It is the end of an era with the passing of HM The Queen. Our condolences are with her family as they, and the nation, mourn her death. Many of us have never known another monarch and will have to get used to having a King as the Head of State. The new Charles III has a hard act to follow as, for over seventy years, his mother dedicated her life to service for her country and the Commonwealth.
But there is another person who dedicated his life in service, and that was Jesus. He was faithful in all he did and never sinned, despite many temptations. He did not therefore deserve to die, but he gave himself as a sacrifice for sin so that we may have the hope of everlasting life. God raised him from the dead and he is currently at his Father’s right hand, awaiting his next role.
Before he was born, his mother Mary was told by the angel Gabriel:
You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.
Luke 1 v 31-33
So, Jesus was born to be a King, but not just over one country or people, but over the whole earth. Those who believe in him and follow God’s ways will be granted a place in that everlasting kingdom which will be set up when Jesus returns to the earth and puts an end to all violence and hatred.
We are therefore looking forward to that time of peace when a new, and perfect, King will be in power:
My family and I were recently on holiday. We spent time in England and then some time in France. During our English leg of the holiday, we visited Hever Castle, well known to be the family home of Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn is famously known as the second of Henry the Eighth’s wives, whose short marriage came to an end on the executioner’s block.
I have always been fascinated with the Tudor time period. It brought about the reformation of the church. Before Henry’s love for Anne, England was a staunchly Catholic country. Anne, having spent her formative years in France, had been exposed to new ideas. Ideas which took control of faith away from people in charge, and encouraged a more personal faith. The Boleyn family had a copy of the Tyndale Bible, the first translated into English to allow for personal reading and interpretation.
When Anne knew the king to be in love with her, she withheld all her favours until he took her as his wife. After an edict from Rome in which the Pope refused to recognise that Henry’s marriage to his first wife, Katherine, was not valid, Henry broke from Rome and made himself Supreme Head of the Church of England.
This opened the gates for English translations of the Bible to be available and allowed more ordinary folk, rather than just priests under the control of the Pope, to read God’s word.
Anne was a sly, calculating character, out for as much power for her family as possible. However, her convictions allowed for the freedom we have now to read the Bible for ourselves. She is one word in a primary school rhyme, and known mostly for whom she was married to. It is fascinating to remember the way in which her charms and convictions were used to shape the Christian religion.
I never take for granted the freedom I have to be able to read my own copy of the Bible, and discuss it freely amongst family and friends. Free from old superstitions.
Current difficulties If we look back through history, it’s obvious to say there are periods of time which were incredibly difficult for those living in them – periods of war, famine & disease. Compared to them, you could say that we have it very easy nowadays. And yet, the period of time we’re living in is, for us, difficult. We’ve been through a traumatic few years with the Coronavirus pandemic, and it seems like before we’ve even got to the other side of that, we’re now faced with the ‘cost of living crisis’ due to huge hikes in the cost of energy. As well as that, there are increased fears for our own safety as a result of the war in Ukraine ramping up tensions between many nations of the world. Then to top it all off, there are fears about how climate change will affect our lives in the years to come, just to add to the mix. For most of us, it’s not particularly easy living in the 2020s.
What do all these problems have in common? Well, for most of us, we have pretty much no control over any of them, aside from perhaps trying to amass wealth to protect us from the worst effects of it all.
Powerful words, not platitudes As a follower of Jesus who reads the Bible, I believe that God can provide words to help in difficult times. I have some passages of scripture to share which provide comfort to me in these sorts of situations. I appreciate that for some, these might be seen as just platitudes, empty words, and it’s therefore important to say that for those of us with a faith, we have to be so careful that we aren’t attempting to answer difficult questions or deal with tricky situations purely by quoting the Bible and leaving it at that. Being a disciple means taking the time to be there for people, to listen to their fears, to walk with them and their concerns. The help that God gives and the work he does is very often not independent of people, but is instead done through people who believe in him.
It is important for those of us with a faith that we don’t try to fix things on our own, and that instead we act on whatever we decide to do whilst also praying to God and walking alongside him. This verse from the book of Proverbs tells us to put our trust in God’s wisdom rather than relying on our own wisdom:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
With that in mind, what should our attitude be when we are faced with issues, from the personal all the way to the international difficulties we’ve thought about already? Well I believe that Peter said it best when he said these simple words, talking about our relationship with God:
Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7
This isn’t the end of all of our problems, and it doesn’t give us an excuse to just do nothing about either our own problems or the problems of others. But knowing that we can metaphorically hand over our worries over to God in prayer goes a long way towards us being more at peace with things which we cannot ever expect to have control over.
As well as that, knowing that someone else cares about us is vitally important. In the same way that we should care about other people and the problems they tell us about, having the knowledge that the God who created the world cares for us can be the most comforting thing of all.
