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)

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In hot pursuit

Bradley Wiggins
Bradley_Wiggins (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Sporting fervour has been at its height in the UK over recent days, and not just because of the coming Olympics. The triumph of Great Britain’s Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome caught the nation’s attention as the two cyclists powered to victory in France’s premier sporting event, the Tour de France. Wiggins’ success is a tribute to his hard work and sportsmanship. This year Wiggins became the first person ever to win the Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France in a single season. His next challenge is, of course, riding for Great Britain at the London Olympics, but there is one Olympic cycling event that he won’t be able to take part in, and that is the 4km individual pursuit, an event in which he won gold in Beijing in 2008. Following a decision by the International Olympic Committee in December 2009, the individual pursuit has been excluded from London 2012 and from future games.

The individual pursuit consists of two cyclists starting on opposite sides of the track at the same time, and aiming to complete the distance in the fastest time. In so doing the two riders pursue each other, and if one rider manages to catch the other, he or she is declared the winner.

The sense of being pursued is not just confined to cyclists however, whether it’s a celebrity pursued by their fans, a citizen by “the taxman” or a rogue trader by their customers many have undergone what can be an uncomfortable experience. On her website, EveryStudent.Com, Marilyn Adamson admits to being pursued by God. A one-time atheist, Marilyn admits that the God question deeply troubled her. She wanted to disprove God’s existence once and for all, and thereby gain peace of mind, but she eventually came to realise “that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue.” She continues, “It was as if I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God’s existence, my prayer began with, “Ok, you win…” It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.”

It is difficult to escape the possibility or the evidence of a Creator. We are surrounded with natural beauty, power and grandeur. In the Greek scriptures we read, “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 …” (Romans 1:20)

We are relational beings, we need human contact. So it is not surprising to think that the One who designed us is also relational, and has made us precisely so that we might know him. In the 1st Century Yeshua (Jesus) declared that we were made for a relationship with the Divine, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Yeshua the Messiah, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Are you being pursued by your Creator?

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.

TV’s and Trainers

Prime Minister outside No. 10
The Prime Minister addressing the press.

Now that the dust is settling and peace has returned to British streets, politicians are admitting that something has gone wrong with British society. Street protests against a police shooting, which seemed to be the initial spark for the London riots, soon gave way to a desire to create mayhem and grab as many luxury goods as people could carry. Appearing in court a 13 year old teenager from Manchester, who promised never to accept a social network invitation to a riot again, told the judge: “To be honest, it’s the worst, stupidest thing I have ever done.” A variety of underlying causes are being put forward to explain the rioters’ criminal behaviour. Suggestions that it was because of poverty proved false as rioters with jobs and prospects were also arrested and taken to court. Indeed those trying to pin the blame on poverty should be asked why they expect the poor to have lower moral standards than the rich.

But why should this orgy of violence and greed be so surprising? For many years “morals” has become a dirty word in British society. It’s no longer cool to talk about right and wrong; everyone should be allowed to do what they want … shouldn’t they? Some years ago I spoke to a man who thought that British youth would behave better if they knew the Ten Commandments, which, among other things, teach us not to steal or kill. This man then admitted to me that he had failed to teach them to his own sons. We have seen the consequences this week of young people, growing up without a sense of right and wrong, doing what they wanted. We who are supposedly older, wiser, more mature, have to admit that not only have we not cultivated a sense of right and wrong in British society, but neither have we been a good example. In 1994, after a lot of pressure from major retailers, the British Parliament passed the Sunday Trading Act allowing shops to trade on Sundays. All of a sudden TV’s and trainers were given a higher status than getting to know our Creator, who promises a full life with thought for others, where material possessions lose their significance, and the true value of ourselves and others is revealed through the passionate love God has for each one of us.

We have been sold a lie. We may not all be rioters, but we all have to learn that fast cars, designer clothes and widescreen TV’s are not the most important things in life. Our family, our neighbours, our character, our relationship with God are the things that give life value. What will we tell our children?

“These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:1-7)