I’m Gonna Run Away From You

Wouldn’t it be great to hop into a time machine and escape the troubles of the 21st Century? Or just say goodbye to that annoying boss, spouse, in-laws, loan shark or school bully! The video above is just for fun, but for some people running away from your problems seems the only way out.

Linda’s husband had been declared legally dead in 2003 after disappearing from his home in Indianapolis ten years earlier. On the day he disappeared, Richard Hoagland phoned his wife at work saying he was ill and was on his way to hospital. That was the last time she heard from him. She was left to bring up their two sons, Matthew and Doug, alone; a broken woman.

Fast forward to July 2016, when police one thousand miles away in Pasco County, Florida arrested him for identity fraud. Since fleeing Indianapolis, he had stolen the identity of Terry Jude Symansky, a deceased fisherman, married again and had another child. And his reason for running away? He had “family issues with his wife and children.”

Richard Hoagland isn’t the first of course. Lord Lucan, for instance, vanished in November 1974 after the murder of his son’s nanny at their home in London’s Belgravia. He has never been found. Then two weeks later, John Stonehouse, the British Member of Parliament, and alleged secret agent for Czechoslovakia, faked his own death on a beach in Miami, but was arrested in Australia one month later.

Life isn’t easy, but running away is not always the answer. Jesus told a story about a son that ran away. He took his share of his future inheritance, ran to a far country and spent everything, while having what he thought was a good time. When the money was gone, reality hit. He was reduced to feeding pigs for a living. Eventually he came to his senses and realised that his father’s servants were better off than he was. So ashamed of his failure and planning to ask his father for a job, he headed for home. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and filled with compassion he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him. His past mistakes were forgiven and forgotten; he was a member of the family once again.

So what about us? What about you? Is there something in your life that you can’t face alone? Something that you’d like to run away from? As Jennifer Benson Schuldt writes for Our Daily Bread: “The reality is that we aren’t on our own. God is there, ready to help and comfort us … Jesus understands our fears and problems because He lived on the earth as a human and endured the same types of trouble we face … All we have to do is turn away from whatever scares us, and run in His direction.”

“Do you know where you’re going to?”

diana-ross
Diana Ross

 

No apologies today for a post to make us think – me included!

There is so much good in our world, yet so often these days we hear the tragic news of promising young lives cut short. Just this weekend we heard of the fatal shooting of Prince William County Police Officer Ashley Guindon near Woodbridge, Virginia, USA. Ashley was only 29 years old, and was on her first shift after only being sworn in the day before. Ashley was shot while investigating a domestic disturbance in which the suspect’s wife also died. Two other officers were injured.

1602 - Ashley Guindon
Ashley Guindon (centre)

Ashley was a talented individual. She held a degree in aeronautics and a license to fly historical aircraft. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this time.

If there is one thing we can learn from this tragic incident, it is that we cannot take the future for granted, no matter how old we are. When applying to draw certain types of pension, the finance company will estimate how many years they think you have left to live – what a reality check! Yet that estimate may be years out. However, the question should not be, “How long have I got left?”, but “Do I know where I’m going to when it happens?”

Every year millions of us pay our annual subscription for breakdown cover in case we need to call out a mechanic on our journey. We want to make sure we arrive at our destination; but surely our eternal destination is of far greater importance?

The good news is that there is a Divine Power, a Supreme Being, our Creator, who knows all about us, including how long we’ve got left, yet loves and cares for us. He offers us a fresh start, forgiveness and peace of mind now, not based on what we’ve done, but based on what Jesus did for each one of us, when He went to the cross in our place, paying the price for our record of wrong. He offers us a life of freedom, purpose and hope, and not only that, but also a new life in eternity.

With all that on offer, the question comes to mind, as sung by artists including Thelma Houston, Diana Ross and  Mariah Carey:

“Do you know where you’re going to?

Do you like the things that life is showing you

Where are you going to?

Do you know?

