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.


Going underground

London Underground sign

From Kew Gardens to the Tower, from Baker Street to Elephant & Castle, from Wembley to London Bridge and from Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus; for millions of Londoners, the London Underground, or ‘the Tube’ as it’s more commonly known, is occasionally fast, sometimes noisy, often crowded and generally the most effective way of getting around the UK’s capital city. Exactly 150 years ago today on 9th January 1863, the first passenger journey on the world’s first underground railway took place. In those days it was known as the Metropolitan Railway. It ran from London’s Paddington railway station to Farringdon, a journey of three-and-a-half miles, and was hauled by a steam train.

The Metropolitan Railway Company had difficulty in proving to potential backers that the scheme was viable, not least because of negative stories in the press. ‘The Times’ newspaper, for instance, described the project as ‘an insult to common sense’. Others argued that passengers would be poisoned by the sulphurous smoke from the engines, and that the tunnels would collapse under the weight of the traffic above. Today however, London Underground has 270 stations and carries more than three million passengers a day.

The Metropolitan Railway’s detractors had no idea how popular the underground railway would become, but more pointedly they had no vision for anything but the status quo. Jesus faced the same problem. His coming had been prophesied hundreds of years before in the Jewish scriptures. Details like his birth at Bethlehem, his healing miracles and his suffering, death and resurrection were all foretold by the prophets. Yet when he began to teach and preach, privately declaring himself to be the long-awaited Messiah, the religious hierarchy didn’t recognise him. They weren’t prepared for something new. They were expecting a Messiah who would free them from Roman occupation not from personal wrongdoing; a Messiah who would come in power not in weakness; a Messiah who would come from God, not claim to be God. They couldn’t think outside the box.

Today that same Jesus, who turned the world upside down 2,000 years ago, is wanting to do the same with your life. He’s looking for people who see beyond the status quo, who will love the unlovely, who will go the extra mile, who will put him first and trust him for their future. As Rabbi Sha’ul once wrote: “I press on to take hold of that for which Jesus the Messiah took hold of me. … one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus the Messiah.” (Philippians 3:12-14 TNIV)

What’s it all about?

Bored man in Christmas hat

The stores have been full of Christmas goods for weeks; you’ve probably heard more than enough of ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’; your bank account is probably looking rather forlorn and the children’s excitement will soon be nearing fever-pitch. Enough already! In some countries of course, Christmas comes and goes almost unnoticed, as Christmas presents, or even a proper meal and a roof over one’s head, are only a dream. What’s the point of Christmas?

For others, Christmas is a magical time, the food, the presents and the opportunity to relax and indulge make Christmas the highlight of the year, but is that all there is to Christmas?

Before you give up on Christmas altogether, take a quick look at this video of ‘Christmas in a Nutshell’. In 1 minute 59 seconds it gives us the answer to “Why Christmas?” So when Christmas Day comes and goes, the presents are all unwrapped, the alcohol drunk, and you think what was that all about, you will have learnt the secret, not just of Christmas, but of life itself. Take a look!

The God who hides

Girl thinking
Why does God hide?

“We really were at our wits’ end! When I was telling friends about it, they were looking at me and thinking I was going round the bend.” So said Paul Henry, a retired print worker, who lives with his wife Jeanette in Essex, UK. A constant beeping noise had plagued their home for more than a year, but its source proved elusive. When the occasional beep increased to happening every 30 seconds it was the last straw. They paid for an electrician to test their home’s wiring. He suggested a builder may have left a smoke alarm behind a wall panel. So they hired a builder to knock holes in two of their walls with a sledgehammer, but nothing was found. The couple now have a gaping hole in their wall, which is expected to cost hundreds of pounds to repair.

Just as it was all getting too much, Mr Henry decided to search through a chest of drawers. Right at the bottom he found the culprit, a five year old smoke detector, with a ten year old battery which was running out. Upon finding the alarm, Mr Henry smashed it to pieces with a hammer.

Sometimes we hide things for a reason, but in a situation like this the sooner something is found the better. Isaiah, the Eighth Century Hebrew prophet, once wrote “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Saviour of Israel.” (Isaiah 45:15) God hides Himself, what a strange thought! If God wants to be known, if God wants us to learn from Him and benefit thereby, why does He hide Himself? Why is God not so obvious to everyone? Why can atheists claim that God doesn’t exist, and not be challenged by all for their foolishness?

