warrant Officer Andy Peat, a British soldier, was recently awarded the Anders Lassen Award by Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. The Award recognised Andy’s extraordinary courage while serving alongside Danish colleagues in Afghanistan. It is the first time any solider outside the Danish military has received the honour. Andy is a credit to the British Army and the brave men who are serving alongside him in Afghanistan.

In January 2013 Andy, of 33 EOD Regiment, was supporting a Danish task force patrol. In the early hours of the morning they entered a compound in the Upper Gereshk Valley which was being used for the manufacture of improvised explosive devices. As the team moved into the compound an IED was triggered on the roof, severely injuring Oversergeant Rene Brink Jakobsen. At the time of the explosion Andy was only five metres away. He immediately went to provide medical assistance to Rene. However, there was the threat of more IEDs close by, one of which lay underneath Rene. Andy painstakingly searched under Rene cutting two wires to disarm the IED. As Rene was being stretchered off the roof Andy lay across the path of another IED using himself and his body armour as a shield to protect the stretcher party. Andy’s selfless actions saved several lives that night but, sadly, Rene, aged 39, died of his wounds, leaving behind a wife and three children.

At the Award Ceremony Andy and his wife, Candice, and their 3 year old daughter, Sophie, met Rene’s wife, Camilla, and her children, Sara, Maia and Thor. Andy donated the £3000 awarded to him to Rene and her family. He spoke with striking modesty about his surprise at receiving the award, “To be honest it’s just about doing your job and thinking about what you’ve got in front of you and trying your best to get out of that predicament as quickly as possible. If you take any IED operator and put him in front of the same predicament, all the guys would have done exactly the same thing.”

Andy’s actions remind me of another young man, Jesus of Nazareth, who told his disciples, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” By laying down his life on the Cross Jesus secured forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life for people from all nations who trust in him.

The unique role of mothers

Mother’s Day is a special time for many families. It reminds us of the unique role of mothers. The intimate bond between a mother and her child begins in the womb. After the traumas of labour a mother rejoices when she sees her new born baby and holds them for the first time. The relationship develops and deepens as the mother feeds and cares for her baby. It is a wonderful thing to experience a mother’s love. The first person a child looks for is their mother. It is no wonder that Mother’s Day cards extol the virtues of mothers.

Amongst the many opportunities women in our society have today it is good to remember the vital role of mothers. It is not easy for working mothers, but is something they feel is really important. A friend of ours has recently returned to work after having her first baby. It has not been easy to be separated from her little boy during the day after they have spent many months together. Her husband is helping with his care. Time spent with our children is very precious and cannot be caught up later in life.

The Bible emphasises the importance of the relationship between parents and their children. One of the 10 Commandments commands children to honour their father and mother. The New Testament emphasises this and sets out the benefits which flow from it. “Children, obey your parents for this is the right thing to do. Honour your father and mother. This is the first commandment that ends with a promise – that you will live a long life, full of blessing.” When the relationship between parents and children is strong it is a great blessing, when it breaks down there is great pain.

God’s love for his people is compared to the love of a mother for her child. In a time of national crisis God’s people said he had forgotten them. God answer through the prophet Isaiah was, “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!” William Cowper picks up this theme beautifully in one of his hymns, “Can a woman’s tender care cease towards the child she bear? Yes, she may forgetful be, yet will I remember thee. Mine is an unchanging love, higher than the heights above, deeper than the depths beneath. Free and faithful, strong as death.”