When we lose everything

What do you do when you lose everything? Pictures of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma on islands in the Caribbean, such as Barbuda and the British Virgin Islands, are heart-breaking. People have lost their homes and all their possessions. They were helpless in the face of the power of the hurricane. When reporters talked to them you could see the shock and bewilderment on their faces as they looked at the ruins of what was once their home. Re-establishing normal life again is a daunting task. Some, however, said that, although they have lost everything, they are thankful to God that they and their loved ones are alive.

In America people have been remembering the events of the 9th September 2001, when the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York killed 2,997 people and injured more than 6000 others. The total collapse of the towers stunned all who witnessed it and those around the world who saw the pictures. Hearing the stories of those who lost loved ones in the attacks brings home their sense of absolute helplessness as, in the minutes after the attacks, they spoke on the telephone to relatives who were trapped in the towers with no possibility of escape. All they could do was tell each other “I love you” and pray.

The Bible tells the story of a man called Job. He was a blameless and upright man who feared God. He had seven sons and three daughters, and owned thousands of sheep, camels, oxen and donkeys. He also had many servants. On the same day, all his animals were stolen or killed by lightning and all his sons and daughters died as the house in which they were enjoying a meal together was struck by a tornado and collapsed. He lost everything. When the news of these devastating events came to Job, he tore his robe and shaved his head and fell to the ground in worship saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Devastating loss is not a sign of God’s displeasure or an indication that those who experience it are worse people than others. We can pray for those who are seeking to rebuild their lives that God will give them the strength they need and also that he will make us truly thankful for all the blessings he has graciously given us.

Remembering the Great Fire of London

At midnight on 2 September 1666 a fire began that razed the medieval heart of London to the ground. Over the next four days, assisted by official blunders, a minor accident turned into a major conflagration in which many people lost their homes, their livelihoods and, in some cases, their lives. The previous year Bubonic Plague, the Black Death, had killed tens of thousands of people in London.

The Great Fire of London started in the King’s bakery in Pudding Lane, near London Bridge. The summer had been very hot and the wooden houses in the narrow streets were very dry. The Lord Mayor underestimated the seriousness of the fire and failed to give the order to pull houses down to prevent the fire from spreading. By the time King Charles II gave the order to pull houses down it was too late to stop the fire spreading. By 4 September half of London was in flames. St Paul’s Cathedral was destroyed.

By the time the fire was brought under control only one fifth of London was left standing. Most civic buildings were destroyed and 13,000 homes, but amazingly the official figure was that only 6 people had died. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless; 89 parish churches, the Guildhall, jails and markets had become burnt-out shells. The loss of property was estimated at between £5 and £7 million. However, although the Great Fire was a catastrophe, overcrowded and disease ridden streets were destroyed and a new London emerged. Sir Christopher Wren was given the task of re-building the city and the new St. Paul’s Cathedral was completed in 1711.

It is not easy to understand why some things in this life happen. When we pass through dark times, however, it is good to bring our sadness to God and to trust him to give us strength in the present and hope for the future. The Bible tells the story of a man called Job. He was a man of complete integrity who feared God and stayed away from evil. Yet, in a mysterious way, through a series of disasters, he suffered the loss of everything he had, including his 10 children. When he heard his children had died, Job was heart-broken. He fell to the ground in worship and said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”

Growing together in God and in love

On 22 May this year Jaquie Farmer married Andy Goncher in a church service in Marietta, Georgia. It was a very special day for Jaquie and her family and friends as she walked down the aisle. In July 2008, when Jaquie was 17 years old, she dived into her friend’s swimming pool and broke her neck. She said, “I remember floating face down, unable to move and thinking I was going to drown. I could hear the girls laughing, thinking I was just joking or something. When I was finally pulled out of the pool and knew my mom was being called to come and get me, my body blacked out.”

In the hospital, Jaquie could feel all her limbs, but couldn’t move them. She asked her mother, “Am I going to be in a wheelchair forever?” Holding back tears, her mother said, “If God wants you to walk, you’ll walk.” Jaquie says that at that moment her faith kicked in and she was determined to be “normal” again. Her first glimmer of progress came when, to her doctor’s surprise, she was able to move her big toe. Jaquie spent hundreds of hours in physiotherapy, and on her own in the gym, working to regain the ability to stand. Her dream was to walk down the aisle on her wedding day.