Do you get

What you’re hoping for

When you look behind you

There’s no open door

What are you hoping for?

Do you know?”

One day, when you step into eternity, you will look behind you and there’ll be no open door, no way back. Will you then be glad you made the best decision ever, knowing perfect love, acceptance, peace and security or will your future be filled with regret? An ancient spiritual leader once said, “Choose life!”

“Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” is a song written by Michael Masser and Gerald Goffin, and recorded by American singers Thelma Houston in 1973, and most notably Diana Ross as the theme to the 1975 Motown/Paramount film Mahogany.

From death to life

Outside the empty tomb

Today we remember the culmination of a battle won, we celebrate a great victory. It’s a victory that has changed the course of history and dramatically altered the quality of life of millions on this planet, yet strangely is understood by so few.

Almost two thousand years ago, and documented by a variety of historians of the time, Jesus died on a Roman cross outside the walls of Jerusalem; but His death was planned before the world began. In fact He said that He came to give His life as a ransom. It was to be a divine exchange: Jesus’ perfection sacrificed for our guilt, that we may go free, forgiven, accepted and cleansed for all eternity.

Death is a formidable enemy. It is something that none of us can avoid, but it was helpless against Jesus. Yes, He succumbed to death, but that was His choice. It could not hold Him, as hundreds of witnesses at the time could testify (1 Corinthians 15:6). He rose from the dead, even keeping an appointment in Galilee that He made before His death (Matthew 26:32; John 21).

Throughout His time on earth, He frequently spoke about life; not just humdrum, everyday life, but a new quality of life that continues into eternity, and that is on offer to all who will put their trust in Him. John, one of His closest followers, records His words: “I came to give life with joy and abundance.” “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” “Whoever trusts in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life.” “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

However, Jesus didn’t just talk about it, He fought the battle with death and came out the victor, and because of what He did two thousand years ago, we have the opportunity today to receive that free gift of life, life in all its fulness, life for all eternity.

To find out more, check out: Time to Change.

You’re wrong, I’m right!

CartoonAn inch – the exact length of the tip of my little finger! Or for those who are unfamiliar with Imperial measurements: 2.54 cm. That short distance is at the centre of a court case brought by two men from New Jersey, John Farley and Charles Pendrak. They are taking the sandwich shop chain Subway to court because the “Footlong” sandwiches they bought were one inch (or less) shorter than a foot. However, whether the two men lost out at all is contentious. The Life Inc. website reports that, “online commenters identifying themselves as Subway employees speculated that the consumers were receiving exactly the same dough as others who got 12-inch subs, but that the dough, which arrives frozen at franchise locations, hadn’t been properly tugged, pulled and “proofed” before it was baked.”

To be fair I must declare an interest, having bought some very tasty £3 Subway lunches on one or two business trips recently. But what’s your verdict? Should their dough just have been tugged a bit further or was Subway already aware that its ‘Footlongs’ were not a foot long? Should these men be rewarded for standing up for “the little guy”, and not allowing big business to trample all over them – remembering that Subway is run on a franchise system, so all their shops are “little guys”? Or do you think that there are more important matters in this world, personal crises in many people’s lives – even in the States – people who genuinely deserve their day in court, if only there was someone to represent them? These questions are rarely black and white.

We may not take people to court over the length of a sandwich, but we may still judge people in our hearts, often without having the full facts. God once reminded the prophet Samuel, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) What about the homeless guy whom we see in the street? I heard this week of a former chauffeur to a foreign royal family, who is now living on the streets of Britain.  As the saying goes, there but for the grace of God go I.

We all make mistakes, it’s part of being human – even so, we need to accept others and allow them to be who they are. OK, if someone’s committed a crime there should be justice, but for most of us, whether it’s a fashion faux-pas, a slip of the tongue, our skin colour or even a life on the streets, what we need is encouragement not judgement.

