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Love your enemies

Sadly, there are many examples of hatred in our world today. Hatred between peoples leads to conflict, such as the present hostilities between Israel and Hamas. In Africa inter-tribal conflicts blight the lives of many people. The systematic persecution of the Uighur Muslims in China seeks to rob them of their human dignity. Many Rohingya people in Myanmar have fled to Bangladesh because of the brutal military regime in Myanmar. Some people use social media as a vehicle for hateful messages and threats of violence.

In Britain legislation has been enacted against “hate crimes”. The Metropolitan Police define a hate crime as, “Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.” This can include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property.

In the hostile worlds of both the 1st and 21st centuries the teaching of Jesus is radical and challenging. In the Sermon on the Mount he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus not only commanded us to love our enemies, but he also exemplified it. He came to bring reconciliation in the face of the deep-seated hostility between human beings and God. Even in the hearts of apparently respectable people there can be a deep hostility against God. Yet God, who could justly condemn us, sent his Son to be our Saviour. On the Cross God made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. The Cross was a place of deep hatred as Jesus’ enemies tried to destroy him. Yet as he hung on the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” The life and teaching of Jesus shines a bright light of hope into the darkness of our world.

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Inspiration from the Summer Paralympics

The 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro has been a great event as disabled people from all over the world have displayed remarkable abilities. Some of the athletes have been born with disabilities and others have become disabled through an accident or illness. Some are former soldiers who have been injured in battle. The stories of many of the athletes are an inspiration to us all.

Sinna Kaastrup, from Denmark, was born without legs. At Rio Sinna, riding her horse Smarties, won a bronze medal in the International Championship test grade 1b. Sinna uses a soft, treeless saddle with two handles, and carries a dressage whip on each side, but has nothing else to help keep her in the saddle. She generates so much power using just her seat that 15-year-old Smarties responds amazingly to her commands.

Ibrahim Hamadtou, from Egypt, competed in the Men’s Singles Table Tennis competition. Ibrahim, who is now 41, lost both his arms in a train accident when he was 10 years old. He serves by flicking the ball up with his foot and hitting it with a bat held in his mouth. He didn’t win either of his matches at Rio but won a silver medal in the 2013 Egyptian Championships. For Ibrahim playing in the Paralympics was a dream come true.

When tragic events happen to us it may seem as if a fulfilling life is impossible. When Sinna was born her parents were probably devastated that she had no legs, but she has developed riding skills that are equal to, if not greater than, many able-bodied riders. Ibrahim’s parents may have felt as if their world had come to an end when he lost his arms in the train accident but, today, he is a wonderful example to us all of someone who has overcome adversity. Sinna and Ibrahim have become the people they are today through their tragic experiences.

In this life our bodies are fragile and will, one day, wear out. The Bible promises us that, because of the death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus, everyone in heaven will have a new body free from all weakness and disability. In his letter to the Christians at Philippi the apostle Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

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Precious in God’s sight

Last week a very poor couple living in Uttar Pradesh, in Northern India, bought three packets of biscuits for their three children from their village grocer. They did not have the money to pay him but promised to pay as soon as they could. A few days later, when they were on their way to work, the grocer stopped them and demanded that they pay the 16 pence they owed him. The couple said they would pay him when they received their daily wages later that evening. The grocer became angry and attacked the couple with an axe. The man was beheaded and the wife died from injuries sustained in trying to protect her husband.

The couple who died, Bharat and Manta, were Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, the lowest rung of India’s caste system. The grocer was from an upper caste. There are more than 160 million Dalits in India. A person becomes a Dalit by birth. They are regarded as being impure and are denied normal human rights. Dalits are employed in poorly paid jobs that are regarded as ritually impure. It is not possible for a person who is born a Dalit to change their caste.

A few years ago a friend of mine was visiting India. One day he was being driven along a crowded street when there was a loud bang. A young disabled boy had run out in front of the vehicle and been knocked over. As people began to gather the driver, who was a Christian, gently picked up the boy who was very seriously injured. He carried him to a medical post but, sadly, the boy died. When the boy’s family arrived the driver was afraid he might be attacked but the father, seeing the blood on the driver’s shirt, asked him if he had carried his son to the medial post. Then he said to the driver, “We are Dalits and no-one has ever touched my son. You must have loved him very much to do that.”

One day a man with leprosy came to Jesus. He knelt before Jesus and begged him to heal him, “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus was moved with compassion and reached out and touched him saying, “I am willing, be healed!” Immediately the leprosy disappeared. Every human being born into this world is precious in God’s sight. When we come to him, with all our varied needs, we can be sure he will never turn us away.

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Maria Lyle wins gold

At a time when the news is dominated by bad news stories the International Paralympics Committee Athletics European Championships in Swansea have been a wonderful example of people achieving great things. The story of Maria Lyle, from Dunbar in Scotland, is so encouraging. Maria has Cerebral Palsy which causes muscle weakness and stiffness, and balance and coordination problems. Maria, who is just 14 years old, won the T35 100 metres gold medal, a category for those with Cerebral Palsy. She also broke the world record. Two days later she won the T35 200 metres gold medal.

