In driving snow and caught by cloud, the climbers could not see much more than an arm’s length. They would have stopped but they had to continue to reach safety. With such poor visibility, each climber had to follow the footsteps of the one in front. They had to rely on the leader to avoid danger and to bring them safely down the mountain.
We can feel caught in many ways; in a boring conversation, in a job we dislike, or in an uncomfortable situation. There are many other more serious forms of captivity too. Some people are stuck in poverty. In some countries people are in prison because of their beliefs. Today there are estimated to be up to 70 million slaves in the world. This is known as ‘Modern Slavery’.
Have you ever been the person running hard to catch the train? Out of breath, sweating, almost collapsing in the carriage; nobody likes to miss a train! Or perhaps you suffer from social media FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)? No one likes being excluded or left behind.
Anyone who has ever owned a car knows about the problem of rust. Within a few short years, the beautiful gleaming vehicle that you bought with your hard–earned money has turned into a decaying pile of scrap.
This is a phrase we use when the signs are clear that something is about to change, maybe the fall of a government or even the end of a relationship. Often it spells catastrophe.
The origin is a Bible one, from the Book of Daniel. At the time of the Babylonian empire, King Belshazzar held a debauched party with his rulers and wives. They were having a tremendous time until the fingers of a man's hand appeared and wrote on the wall.
The old man Daniel had seen kings, conquerors and even empires come and go. It was around 540 BC and Daniel believed that God was going to bring the Jews out of exile in Babylon. Remarkably he knew when this would happen, because of what God’s prophets had written:
“I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the Lord through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.”
The starting point for any belief system should be its authority. Who established it and how do we know we can trust them? If we believe the Bible, we are accepting the authority of Almighty God. He declares that He created the universe, and that He has a plan for the earth.
A lifeboat is launched on receiving a distress signal, because another boat is in trouble or people are in danger. The volunteer crews are summoned by phone or radio, and immediately stop what they are doing and rush to the lifeboat. Often when they put out to sea the conditions are dangerous and stormy – great courage and skill is required. These men and women risk their own lives to save others.
The world is changing more quickly than ever. Technology, global communications and easy travel mean that business, government and social structures are developing more and more rapidly. Some progress is remarkably positive, such as the development of medical treatments and the eradication of certain diseases. Some is less so, such as the proliferation of dangerous weapons. Damage to the environment, which arises from some of this progress, is a growing problem.
These days, travel and migration are much easier than in previous times. But there is a big problem. Many of us tend to distrust those who are different.
In Spring we witness a miracle – resurrection! All around us tiny little plants are growing from seeds that were otherwise dead. A seed needs to absorb water, enough to swell, and in three days, given the right conditions, it will germinate. Part of the first new growth dies to give the plant the energy it needs to thrive.
One of the scariest things about a new romance is family, especially if you come from a family that extends no further than just one cousin. Just the thought of meeting lots of new people can be daunting. Will they like you? Will you fit in?
New York and London have very different skylines. New York is a mass of skyscrapers, some over 400 metres high. London has some tall buildings, but much fewer and not to the same grand heights of its American cousin. The reason for this is their differing bedrocks. Manhattan’s is very hard ‘schist’, whereas London is built on softer sedimentary rocks, with clay and chalk in the layers.
“You are what you do, not what you say youʼll do” - Carl Jung
It’s the start of a new year. People around the world are reflecting on last year’s ups and downs, and everything in between. They are making promises to avoid previous mistakes or to improve some area of their lives that may be lacking. Once these promises are made they try their hardest to stick to them and reap the rewards.
These words of the Lord God, spoken by Isaiah the prophet, adorn the United Nations building in New York.
“He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Mankind, however, has failed dismally to establish peace on earth. In the last one hundred years, one hundred million people have died in war. Frightful weapons exist that can wipe out tens of thousands of people at the push of a button. Wars in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere see brothers killing brothers with millions left displaced and homeless.
Cornelius, a Roman centurion, lived in Caesarea shortly after the Lord Jesus. Although he was a soldier, he and his family believed in God, prayed and respected the moral teachings of the Jews. But he had never fully committed his life to God by being baptised. Why? Perhaps he hadn’t heard about baptism yet, or maybe he thought he was not good enough. We find Cornelius’s story in the Bible in Acts 10 and it is a wonderful story of spiritual development.
When I was younger I didn’t always like walking. I found it rather pointless, putting on layers, boots, driving somewhere, walking around. Then, at a certain age, it didn’t seem so bad – there might be a pub involved with a welcoming fire, tasty food and refreshing drink.
Modern society guarantees all of us two certificates - a birth certificate and a death certificate. What happens in between (our life!) is up to us.
“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
The thought of standing in front of Jesus and giving an account for what we have done in our lives can seem like a daunting proposition. The questions begin to run through our minds as we think about what we might say to him. How will we ever justify our actions and our thoughts.
After trekking up a mountain, there's a particular feeling you get when you finally stand at the top and take in the view. It’s the same feeling when you see the ocean spreading out beyond the horizon, or when lying back on a clear night to see the endless stars shining down. You can't help but stop and stare at the earth, sea and sky and their phenomenal beauty. The feeling they evoke is a simultaneous mix of awe and humility – the vastness and scale accentuates our own smallness. These experiences reinforce the idea that there is something or someone bigger and greater than us.