Looking at the photos of her wedding day brings tears to Jaquie’s eyes. She said, “It’s so easy to forget how miraculous it is that I can walk now, since it’s a journey I’ve been going through for 8 years. When people react with such emotion and awe, it reminds me just how blessed I am. Andy and I have now been married for 3 months. I’m so thankful for his servant’s heart and willingness to put in the work that a good marriage takes. I’ve learned so much from him in the past 3 years and I can’t wait to continue to grow together in God and in love.”

We are all liable to life-changing accidents and illnesses. When tragic events happen to us, or to those we love, it is so important to turn to God. God has sustained Jaquie through dark and difficult days. She has experienced his love in Jesus in a new way. She knows that Jesus is always with her and that there is nothing that can ever separate her from his love. As they share the joys and sorrows of married life, Jaquie and Andy are looking forward to knowing God’s love for them more and more.

Being thankful and content

Many people in the world experience profound suffering and sadness. Sometimes it comes through natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and tsunamis in which people lose everything – loved ones, homes and possessions. Some die from deadly diseases like Ebola. Others perish in the deserts of Africa or the Mediterranean Sea as they flee oppressive regimes and persecution. Some are imprisoned or executed by religious fanatics or megalomaniac rulers.

The pictures of the Rohingya Muslim people on boats in the Andaman Sea vividly portrayed human misery and helplessness. They come from Myanmar where they are not recognized as citizens and face persecution. The people have paid people smugglers to take them to Thailand but have been turned away. Malaysia and Indonesia have also refused to accept them. Men, women and children have been trapped on dilapidated boats with little food or water for weeks. Many are sick and dying. No one seems ready to accept them; they have nowhere to turn.

Watching the report of the people on the boat I felt both a compassion for their plight and a deep thankfulness that I, and my family, have never been in such a terrible situation. We have faced difficulties in our lives but have always had someone to turn to for help. It is easy to complain about relatively minor things that go wrong and not to realize the amazing privileges we enjoy. Seeing the people in the boat puts our problems into their proper perspective.

In the Western world today contentment is very rare. Complaining seems to be the norm in our materialistic society. We are encouraged never to be content with what we have and always to want more. Yet no amount of material possessions can ever bring lasting fulfilment. The apostle Paul wrote, “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.”

Every human being is precious because we have been created in God’s image. When everyone rejects the people in the boats, and they have nowhere to turn, God sees and cares. He hears their cries for help and will hold to account those who are so terribly mistreating them. He is also the one to whom we can give thanks for the many blessings he has given us, none of which we deserve. His greatest gift to a lost and dying world was his Son, Jesus, who came that through him we might have eternal life.

Don’t worry about anything

The Bible is a best selling book. More than 100 million copies of the Bible are sold or given away every year. Gideons International gives away a Bible every second. The Bible is available as a whole or in part in more than 2400 languages, covering 95% of the people of the world. Yet, for many people, the Bible is an unread book. The Bible is very big and it isn’t easy to know where to start reading. Yet in the Bible God speaks to us. Christians believe that the Bible is God’s Word. What the Bible says, God says. The Bible speaks into every situation that you and I face.

In the letter he wrote to the Christians living in Philippi the apostle Paul says, “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful that the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Worry is a universal human experience. We lie awake at night worrying. We go the doctor to ask for medication to help us cope with our worries. We worry about our families, about our work or study, about money, about our health and about the future. We usually worry about things we can’t do anything about and people may say to us, “Don’t worry, it may never happen!” But this doesn’t help us and we continue to worry because what will we do if it does happen? So how do Paul’s words help us?

Paul didn’t simply say, “Don’t worry.” He said, “Instead pray about everything.” Because God is there we can talk to him. We don’t need special words to speak to him, we can simply tell him what’s on our hearts. We can speak to him every day about everything, big things and small things, and ask him to help us. We can tell him the things we are worrying about and ask him to be with us and to give us strength to face whatever may come. It’s important to remember how he has helped us in the past and to thank him for being with us in difficult times. As we speak to God, he gives us his peace. One hymn says, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.”

Always giving thanks

Being thankful is a great blessing. At this time of year many churches hold Harvest Thanksgiving services. We have enjoyed a wonderful summer and so the harvest has been really good. The farmers have done well and we have enough food to eat for another year. There is good reason for us all to rejoice and give thanks?

One of the problems, however, of living in a secular society is, “To whom do we give thanks when things go well?” The politicians would like us to thank them, but few of us find that an attractive option! In an atheistic society like North Korea the people are commanded to give thanks for everything to their tyrannical President, Kim Jong-un. If they are not enthusiastic enough in giving thanks they are in serious trouble. Thankfully, we are under no such pressure.