Perhaps it’s because if God was so obvious, very few would take the trouble to enquire further. God is looking for those who are sincere and passionate in their desire to know Him. It takes effort to build a relationship with anyone, God included. But does God really hide Himself?

We have two very obvious ways in which God has revealed Himself to us; first in nature. When we see the complexity of DNA, the power of the seas, the vastness of the universe and the beauty inherent in so much of our world, we see the hand of God. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “what may be known about God is plain to (mankind), because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20) The second way in which God has revealed Himself to us is through Jesus. He left His home in Heaven to spend approximately thirty-three years living with us, as one of us. He knew what it was to work, to laugh, to cry, to suffer and to die – and to rise again! Here was “Immanuel – God with us” (Isaiah 7:14) working miracles, showing love and compassion to the lost, challenging the religious hypocrites, speaking words of wisdom and authority that no one could contradict. Two thousand years have now gone by, but there has been no one to rival the Man whose “origins are from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:1-2) As Jesus Himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

God hides Himself that we might know Him better.

Life’s ups and downs

During the last eleven days of Paralympic competition we have marvelled at the triumphs and achievements of disabled athletes. Yesterday, before the closing ceremony, I met with a visually impaired friend who has a great sense of humour, and who is into sport in a big way, football in fact … as a spectator. So much so he has even been featured on television. Then last summer I had the pleasure of spending two weeks with another visually impaired friend, who again was always joking, and indeed in this short (1 min. 26 sec.) video it is the visually impaired person (or stunt man), who is the star. The joke is on the hapless members of the public, who have innocently agreed to help, but who are at loss to manage a situation that is rapidly getting out of control.

Both the blind man and the members of the public are getting carried along by events. The blind man is confident because he has total trust in the crane driver who is raising and lowering the platforms. The members of the public, on the other hand, can see things happening and are alarmed because they don’t realise that somebody else is in control.

Our lives do have their ups and downs, and we sometimes forget that we have a loving Creator, but we can remain calm when we commit each situation to Him, knowing that His eye is upon us and His invisible hand will guide our way. King Solomon once wrote: “Trust in God with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Seek his will in all you do, and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) No matter how good or bad the situation, God is watching over us to guide us and to help us through.

The value of a life

wheelchair athlete

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are now well and truly under way. For another nine days we can marvel at the skills and feats of endurance performed by a whole host of disabled athletes from around the world. The Paralympics are an example to us all of how barriers can be overcome and just how much can be achieved through determination, effort and hard work.

That determination was mirrored to me recently by a friend who was expecting her first child. During her pregnancy, tests showed that sadly all was not right. Her baby had a serious heart problem as well as other complications. The doctors suggested she should have her child aborted, but she and her husband were determined to give him the right to live, and refused to give in. Being a believer in Jesus, she knew that God had power to heal her child, but if He chose not to she also knew that He would give them the strength to cope. Many people were praying for them. It’s a few weeks now since she gave birth to her son. There was no trace of the serious heart problem, and after a day or two in the intensive care unit he was home and feeding properly, but will still need certain medical care. Who knows, because of his mother’s determination, he may become an athlete himself one day.

Disabled athletes have many ‘hurdles’ to overcome, but they keep going. Their endurance is an example to us all. Life isn’t easy for any of us, but through prayer and perseverance we too can make progress in our journey through life. Instead of giving up, we can look to our Creator. In the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote that “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:13). God is interested in each one of His children, and as we draw close to Him, we can be sure that He is there to strengthen and support us. As God once said through the prophet Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Could this be Nessie?

hump in water
Could this be Nessie? (Courtesy of Daily Record)

Could this be Nessie? Do we finally have photographic evidence of the existence of the Loch Ness monster? A photograph taken by long-time Nessie watcher George Edwards, 60, appears to show a large hump moving in the water. It was taken nine months ago at 9:00am on 2nd November 2011. Mr. Edwards said he been watching it for five to ten minutes as it moved slowly up the loch towards Urquhart Castle before slowly sinking beneath the water. He described it as “a dark grey colour” and “quite a fair way from the boat, probably about half a mile away.”

So why was the photograph not released until now? Mr Edwards explained: “I did not want to mention my sighting until I was sure I had not photographed a log or something inanimate in the water. I have friends in the USA who have friends in the military. They had my photo analysed and they have no doubt that I photographed an animate object in the water.”