I recently lost my brother. It was very sudden and unexpected. He suffered a severe brain haemorrhage and was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery, but he never regained consciousness. His life support was withdrawn a few days later and he passed away peacefully. Consent had been given to have organs removed, in accordance with his wishes. His loss has been devastating for the family, but we take comfort from the thought that others may benefit from his passing.
However, that is not the only comfort we have. My brother believed in God and in the saving work of His son, Jesus. So, although my brother has passed away from this life, he – and the members of his family – look forward to the time when Jesus will return to the earth, and the dead will be raised to newness of life. We think of my brother as being asleep now, awaiting the resurrection.
As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth:
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
1 Corinthians 15v51,52
It’s currently a very sad time for all of us who mourn, but the hope of resurrection is a great comfort, and one which will give us the strength to go on with life and help others cope in similar situations.
In John’s gospel, we read of the incident when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (see John 11v1-45). Lazarus’ sisters knew that Jesus could have cured their brother before he died, but they also believed he would be raised in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus told them:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”
Jesus was saying that there is no hope of resurrection without belief in him. My brother had that belief. Do you?
Last week, our Sunday speaker really caught my attention when he discussed the parable of the sower, or perhaps more accurately, the parable of the soils. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a story about a farmer who is sowing seed, and the kinds of places the seed lands. Depending on the place, the seed has a range of experiences. What he focussed on was how the seed responded to the ground that was most likely to provide favourable conditions for growth. Matthew 13:8 describes the response:
“Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
I’m going to pause on this parable for a moment. But keep it in mind – we’ll come back to it later.
All or nothing
In the Mosaic law – the law given from God to the Jewish nation through Moses – there was a complex range of commandments for the Jewish people to follow. To be precise, 613 Mitzvot – and if you break one, that’s it. In failing to uphold one element of the law, you may as well have broken all of it. In Galatians 5:3, Paul wrote:
“I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law.”
Now there’s a burden of responsibility.
I have been reflecting on the thought that the pressure I feel to do things perfectly often hampers me and I find myself in the dead zone of procrastination. This is because the expectation in myself to complete things in a perfect way often leads me to freeze – I’m paralysed because I don’t want to start something in case I mess it up. This blog is a prime example! I’m often late submitting when it’s my turn, because it is a struggle for me to just do my best, and let go of the belief that it needs to be perfect.
Going back to our thoughts on the parable in Matthew 13, our speaker pointed out something – it doesn’t talk about the perfection of the crop, but about the abundance of it. It describes the crop as being 30, 60 or even 100 times more plentiful than it started! It brought glory and celebration because it increased. It didn’t have to increase by a hundred-fold to be wonderful or praiseworthy. And we have been lifted out of the pressure to get things perfect – Jesus has done this for us. If I was sitting an exam, I may naturally be driven to get 100%, or as close to that as possible. But I am convinced that wherever we apply ourselves to the best of our ability, God sees that. And by grace through Jesus, whatever we manage is acceptable.
I can be free from the vicious cycle of this pressure to perform everything perfectly. It’s because of Jesus, and how thankful I am that what I can do is accepted, however far from perfect it is.
Since the Scottish schools broke up, and for a few weeks before, my 11 year old son has been suffering hugely with anxiety. Coming to the end of his time at primary school and knowing that after the holidays he will be in ‘big’ school has had a part to play in this.
I have many amazing people in my life and, as we have reached out for support in caring for him, my husband and I have had many suggestions for what to do to help him. It has amazed me the little things we can help him do that require no further intervention than using his own mind and body.
For example, helping him to focus on his breathing. When he gets anxious, his breath comes in short, sharp gasps. This means that the logical part of his brain is overtaken by the fight, flight or freeze part. As a result, he starts to panic as his body tenses up ready to protect itself. So, we practice ‘finger breathing’ and really try to bring oxygen back to his brain so he can think logically again.
Another thing he has found very helpful is EFT (emotional freedom technique) or Tapping. This process involves tapping certain areas of the body whilst repeating statements to yourself. The areas you tap literally tap into (pardon the pun) the meridian lines that run through our body. Now, I must let you know that I am cynical when it comes to this sort of thing as it seems a bit airy-fairy to me. However, I have been doing it with my son to encourage him, and I will admit that it does have an impact on my own nervous system which is on high alert with my child being upset.
I find these things incredible. I believe all life has a designer, and when I think about it, it makes sense that our designer would give us as many tools as possible to help ourselves. Now, please do not misunderstand me, I am not advocating a rejection of the wonders of science and modern medicine. However, in times of high stress, deep grief etc, how wonderful that God provides ways for us to reconnect with ourselves, and by extension, Him in order to quiet the noise of life. This reconnection with our inner self is really a connection with the designer. A connection to the wonder of our brain and its power to help us.
I usually share a song at the end of my blogs, but I don’t have one today. However, if you are interested, please take a bit of time to read about tapping, maybe even watch a few YouTube videos on it and give it a try.