Jesus was not one to criticise or condemn, unless you were a religious hypocrite that is; instead he showed love and compassion to the downtrodden and the marginalised, becoming known as “a friend of sinners”. The religious leaders once brought to him a woman caught with a man who wasn’t her husband. The legal sentence was death by stoning. Jesus answered, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” The crowd began to melt away. When the last of her accusers had gone, Jesus’ response was one of understanding and forgiveness. “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?”  he asked.

“No one, sir,” she answered.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.” (John 8:2-11)

Why, oh why?

a Christmas wreath

It’s with hearts tinged with sadness that we draw closer to Christmas. We were all shocked by yesterday’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut when, after killing his mother, a lone gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot 26 people dead, including 20 children. Our sympathies go out very much to the bereaved families. Dannel Malloy, the state governor, said yesterday, “We’ll do whatever we can to overcome this event.” But how can something like this be overcome, how can good come out of something so evil?

Darrell Scott’s 17 year-old daughter Rachel was the first student to be killed at the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. Speaking yesterday to Fox News Darrell said, “We made a choice not to be angry or bitter, but to celebrate Rachel’s life.” In memory of Rachel he set-up a foundation called “Rachel’s Challenge”. It has seen seven school shootings and over 500 suicides prevented through its work. It’s website describes it as “a series of student empowering programs and strategies … to combat bullying and allay feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion. The programs are based on the writings and life of Rachel Scott. … Rachel left a legacy of reaching out to those who were different, who were picked on by others, or who were new at her school. Shortly before her death she wrote, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.””

Rachel’s father Darrell went on to say, “The answers are long term. They’re not just a knee-jerk reaction on gun control or more laws, … but we have got to be a kinder nation. We have got to take time to listen to one another, to love one another, to be role models to these kids.”

As Peter, a follower of Jesus, once wrote: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9)

This is not just true for American society, but for us all. For the sake of our children, our world needs to wake up and look at the society that we have created. For instance, there is a movie currently being promoted in the UK about a serial killer. How can this be entertainment? We need to question what motivates us as a society; but most of all we need to show love, acceptance and encouragement to our young people, that they might grow up as a loving and integrated community, from which no one will feel excluded. Who knows the difference we personally can make this Christmas? As Rachel wrote: No one knows “how far a little kindness can go.”

To read one Sandy Hook mum’s story click here.

Love your enemies

Enniskillen war memorial
Enniskillen in more peaceful times (Photo: Dean Molyneaux)

Jesus is different. He asks us to live in a way that is contrary to the rest of the world. We humble ourselves to become great; to receive, we give away. It’s challenging and often difficult to do. Yet when we do these things, our example has power to change the world. Of all Jesus’ commands none is more challenging than to “Love your enemies”.

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31)

Loving your enemies also includes forgiving them – something misunderstood by so many. In the UK one of the greatest examples of love and forgiveness in recent years happened 25 years ago this month on 8th November 1987, when the IRA detonated a bomb that killed eleven people and injured 68 in the town of Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. It was Remembrance Sunday. Committed Christian Gordon Wilson and his twenty year old daughter Marie were standing at the war memorial when the bomb went off. Marie died from the injuries she received in the explosion. Following the tragedy, Gordon Wilson was interviewed by the BBC. “I bear no ill will to anybody nor does my wife,” he said. He also added that he had prayed for the bombers.

“The words that he spoke during that interview went global, touching the hearts of millions including the Queen,” wrote Mervyn Jess of BBC News. Many believe that the huge media coverage along with Gordon Wilson’s reaction transformed it from a tragedy to a turning point in the troubled history of Northern Ireland.

Citizens of Mogadishu
Peace slowly returning to Mogadishu

This week’s ‘Unreported World’ documentary shown this week on the UK’s Channel 4 showed that it’s not just followers of Jesus that have the will to forgive. Ahmed Jama Mohamed arrived in the UK as a child, where he trained as a chef and set up a successful restaurant before returning to war-torn Somalia, leaving his wife and children in the relative safety of London. His aim, to bring peace and normality back to his homeland.