When she was a child Maria needed splints to help her to walk. She found sport hard because of her tight muscles caused by Cerebral Palsy. When she was 10 years old she went to the local running club and found she could keep up with and beat many of her friends. She began competing in able-bodied competitions and later in disability athletics. Just 4 years later she has won two European gold medals! She enjoys setting goals and challenges for herself to see if she can achieve them. She said, “It’s a good feeling to know you have a purpose and feel rewarded for the hard work and effort you put in.” Her sporting hero is Usain Bolt, not only because of his speed, but because he so obviously enjoys what he does.

In Psalm 139 David reflects on the fact that God knows him personally and intimately. It was God who had made him the person he was. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

God has created each of us with the potential to overcome adversity and to accomplish really good things. What matters most is the kind of people we are in our hearts, our inner self. We all need a goal and a sense of purpose in our lives. Our ultimate goal is heaven, where God dwells. Jesus is the way to that wonderful place where there will be no disabilities, but unending joy and fulfilment in the presence of God.

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Stephen is 40!

Recently my wife and I attended a very special 40th birthday party. Stephen was born with multiple disabilities, both physical and mental. He was Carla and Franco’s first child and the full extent of his disabilities only became apparent after he was born. A doctor at the hospital, who realised the implications of Stephen’s disabilities and, no doubt, wanted to help, advised Carla and Franco to leave Stephen in the hospital and carry on with their own lives. They didn’t take his advice.

The challenges of caring for Stephen were very great, but Carla and Franco committed themselves to his care. Although Stephen cannot speak he has always known that he is loved. His mother has gladly given her life to caring for him. She is a wonderful example of motherhood and unconditional love. Caring for Stephen has not meant social isolation but has brought a wide circle of friends who have played a part in encouraging and supporting Stephen and Carla over the past 40 years. Stephen now lives in a house in the community with a wonderful team of carers. More than 100 people came to his 40th birthday party including family members, friends, social workers, carers and other disabled people.

When Stephen was in his early teens Carla met some Christians who began to help with Stephen’s care and shared with her the good news about Jesus. As a result Carla experienced God’s love in Jesus and became a Christian. Soon after Stephen became seriously ill and lost his sight. He was so ill that it looked as if he was going to die. Carla and Franco prayed to God for his help. They remembered how a man called Jairus came to Jesus pleading on behalf of his 12 year old daughter who was dying. Jesus responded to Jairus’s urgent request and healed the little girl.

One evening Carla and Franco and the church leaders met to ask God to make Stephen well, although, at that time, the future was very uncertain. God heard their prayers. Stephen began to recover and now 25 years later is really well. He knows God’s love for him and is a member of the church family. He loves coming to the services. At the birthday party everyone sang Stephen’s favourite hymn, “Living he loved me; dying he saved me; Buried he carried my sins far away! Rising, he justified freely for ever; One day he’s coming – O glorious day!”

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Inspiration from the Paralympic Games

The Paralympic Games is an inspiring event. It has been a privilege to see the skills and dedication of the athletes, cyclists, swimmers and other competitors. Watching a young Chinese girl, who has no arms, winning the 100 metres race in a new world record time was amazing. The joy of those who have won medals, and of those who have not, has been great to see. Their sheer thrill at just taking part in the Paralympics has been evident for all to see.

The Paralympians are an example to us all as they have overcome serious physical disabilities and injuries. They have faced very big issues in their lives and have shown great courage to come through them as better people. This is an encouragement to us, as we face other kinds of challenges, to believe that we, too, can win through to find meaning and fulfilment.

Many years ago I read the amazing story of Joni Eareckson. On 30 July 1967 Joni, who was then 17, dived into Chesapeake Bay not realising that the water was shallow. She suffered a fracture of her spine and became a quadriplegic, paralysed from the shoulders down. In her autobiography, entitled “Joni, the unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggles against quadriplegia and depression,” she describes her struggle to come to terms with her injuries and the total change in her life and hopes. She was totally dependent on others and confined to a wheelchair. During two years of rehabilitation she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts and struggles with her faith in Jesus.

With God’s help she came through all this. She learned to paint with a brush between her teeth and was able to sell her pictures. She has written more than 40 books, recorded music albums and starred in a film about her life. She has become a great advocate for disabled people. In 1982 she married Ken Tada and has recently come through surgery for breast cancer.

What shines through her life is that following her accident Joni has become a wonderful person. Instead of destroying her, she has grown through it. We wish that the accident had never happened but, in her severely disabled body, a beautiful person has blossomed. She has brought hope to many others facing big problems. Her life has not been easy, but she knows that one day all her struggles will be over and she will be with her Saviour in heaven for ever.