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When I consider your heavens

The SpaceX rocket, Endeavour, has taken two NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, into orbit. It’s the first time since the space shuttles were retired in 2011 that an American crew has made the journey from American soil. The SpaceX crew capsule docked at the International Space Station 19 hours after launch. The hope is that this will be the first step in a programme which will take people to the Moon and then to Mars.

Since November 2000 the International Space Station has been occupied continuously by 240 people from 19 countries. An international crew of 6 people live and work there while travelling at a speed of 5 miles per second, orbiting the earth every 90 minutes. In 24 hours, the space station makes 16 orbits of Earth, the equivalent of going to the Moon and back, travelling through 16 sunrises and sunsets.

The first man to journey into outer space was Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who completed one orbit of the earth in April 1961. Later Nikita Khrushchev, the President of the Soviet Union, said “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.” However, many people who have travelled into space have found it to be an awesome experience.

On Christmas Eve 1968 the crew of Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon, made a live television broadcast from lunar orbit, showing pictures of the Earth and the Moon. Jim Lovell said, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realise just what you have back there on Earth.” William Anders said, “For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.” Then the crew took turns reading from the first chapter of book of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

King David, like most of us, never travelled into space but was moved to worship as he gazed in wonder at the heavens. In Psalm 8 he wrote, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! 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. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

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The God who is there

The hard crash-landing of the Europe Space Agency’s experimental Mars probe, Schiaparelli, was a deep disappointment for the team managing the project. Although the lander was destroyed the probe’s mother ship is in orbit around Mars and will soon begin analysing the Martian atmosphere in its search for evidence of life. The Schiaparelli project, which has cost in excess of €1 billion, was designed to test technology for a more ambitious European Mars landing in 2020.

Our explorations into space make us aware of the immensity and wonder of the universe. The planet Mars is a near neighbour in our solar system, just 33.9 million miles away. It takes between 6 and 8 months to get there. Neptune is 2.7 billion miles from earth. Voyager 2 travelled for 12 years at an average velocity of 42,000 miles per hour to get there. The photographs of Earth taken from space make it very clear how different our little planet is compared to all the other planets we know. It seems that planet Earth is unique with its abundance of water and life.

The Bible speaks about the origins of life. The book of Genesis describes God’s almighty creating power. It begins with the majestic affirmation, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It also describes the creation of the first human beings, Adam and Eve, who were created in God’s image, and were given authority over all creation. Our God-given dignity and intelligence enables us explore the universe he has created.

The Bible also tells us that God has revealed himself to us in his Son, Jesus Christ. God did not leave us to seek for him, but, in Jesus, he visited our little planet. In his Gospel, the apostle John, says that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, was active in creating the universe. He also became a man and “lived for a time among us.”

When we realise the awesome greatness and majesty of God we cannot but be moved to worship him and give thanks to him. In Psalm 8 the psalmist writes, “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? O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!”

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He came down to earth from heaven

NASA has just launched its most ambitious ever mission to Mars. An Atlas V rocket took “Curiosity”, the one ton Mars Science Laboratory, on the first stage of its 8 month, 354 million mile journey to Mars, travelling at 3200 mph. This complex project, which has cost £1.6 billion, is intended to discover whether there has ever been life on the Red Planet. Curiosity, which is the most powerful, capable and complex planetary rover ever built, will spend 2 years travelling over a small part of the surface of Mars seeking evidence of life, past or present. The project is an amazing example of the skills of scientists.

The principle of life is wonderful and mysterious. It is supremely precious and fragile. It seems to require more than simply water and the right environment or to be a mere chance event. Rather it is something that has been given to us by an awesome Creator who is powerful and wise. He is not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being. We can speak to him where we are, and he hears us and cares. He is concerned for us all from the smallest child to the frailest elderly person. He cares for people of all races and languages. His promise is, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

We will soon be remembering the birth of Jesus Christ. In the words of the carol, “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall: with the poor and mean, and lowly, lived on earth our Saviour holy.” Jesus was more than a good man or a wonderful religious teacher. He was the Son of God, who took human nature and lived for a time among us. He came to show us what God is like and to reconcile us to God.

God created us with amazing abilities, as the Curiosity project demonstrates. We share in a little of his amazing creative skill. The meaning, significance and relationship we all seek, and so much need, will not be found through an exploration to a remote, rocky planet. Millions of ordinary people, in all parts of the world, have found the key to life in receiving the Jesus Christ as Saviour, Lord and God.

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Your sins shall be white as snow

The snow has come early this year. Just a few flakes at first, but within a few hours the landscape was clothed in a beautiful white blanket, pure and clean. Each of the trillions of snowflakes is unique, carrying the Creator’s signature. As darkness came and the temperatures fell, roads became difficult for those returning from work. Cars were abandoned as people began the long walk home.

The snow reminds us of one of God’s great promises to his people, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” God made this promise to a people who had rebelled against him. They were worshipping other gods, living immoral lives and being dishonest. They were seeking happiness in material things. They knew God’s law, but they wilfully and deliberately went their own way. It was not only individual people who did this, but as a nation they had turned away from the living God. So God spoke to them through his prophet Isaiah and called them to account. He did not immediately bring on them the judgement their sins deserve, but held out the promise of forgiveness and cleansing.

There are real parallels between those people and the way we are living today. Encouraged by politicians and unchallenged by weak church leaders our nation has turned from God. His moral law has been rejected as we have together decided to fulfil the desires of our own hearts. Inevitably we are reaping the painful consequences both personally and nationally.

There are times, however, when we face the reality of how we are living. Like a person who wakes after a night on the town and looks in the mirror, we don’t like what we see. We don’t like what we have become. In the light of who God is we see the tawdry life we are living and the deep stains our sins have left on our God-given conscience. We wish we could go back and change the things we have done, but it is impossible.

God’s solution is deep and real forgiveness. His Son, Jesus, died on the Cross to pay the price of our sin and rebellion. As we humbly confess our sins, and receive him as our Saviour, the scarlet stains of our sins are cleansed and we become as white and pure in God’s sight as the driven snow.