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Thought

Remembering God

Spring is coming. It’s a lovely time of the year. The dark drab days of winter are beginning to recede and the days are getting longer. Snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are blooming; birds are beginning to build nests; lawns are being cut for the first time. This year, however, there are real problems to face. In Britain hundreds of people are clearing up after the floods and it may be months before they can move back into their homes. The coronavirus continues to spread with almost 90,000 confirmed cases worldwide and more than 3000 deaths. Medical services in many countries are working hard to contain the spread of the virus.

Today, we live in a secular society in which the spiritual dimension has been specifically excluded. In times of crisis we hear of the need for “political” and “military” solutions. Our only hope is in people and their limited wisdom and skills. This was not always the case. Since at least the 9th century monarchs have ordered petitionary prayers to be said in the event of national disasters – such as bad weather or plague – as well as for man-made threats, such as war. In the past people believed in the overruling providence of God in all situations of life and prayed to God for help. In times of personal crisis today many ordinary people still cry out to God for help.

In May 1940, when the German High Command was preparing to “annihilate the British Army”, King George VI requested that a National Day of Prayer be convened on Sunday 26 May for God’s gracious intervention. On that day the nation, in an unprecedented way, devoted itself to prayer. Churches and cathedrals were overflowing with people. With the Allied forces at his mercy Hitler, for some unknown reason, ordered his army to halt for three days and bad weather grounded the Luftwaffe. In those days 338,000 Allied troops were evacuated in a flotilla of boats. On Sunday 9 June a National Day of Thanksgiving was called and Churchill spoke of “the miracle of Dunkirk”.

The creation itself testifies to the power and goodness of God. The earth is unique in the known universe: with the abundance of water and life of all kinds. As we face an environmental crisis, and some people talk of the “extinction” of the human race, how reassuring it is to know that the God who created all things also upholds and sustains all things. We are frail and vulnerable but there is an almighty hand that graciously guides the course of history.

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Thought

The God of hope

A New Year has dawned. The holiday is over and life is returning to its normal daily routine. The days are dark and wet, and the credit card bills will soon arrive. The new year is a time to look forward, but the future looks very uncertain. Following the floods, climate change is on many people’s minds. Stock exchanges are fragile and the economic future is not good. The moral foundations which undergirded our society are being eroded. It’s clear that our leaders are facing problems that are too big for them.

In the middle of the first century the apostle Paul wrote a letter to Christians in Rome. The moral corruption, that would eventually lead to the the fall of the Roman Empire, was already taking hold and these Christians were facing persecution. Paul himself would soon be imprisoned for his faith in Jesus and would be martyred, along with many other Christians, at the command of Nero. The personal future of Paul and the Christians was very uncertain.

Near the end of the letter Paul wrote, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.” These words speak to us today. Hope for the future comes not from ourselves, or from those who have power and influence, but from God. He is the God of hope! As we entrust ourselves and our future to him he fills us with joy and peace. Ultimately the world and our lives are not at the mercy of evil people, but are in the hands of a gracious God who gives us a hope that is real.

A few weeks before Christmas, in the little village of Capriana in Moldova, something happened which is a sign of the hope God gives to ordinary people. God has given some Moldovan Christian ladies a deep love and concern for the forgotten people living in the terrible closed institutions in Moldova in which people are locked away, often for very trivial reasons. Life in the institutions is very harsh and, normally, there is no hope of release. A new house, Casa Ana, has been built in Capriana, which is now the home of 6 ladies from one of these closed institutions, and it was officially opened before Christmas. One of the Christian ladies involved in establishing the home said, “We wanted to give these people a future and a hope!” That’s exactly what “the God of hope” does for us as we entrust ourselves, and our future, to him.

You can watch a short video of the opening of Casa Ana at https://vimeo.com/148361564

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Thought

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.

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Thought

The Sign of the Rainbow

Large parts of southern Britain have been affected by flooding which has caused serious damage to homes and businesses. Our hearts go out to those whose property has been damaged and destroyed, in some cases not for the first time. Many houses have been built on a flood plane with inadequate flood protection. Rivers naturally overflowing their banks cause little damage when it leads simply to flooded fields. Storms have also hit coastal areas with high tides and strong winds. Parts of the promenade at Aberystwyth have been seriously damaged. I studied for 4 years in Aberystwyth and have walked that promenade hundreds of times. I have often seen waves breaking over the prom, and stones being thrown high into the air, but the recent storms have been much more powerful and destructive.

The power of the wind and the sea makes us realise our limitations. We stand helpless in the face of them. The cost of repairing the damage caused by the storms and floods will be very high and the work will take a long time. It took workmen with JCBs a few days to clear the main road through Newgale in Pembrokeshire of the stones which the sea had moved in a few hours.

The Bible describes a great Flood in the time of Noah which affected the whole world. The historic traditions of many peoples and nations around the world also remember this. The Flood was God’s judgement on great human wickedness. Violence and depravity was everywhere and the thoughts of people’s hearts were consistently and totally evil. The Flood was devastating and destroyed all people and animals except those who were in the ark that Noah built.

Today there is also great wickedness in our world, as the daily news reports remind us. People in our world are doing many things which deserve God’s righteous judgement. Yet the stability of the natural world is being maintained by God who, after the Flood, made a wonderful promise to Noah. God said, “I solemnly promise never to send another flood to kill all living creatures and destroy the earth. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my permanent promise to you and all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and everything that lives. Never again will there be a flood that will destroy all life.”

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Thought

Compassion for those facing disaster in Pakistan

The floods in Pakistan have been devastating. They began more than two weeks ago in the mountainous north-west of Pakistan and have swept south across a quarter of the country including its agricultural heartland. The monsoon rains continue to fall and have affected 20 million people in an area the size of England.

At least 1500 people have died and diseases like cholera threaten the lives of many more, especially children. People have lost their homes and possessions, their animals and crops and face a very uncertain future. They need food, emergency shelters, medicines and clean water. The long term economic consequences for Pakistan are very serious. This disaster is the latest in a string of disasters this year that have affected millions of people in many parts of the world.

We live on a very beautiful planet which provides a rich abundance of natural resources, enough to provide for everyone. Yet in several ways we are reminded that all is not well. Disasters reveal the massive power of natural forces against which we feel helpless. Human sin and corruption spoil and mar the lives of many and often contribute to the effects of natural disasters.

Disasters are not a sign that the people who experience them are especially sinful. Many who suffer are young children. In the Bible we are told of the experience of Job, a very rich man who lived a righteous life. Yet he suffered great personal tragedy as he lost his crops, animals, home and all his children. In the face of this tragic loss he put his trust in God saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I shall depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

We often strive to understand why such things happen and want to find answers to our questions. The answers are at best tentative and partial. Job experienced something better. God didn’t answer all his questions, but he drew near to Job in his anguish and suffering. God showed him his compassion and mercy so that Job could say, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” Let us pray that those who are suffering so much today will not only receive the humanitarian aid they so desperately need but will also know the compassion and mercy of God.