Don’t … Leave it out!

Train notice

The excellent BBC documentary The Tube showed the delays that can be caused by just one passenger obstructing the doors of  a London Underground train. While travelling on the London Underground this week, or the Tube as it’s more commonly known, I was reminded that the usual safety warning on the carriage doors has changed in recent years. It used to read, “Obstructing the doors causes delay and can be dangerous,” although often some wit had scratched out certain letters, leaving, instead of a safety warning, the self-defeating instruction: “Obstruct the doors, cause delay and anger us!”

Choosing certain letters and rejecting others reminds me of those who pick and choose which parts of God’s message, the Bible, they want to believe, as if they alone had authority to alter ancient scripture; with the eternal destination of millions hanging on what they feel like believing. Of course, it’s not wrong to question, but to have a serious opinion you need to check out the evidence for and against your point of view.

Today I came across a small pamphlet on a controversial subject. It was entitled: Hell. Suppose It’s True After All? The text described a conversation between two friends, who decided that hell is a myth, because a God of love wouldn’t condemn His creatures to everlasting punishment. Then after sitting silently for a moment, “one of them looked up and said … “Suppose it is true after all?”” Suppose that same God of love spoke about hell to warn His beloved creation that there is a hell to avoid? Suppose the very reason that that same God of love came to earth, taking on human form, was to provide a way of escape for all who aspire to a more positive, a more exciting, a more satisfying eternity? Many years before Jesus was born, God spoke through Moses: “Choose life, so that you and your children may live …” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Why does London Underground put warning notices on the doors of tube trains? Perhaps it’s because obstructing the doors causes delay and can be dangerous. Why did Jesus warn us about hell? Perhaps it’s because He loves us so much.



Icy waters

Today, 15th April 2012, is the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean, accompanied by the tragic loss of over 1,500 lives; a loss still keenly felt by the families and descendants of those who were lost.

The Titanic was a great ship, a pinnacle of human endeavour. At the time she was the largest man-made, moveable object in the world. She was built by a dedicated team of engineers for the White Star Line at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, and was said to be unsinkable. Yet human fallibility and the power of nature were overlooked in the pride of human achievement. One survivor, Eva Hart, a 7-year-old girl from England, had been travelling in second class with her parents. Her mother Esther was troubled by the claims that were being made about the ship. Eva later recalled her mother’s comments: “I don’t like this ship, because a vessel called unsinkable was flying in the face of God.”

Although designed to hold thirty-two lifeboats, only twenty were on board. The White Star management had been concerned that too many boats would spoil the beauty of the ship. Those twenty boats could only hold 1,178 people. That day the Titanic was carrying 2,200 passengers and crew. So even if her lifeboats had been fully loaded, many were destined to drown.

On the evening of 14th, Titanic’s two wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride received ice warnings from ships in the area, which tragically went unheeded. However, once the ship had been holed Jack Phillips bravely stayed at his post sending distress signals and requesting help almost until the ship finally went down.

The story of the Titanic closely mirrors our present society. We think our way of life is unsinkable. We feel we can live as we please, and in one sense we should all be allowed free will, but we must never forget that our decisions and actions have consequences, good and bad. So how good of our Creator, having a deep love for us His creation, to have given us guidelines for how to make the right decisions and how to get the best out of life, and warnings so that we might avoid disaster. Not only that but He came to teach us in person, living amongst us for over thirty years before paying the penalty for my rebellion, and yours! As the scriptures tell us, “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1v2)

Sea travel is now guided by an international agreement, the Safety of Life at Sea, which, had it been around in 1912, may have averted the Titanic disaster. Today’s society has the Bible, a fascinating book of history, prophecy, poetry and most of all divine instruction for a happy life, but has our society learnt to heed its warnings and live accordingly, or do we still say, “It will never happen!”

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For … how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2v1,3)

Working for what?

coal miner
working man

In his recent Channel 4 documentary on UK television, Niall Ferguson suggested that the “killer app”, the main contributor to the economic and material success of certain Western nations, particularly Germany, the UK and USA, has been the Protestant work ethic. Today however, we see the UK losing its place as a major player in the world at the same time as its population has become increasingly secular.

This success has not been shared to the same extent by predominantly Roman Catholic countries; take for instance the way the USA has outshone the South American nations. You may argue that Asian nations like China are now coming to the fore, but did you know that the Chinese church is growing rapidly? There are estimated to be 50 – 100 million Christians in China today. So why have the Protestant nations been prone to hard work? What has made the difference? I suggest that there is a direct correlation between hard work and a personal knowledge of the Bible. So what is the Bible’s attitude to work?

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thess. 4:11-12)

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

It may be called the “Protestant” work ethic, but the Jewish scriptures have the same emphasis:

“You people who don’t want to work, think about the ant! Consider its ways and be wise!” (Proverbs 6:6)

Given the Bible’s emphasis on hard work, it is strange to note that its main message, i.e. how we find peace with our Creator, is not based on work at all, but simply on faith. Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus:

“You have been saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. It was not the result of your own efforts, so you cannot boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

How many of us make the mistake of trying to impress God with our own efforts, rather than choosing God’s way, that of receiving His gift of love and forgiveness simply by trust?