The Bible gives us many exhortations to be thankful. The Psalmist says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” The Apostle Paul says, “Sing and make melody from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

A modern hymn by Bishop Michael Baughen expresses thanks for simple daily blessings and for God’s amazing love in Jesus. “Thank you for every new good morning, Thank you for every fresh new day, Thank you that I may cast my burdens, wholly on to you. Thank you for every friend I have Lord, Thank you for everyone I know, Thank you when I can feel forgiveness, to my greatest foe. Thank you for leisure and employment, Thank you for every heartfelt joy, Thank you for all that makes me happy, and for melody. Thank you for free and full salvation, Thank you for grace to hold it fast, Thank you, O Lord I want to thank you, that I’m free to thank.”

It makes a great difference to our lives when we realise that there really is a God who is good and the Giver of every good and perfect gift. When things go well we can gladly thank him and when hard times come we can trust him to be with us and to help us. In one of his hymns Joseph Hart expressed his delight in his God and Father, “How good is the God we adore, our faithful unchangeable friend, we’ll praise him for all that is past and trust him for all that’s to come.”

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.”

Putting austerity into perspective

In the recent elections in the UK, France and Greece, large numbers of people have voted against the austerity measures being adopted by their governments. These measures include higher taxes and spending cuts, which will reduce the level of public services. People will need to work longer before retiring and public sector wages and pensions are being reduced. The lives of many people are being affected and, so, it is no wonder that they are not happy.

The reason austerity is necessary is that for many years governments have spent more money than they received in taxes. The financial crisis in the world has highlighted this problem, so that, now, some governments are no longer able to borrow the money they need. Some countries, such as Greece, are facing bankruptcy. In the past people have benefited from their government’s over-spending, but now the time has come when the debts must be repaid. The election results suggest that many people have unrealistic expectations.

Many of us who live in Western Europe enjoy a level of affluence millions of people in the world can only dream about. Some Christian friends of mine have set up a project in South Africa to care for children who have become orphans because of HIV/AIDS. In 2009 it was estimated that 5.6 million people in South Africa were living with HIV and AIDS and that in the same year more than 300,000 had died from AIDS-related causes. Young adults aged 15-49 have been particularly affected. It is estimated that there are nearly 2 million orphan children, who have lost one or both of their parents through AIDS. The care of these orphans has been taken on by grandparents and they struggle to cope physically and financially.

When I visited the project I saw the houses where some orphans are being cared for and also visited a feeding programme run in a local church. Children, who live with their grandparents, come after school on 3 days a week to the church where a good meal has been prepared for them. These meals are the only substantial meals the children eat each week. These children face many big problems, but were smiling and thankful. I came away from the project humbled and challenged by these children and by those who are caring for them. I have so much, but do I really appreciate it and do I thank God for it? Even in “austerity” we still have so much.

Charlotte – a Very Special Daughter

Charlotte was born on 10 October 2008, her parents’ first child. The birth was normal and she was a good weight, but there were concerns because she was slow to feed and experienced fast breathing. She was transferred to a specialist baby unit. Over the coming weeks there were many tests. Eventually it was established that Charlotte suffered from Zellweger’s syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the brain, liver and kidneys. Her parents were told that she would probably live for only 6 months. She would live to Christmas, but probably not to her first birthday.

The diagnosis was a great shock to her parents and also to the whole family. Her Mum and Dad took her home and tried to take in the implications of Charlotte’s condition. The hopes and plans they had made would not now be fulfilled. They needed space to think things through and to pray to the Lord for his help and strength. As they prayed, and spoke to their family and close friends, the way forward became clearer.

They realised that Charlotte was a unique human being with the capacity to give and receive love. In the womb God had watched over her and preserved her life and she was precious to him. Each day God would give her Mum and Dad the strength and grace they needed. So they learned how to cope with Charlotte’s particular needs and to cope with the daily routine of caring.

Charlotte’s Mum and Dad surrounded her with love and communicated that love to her through their total commitment to her care and frequent cuddles. Charlotte could not speak or apparently understand much of what she heard, but she knew that she was deeply loved. There were times of crisis, but Charlotte saw her first and her second birthday and plans were beginning to be made for when she would go to nursery school. Then towards the end of May she began to experience serious problems and died peacefully on 31 May 2011.

At the service of thanksgiving for her life, attended by family and many friends, there was a spirit of heartfelt thankfulness to God for his goodness to Charlotte and to her Mum and Dad. They know that Charlotte is now safe in the arms of Jesus and all is well. They wrote to their friends, “Please pray for us now and for our family. Times of peace, relief, strength, grief and sorrow all mixed together.”