The first moon landing

On 20 July 1969 the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to walk on the surface of the moon. Neil Armstrong’s first step on to the lunar surface was broadcast on live TV around the world. He said, “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Throughout the rest of his life Neil Armstrong avoided public interviews and died in 2012, aged 82.

Astronauts who went to the moon spoke of the sense of awe they experienced as they saw the Earth from the moon. Buzz Aldrin took with him a small plastic container of wine and some bread which he had been given by his church, where he was an elder. While he was on the moon, during a time of radio silence, he quietly ate the bread and drank the wine and remembered his Saviour, Jesus, who loved him and died for him. He said it was his way of thanking God for the success of the mission.

On 24 December 1968 the crew of Apollo 8 were being televised as they orbited the moon. Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman read in turn from Genesis, Chapter 1. Bill Anders said, “We are now approaching the lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light:’ and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Charles Duke who was part of the Apollo 16 mission and walked on the moon in 1972. He became a Christian in 1978. He said that before he became a Christian his temper, ego, single-minded devotion to work and greed had ruined his relationship with his wife and children but becoming a Christian had changed him and transformed his relationship with his family. He also wrote, “I used to say I could live ten thousand years and never have an experience as thrilling as walking on the moon. But the excitement and satisfaction of that walk doesn’t begin to compare with my walk with Jesus, a walk that lasts forever.”

The secret of being content

We are living in unsettled times. Reports in the media portray a spirit of unease and unhappiness in the hearts of some. It seems that when things go wrong, as they inevitably do in this fallen world, we must find someone to blame and to complain about. We see it as their responsibility to make us happy and ensure we have everything we want. Yet we live in country that, compared to most countries in the world, is wealthy and remarkably secure and stable. We enjoy a considerable degree of freedom to live our daily lives without interference from the authorities. In fact, millions of people from other countries would love to live in Britain and some make great efforts, at risk to their lives, to get here.

Some years ago, I met some friends from West Africa at Heathrow. As we were driving along the M4 they asked, “Where are the soldiers and the roadblocks?” I explained that things that were part of daily life in their country didn’t happen in Britain and that the overwhelming majority of our police were unarmed. They were amazed and, also, could not get over the fact that there were no potholes in our main roads! So, if our lives are so blessed and privileged compared to billions of people in the world, why are we unhappy?

We need to learn the secret of being content. When we are content we are happy, satisfied and fulfilled. It has very little to do with how much “stuff” we have. I was talking to a friend who works in a high-class resort to which many wealthy people come. He told me about a recent holiday in which he and his wife saw people who are much poorer than they are yet, he said, they were content. One man wrote, “Contentment doesn’t come from adding more fuel, but in taking away some fire; not in multiplying wealth, but in subtracting desires.” Socrates said, “The wealthiest person is the one who is contented with least.”

Towards the end of his life the apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome. In a letter to the Christians in Philippi he wrote, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

A radical alternative to materialism

Materialism has been adopted by many people in the developed world as the basis for their lives. They believe that nothing exists except physical matter and that the universe in which we live is evolving. We, too, are caught up in an impersonal evolutionary process. Materialism tells us that we are all essentially animals and that physical things are the only things that exist. As a result, some people have become materialistic, seeking to accumulate wealth and possessions in the pursuit of pleasure and satisfaction.

One very serious consequence of a materialistic life is that the true value of people is lost. The Urban Dictionary defines being materialistic as, “The act of caring more about things than people; judging yourself and others on the cost of your stupid things.” From childhood we are encouraged to believe that the things we possess give us value and worth. Our “stuff” defines us. The sad and tragic lives of some rich and famous people teach us that money and possessions do not guarantee happiness, but may even destroy us.

The Bible warns us of the dangers of being materialistic. Jesus told a man who wanted to inherit a legacy, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” The apostle Paul said, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

The example of Jesus provides a radical alternative to materialism and points the way to true and lasting happiness for us all, as people who have been created by God as both body and soul. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus left the heavenly riches, that were his of right, in order to come to this world and become poor. On the Cross he suffered the punishment our sins deserve so that we might be forgiven and receive eternal life. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection teach us that every one of us is valuable in God’s sight and that heaven is real.

The Water of Life

Half of Britain is now in drought as we face the most severe water shortage since 1976. More than 35 million people are now living in drought-affected areas. Parts of the country are already drier than they were in the summer of 1976, when Britain experienced its worst drought for more than 100 years. Restrictions on the use of water have been imposed in many areas.

The water shortage presents us with a big challenge. Water is essential for life. We need it and so do our animals and crops. One of the reasons our earth abounds with life is because of the abundance of water. In the past we may have taken for granted the fact that we had a reliable supply of fresh drinking water, but now we have become aware how precious water is.

Jesus once met a woman at a well. She had come in the middle of the day with her water jar to draw water for her and her family and to carry it home. Many people in the world today still have to carry water to their homes. It is a tiring job which has to be done every day in order to sustain life. This woman spent most of the day doing the things necessary for her and her family to survive. Many times as she walked to and from the well she must have wondered what life was all about? How could she find meaning in her life amidst the drudgery of her everyday routine.

Many people today ask the same questions. Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Our secular society tells us there is no ultimate meaning to life. We just have to make the best of it. I’m so glad that isn’t true. Jesus knew the woman’s life was hard and that she didn’t know deep inner fulfilment. He said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Taking up this theme, Horatius Bonar wrote, “I heard the voice of Jesus say, Behold I freely give the living water – thirsty one, stoop down and drink and live! I came to Jesus, and I drank of that live-giving stream; my thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in him.”

The Water of Life

Water is very precious and is vital to sustaining life. Our little planet is, as far as we know, unique in the universe because of the abundance of water. Yet the East of England is experiencing a serious drought. A record dry 18 months, with virtually no rain this winter, has left rivers and reservoirs at critically low levels. These are the worst shortages for more than 90 years.

Some countries in Africa are experiencing very severe drought so that people and animals are dying. Since July 2011, a severe drought, the worst in 60 years, has been affecting the entire East Africa region. More recently aid agencies have warned about serious problems, because of drought, in West Africa, including Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso. We pray that rain will come and people’s needs will be met.

In John, chapter 4, we read of Jesus talking to a woman by a well in Samaria. She had come, in the heat of midday, to draw water from the well. Fetching and carrying water was hard work then, as it is today for many women in the world. The woman had experienced many problems in her life, including several broken marriages, which had really hurt her. Jesus spoke to her in a kindly way, even though her first response to him was negative. He revealed a real love for her and addressed her deepest needs.

Jesus knew that the water from the well could only satisfy the physical needs of the woman and her family for short time but, using the image of water, spoke of the deep and lasting satisfaction which comes from knowing him. He told her that she had only to ask him and he would give her “living water”. He went on to say, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

All of us want to find deep and lasting satisfaction. We want to know why we were created and the meaning of life. The answer cannot be found in religion, but is found in knowing Jesus. Many people, from all nations, have responded to his love, demonstrated in his death on the cross for our sins. As they have come to him they have experienced a deep peace and joy, as the woman did that day, which satisfies their deepest longings.