One of the most likely explanations for monster sightings in Loch Ness is the existence of a family of plesiosaurs. More dramatic plesiosaur sightings have been recorded, but not verified, in other parts of the world, although the most famous prehistoric creature to have been found alive so far is probably the coelacanth. The first modern sighting of this ancient fish was in 1938, but individual specimens have been seen since, some of the most recent during an expedition off Sulawesi Island by a Japanese team in 2009.

Even so, many people are sceptical about the idea of a Loch Ness Monster, but proving it doesn’t exist is almost as hard as proving that there is no God. Because of its great depth, Loch Ness is the largest lake by volume in the UK. Searching this vast body of water to show that there are no prehistoric creatures hiding in its depths is almost impossible. Similarly the non-existence of God is not something that can be proved. In 2009 London buses carried atheistic advertisements stating “There’s probably no God …” Writing in the Guardian newspaper in October 2008, Ariane Sherine, the campaign’s creator, admitted that “it’s impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist.” Not one of us can claim to know everything there is to know. Who, for instance, knows exactly how many pebbles there are on Brighton beach? If there are gaps in our knowledge, how do we know that God is not in the gaps? In fact millions around the world today claim to know God personally, and to have experienced His touch upon their lives.

Maybe it’s not where you look that counts, but how you look, for God is waiting to be found. As God said through the prophet Jeremiah: “‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14)

Message in a bottle

Message in a bottle

Have you ever found a message in a bottle? You have more chance of finding one if you live or holiday near the North Atlantic Ocean. In the past 16 years Harold Hackett, who lives in Prince Edward Island on Canada’s eastern coastline, has thrown around 5,000 messages in a bottle into the Atlantic Ocean.

Harold dates each message, and asks the finder to respond. He uses plastic fruit juice bottles, only sending them out when there’s a westerly wind, which will carry the bottles around and across the Atlantic Ocean. His messages have been found in places as far apart as Iceland and the Bahamas, Russia and Florida, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Africa! So far he has received more than 3,100 replies, and those who respond often keep in contact. “I usually get about 150 Christmas cards, Christmas gifts, souvenirs,” Harold said in a BBC video. “I just love doing it the old way. The reason I won’t put my phone number on my letters is they’d all call me back, and I wouldn’t get any letters.”

Harold casts his bottles into the unknown, never knowing which message, if any, will be found and read. “I never dreamt I’d get that many back that quick,” he said, speaking about his thousands of replies.

Someone else who was an inveterate sender of letters which travelled far and wide – but not in bottles – was a 1st Century Jewish rabbi, Sha’ul of Tarsus, who had studied at the feet of Gamaliel, grandson of Rabbi Hillel. Better known as Paul, he wrote to growing churches that he and others had planted around present-day Greece and Turkey. A number of his letters were written while he was imprisoned for his faith. When he wrote them Paul never knew that those letters would still be being read, not just locally, but worldwide almost 2,000 years later. A product of his confinement, his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians are some of the most beautiful and profound pieces of literature ever written. Today they form part of the world’s best selling book, the Bible.

From the New Testament we read that Paul was remarkably relaxed while under arrest, which was surprising when you consider that his life’s purpose was to travel far and wide telling people about Jesus and the power of His resurrection. Being confined to a prison cell or being under house arrest constrained both him and his message, and maybe there’s someone reading this today who knows how it feels to be constrained by circumstances, hemmed in by debt or illness, unemployment, addiction or divorce. Life can be hard. Paul was only at peace with his circumstances, because he knew that God, the Creator of the universe, was his strength. God knew what Paul was going through, and he cared. Although God was ultimately in control, He didn’t immediately set Paul free, but instead He was working for good in Paul’s situation. Without Paul’s imprisonment we wouldn’t have these amazing letters, which have been a source of strength and spiritual guidance for many millions of people. Maybe God is working for good in your situation, maybe He’s doing something that you don’t recognise right now that will ultimately turn out for your good. Whatever happens remember that God is near, only a prayer away, wanting to help, sustain and strengthen you, and maybe even set you free. Jesus’s brother Yacov once wrote, “You don’t have because you don’t ask God.” (James 4:2) Why not invite God into your situation like the writer of Psalm 118, who wrote, “In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He answered me and set me free. The Lord is with me; so I will not be afraid. What can mere people do to me? Yes, the Lord is for me; He is my helper. I will look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people.” (Psalm 118:5-8)

No matter what you’re going through, God is still in control. He can, and will, see you through your hard times as you open up your life to Him. As Paul himself wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)