Call on me in the day of trouble

When Guatemala’s Volcan de Fuego (Volcano of Fire) erupted on Sunday 3 June it shot a plume of ash and gas nearly 6 miles into the sky and spread ash and debris across towns and farms more than 10 miles away. The pyroclastic flow of lava, rocks and ash poured down the mountain burying homes and people. The deadly black flow moved at speeds in excess of 50mph and reached a temperature of between 400 and 1300 degrees Fahrenheit. Its power demolished, shattered, buried and carried away nearly everything in its path. It was inescapable. More than 100 people are known to have died and at least 200 others are missing.

The reports from Guatemala have been deeply moving. Our hearts go out to those who have survived but have lost everything – family, homes and possessions. One man spoke of how all his family perished in a few moments and he himself feared he would die. He said, “I cried out to Almighty God to save me!” Sensing the imminent danger he was in, and feeling utterly helpless to do anything about it, this man cried out to God. Many others probably did the same.

The Bible offers great encouragement to those who call on God for help. In Psalm 50 God says, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honour me.” In Psalm 145 we read, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” In Psalm 34 David writes about a time when his life was in danger. He testifies to the way God heard him and helped him, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.”

Jesus was crucified on the same day as two other men. Both had been convicted of serious crimes and had been condemned to die. One man was full of anger and bitterness and cursed those who were supervising his execution. But the second man became very aware of Jesus and said to the other man, “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What is truth?

Easter reminds us of the climactic events of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. When the Gospel writers wrote their biographies of Jesus all of them focused most on the last week of his life. That week began with his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem when the crowds proclaimed him as their Messiah King. As he entered the city, he fulfilled a prophecy, written more than 500 years earlier, “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” Jesus is a king like no other; he is the Prince of Peace.

When he was on trial, Pilate, the Roman Governor, asked him “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest. You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate asked, “What it truth?”

Pilate decided that Jesus should be executed, even though he knew he was innocent, but that did not bring an end to Jesus’ kingdom. Following his death and resurrection the message of Jesus has spread throughout the world. In the early years of the Christian church the number of Christians grew despite the fierce persecution they faced. The power of Imperial Rome came to an end, but the kingdom of Jesus continues still. It has outlasted every earthly kingdom because it is different. It is a spiritual kingdom; it is “not of this world.” Those who belong to Jesus’ kingdom are “on the side of truth” and listen to him.

People still ask the same question as Pilate asked, “What is truth?” The pundits of our modern world tell us that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but they are wrong. The outworking of their philosophy is plain to see in the moral chaos and tragic personal emptiness of our western world. How different it is when, like little children, we listen to Jesus and receive the truth we see in him and hear in his words. As we listen to Jesus and trust in him, we understand how we, too, can enter into his kingdom, which is so different from every worldly kingdom, but which will outlast the years.

The Death of Kim Jong-il

The people of North Korea are in mourning following the death of their leader, Kim Jong-il. Many people have filed past his open coffin as the nation has been “engulfed in indescribable sadness.” Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jong-un has already been installed as his father’s successor. Kim Jong-il was presented to his people as a father-figure and demi-god – all-powerful and benevolent.

What legacy has Kim Jong-il left? His rule has been repressive for the people of North Korea, who are very poor. Shortly after he came to power in 1994, a severe famine, caused by his economic reforms and poor harvests, left an estimated two million people dead. His regime was guilty of human rights abuses and developed great military power, including nuclear weapons. Today many cannot afford to buy food or to heat their homes. Since 1948 a Demilitarised Zone has divided North and South Korea. Families have been separated. Some people have escaped from North Korea to China, at great risk to their lives. No doubt Kim Jong-il was very rich, but now he has died and left this world naked, as he entered it, and has stood before the living God.

How very different the reign of Jesus Christ is! He is the greatest of kings, yet he was born in humble circumstances and never even owned a home of his own. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. The kingdom Jesus established has spread throughout the world, embracing people from many nations. The empires of the world have come and gone, but the Kingdom of God has continued to grow.

Living under the lordship of Jesus Christ brings great blessings. He freely accepts us as we are, and forgives all our sins. He promises to be with us always and to help us in every situation. He gives us strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. At the time of the 1994 famine some Christians wanted to help the people of North Korea by sending them food. They also wanted them to know that Jesus loved them. So they sent many sacks of food into North Korea and put a message on each sack, “With love from Jesus“. Many of the people who received the food were full of thankfulness to Jesus, of whom they had never heard before, because of his love for them.