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.

Love changes everything!

Mass wedding
Afghan mass wedding (Photo: Comfort Aid International)

“Love Changes everything”1 is the title of a well-known song from Aspects of Love, the 1989 musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, but it’s also a profound truth. Romantic love can make you feel alive, as though your life has a purpose; each day becomes an adventure, each night a chance to dream, but it’s the love that we show to our fellow human beings that really changes everything.

In a Valentine’s Day report from Afghanistan, NBC News correspondent Mandy Clark reported on the impact that love can make, and is making, on the war against the Taliban. Valentine’s day was banned in Afghanistan when the Taliban were in power, but now love and marriage are being seen as a way of strengthening society and a means of depriving the Taliban of new fighters.

Afghan newlyweds Suliman and Farzana believe that if everyone understood the proper meaning of Valentine’s Day, “there would be no more weapons.” This is not just wishful thinking. Afghan young men have been joining the Taliban for money because they are single and poor. Young, married men, however, have a wife and responsibilities at home.

To improve Afghan society a Muslim charity, Comfort Aid International, have been sponsoring mass weddings in the poorer parts of the country. Thirty-eight couples took part in the latest event. Eighteen year-old Sayeed Hussaini and his bride Fatima could not have got married without the charity’s help. “I’m jobless, but I will not join them,” said Sayeed, determined to avoid the Taliban for the sake of his new wife Fatima.

As Farzana aptly put it, “So when love comes even Taliban cannot stop anybody … Love can change everything!”

Or as Michael Ball sang, “Love, love changes everything: how you live and how you die … Nothing in the world will ever be the same … Love will turn your world around, and that world will last forever … Love will never, never let you be the same.”

Or as Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Jesus obviously knew that … love changes everything!

NOTE:

1 Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics written by Charles Hart and Don Black and sung by Michael Ball.

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.

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.

A question of love

Asian bride

Thousands of young brides and grooms stepped out of buses and entered the stadium. Many of them barely knew their future spouse, having only spent a week or two getting acquainted. In fact a few of them were only matched days before their wedding, a mass-wedding in the hills of South Korea presided over by Rev. Sun Myung Moon. This unusual spectacle was featured in a UK Channel 4 documentary, Married to the Moonies, which followed three young Londoners as they travelled to Korea to marry the international fiance(e)s chosen for them. The Unification Church, or ‘the Moonies’ as they are sometimes known, has often been called a cult because of their devotion to a charismatic leader, who changes the interpretation of ancient scripture and suggests that he is “The Lord of The Second Advent”, who has come to finish what Jesus failed to do.

In fact Jesus Himself said, ““Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.” Instead Jesus promised that His return would be unmistakable: “all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30) Jesus also taught that before His return “many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:4-5,10-13)

If “the love of most will grow cold,” how long will the love of those married by Rev. Sun Myung Moon last? Hopefully for a lifetime – marriage and family are the building blocks of a stable society, but just a quick glance at our world today is enough to confirm the truth of Jesus’ prophecy. Although there are many individuals and organisations who show great love and care to others, we live in the midst of a violent world. This week’s events in Syria are a graphic and tragic illustration. Also, human trafficking is rife, causing suffering to countless women and children around the globe. There is increasing pressure in the UK to allow doctors to kill sick or elderly patients in the same way that they are legally able to kill unborn children. Some in our world take home massive salaries while others exist or starve on less than a dollar a day. Will we let our love grow cold as Jesus suggested, or will we be those who overflow with love for God and for others? Whether we influence the world or just our local community, our practical love shown to someone in need can make a world of difference, and not by declaring ourself to be someone great, but by humbling ourself as Jesus did, and honouring and serving our fellow man and woman.

Eternity’s treasure

pearl
The most valuable pearl

A suitcase containing nearly one million Australian dollars was left in a Sydney restaurant last week by a “really nervous” man, who was later arrested by police. He was then taken to hospital for unspecified treatment, while being kept under police guard. The legal owner of the money is as yet unknown.

Two thousand years ago, Yeshua (Jesus) told a story about a merchant who didn’t lose everything, but who sold everything to gain just one very valuable pearl. We, who seek spiritual meaning and fulfilment in our lives, are likened to that merchant, who gave his all to possess this most beautiful treasure. The pearl, of course, represents Yeshua himself.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:45-46)

A personal relationship with Yeshua is the world’s most valuable possession. Beyond cost, it cannot be bought; it cannot be earned. It is a free gift given by Yeshua to all who are prepared to humble themselves and put their trust in Him. His love, acceptance and forgiveness are the only possible things we can take with us into eternity. The jazz singer, Helen Shapiro, who herself came to trust Yeshua as Messiah and Saviour, sang of Him as “Eternity’s Treasure – the Pearl!”

bitter … sweet

honeycomb
Honeycomb

Many atheists will agree that being labelled as religious, doesn’t make something beneficial. Zam Zam water is sacred to Muslims, and comes from a spring in Saudi Arabia. It is thought to have health-giving properties, but according to BBC London illegally imported Zam Zam water has recently been found to contain arsenic and other impurities. Tests also show that it came from the same source as its legal counterpart.

Hamas in Gaza recently condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden, describing him as “a modest man and a Muslim warrior.” Yet he was responsible for many Muslim deaths, not least at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Religion can be harmful or beneficial depending on the system of belief behind it, and whether religious people act in accordance to those beliefs.

Although we must never ignore injustice, how refreshing it is to bypass religion for a moment and seek to know our Creator, many of whose attributes such as beauty, intricacy, power and design are clearly seen in nature itself. Yet far greater than these physical qualities is the depth of love and relationship that can be experienced as we draw close to the One who loves us deeply, who has given us guidelines for successful living, and who one day wants us to spend our lives in that place where we can experience His power, beauty and love for all eternity.

However, there is a closing date to God’s offer that will be different for each of us. We don’t know when it will be. All we do know is that we have this present life in which to receive God’s free gift of love, forgiveness and eternal life, as Paul the apostle wrote: “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Millions around the world have come to know their Creator in a personal way, and have discovered, like the psalmist, the sweetness of that relationship. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)

This has nothing to do with man-made religion; it’s all about going back to the source, and when that source is Jesus, it’s both pure, strong and sweet.