On the Channel 4 website, Aidan Hartley, a journalist with many years experience of Somalia, writes: “Ahmed Jama is a man who serves up hope one meal at a time for a people spat out and exhausted by war. His one-man peace process is to cook comfort food, to bring Somalis back to the table in Mogadishu to enjoy a meal with loved ones, to provide them with the space to enjoy time talking, to pass the time – something that endless, total war has denied them for almost a generation.” Just days before filming, two suicide bombers burst in, shooting at customers before blowing themselves up in his restaurant. Twenty people were murdered. The Islamist perpetrators gloated over the deaths and promised to strike again. When asked if he felt angry and resentful, Ahmed Jama replied, “We have to show forgiveness.”

It is in responding to the difficulty of God’s challenge to love our enemies that we recognise afresh our inability to be all that God calls us to be. Even the apostle Paul, who, as a follower of Jesus, never seemed to put a foot wrong, admitted “I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it.” (Romans 7:18) If our world is to live in peace, we personally need to be made anew. No wonder Jesus said: “You must be born again.” (John 3:7)

Welcome home!

Welcome Home sign

According to a Swedish newspaper, he was one of the U.S. Air Force’s eight most wanted fugitives. After living under an assumed name for the last 28 years David Hemler, a deserter from the U.S. Air Force, has finally broken cover, admitting his real identity and making contact with his family in the United States. He has been living secretly in Sweden since 1984, and has a wife and three children and a job with a Swedish government agency.

He deserted at the age of 21 while serving with the U.S. Air Force in Germany. “I never planned on not telling the truth in the beginning. I intended to come to Sweden until I felt better, I expected a week or so,” Hemler said in a newspaper video. He missed his parents after he deserted, but after having his first child he hadn’t wanted to be separated from her.

It was four weeks ago that he finally made contact with his family in the United States, speaking first to his brother Thomas, who said, “I heard immediately it was David, even if he had a strange European accent after all these years.” His family were reported to be overwhelmed to hear he was still alive. David’s future now depends on the reaction of the U.S. and Swedish authorities.

There are many parents whose child has gone missing, and are longing for that phone call to tell them their son or daughter is still alive. Jesus told a story about a young man, who asked for his share of his father’s estate, while his father was still alive. He then took it and went abroad where he spent it all on parties and wild living. When the money had gone, he got a low-paid job feeding pigs. He was starving and began to think of his family home, where even the servants were better off than him. He decided to bury his pride and return. “‘I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:18-24)

And the moral of the story? Well, the father represents God, and of course the son represents you and me. God is waiting with open arms to welcome all who realise they can’t make it on their own, who admit they’ve blown it; you included. No matter what we’ve done, no matter where we’ve been, His love for us never fails. All we need to do is turn to Him.

The Passover Lamb

The Cross
The Passover Lamb

Tomorrow is Good Friday, the first day of the Easter weekend. Cadbury’s Creme Eggs have been in the shops for months, and families are packing for the Easter getaway.

This year Easter falls at the same time as the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover). In fact that famous Easter meal, the Last Supper, was actually a very Jewish Passover meal, where a Jewish rabbi and his twelve students recalled the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This meal was a bitter-sweet occasion for the rabbi as only he knew that he would leave there to face torture and death. It was to be his life for ours, his goodness and purity for our wrongdoing and rebellion. Just as Jewish people around the world remember the Passover lamb that gave its life to save the lives of others, here we have Jesus – his real name was Yeshua – who had lived a spotless life, but gave it so that others may be free, forgiven, accepted and loved by their Creator. In so doing he fulfilled the prophecies of the Hebrew King David and the prophet Isaiah.

Another rabbi, Sha’ul, or Paul the apostle as he’s more commonly known, writes about this event, but in doing so he leaves a challenge for us all.

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t only look out  for your own interests, but take an interest in others too. You must have the same attitude as that of Yeshua the Messiah:

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:3-11)