Tuesday, 24 March 2020

A healthy prompt

April 2020

Having become used to all the wonderful benefits of today’s medical skill it has come as an unpleasant surprise to find that a tiny virus can bring such chaos, fear, financial ruin, suffering and death.  We can’t blame the virus: this little string of RNA is just doing what it knows best, reproducing itself as fast as it can, and doing it rather successfully.  And if there is nothing beyond the material world, as some assert, then there’s no-one to blame, except the politicians who always get the blame.

But if like me you believe that this world is created and ruled by a loving God then you may be perplexed or angry.  Why would God allow a virus to do this to us?

Actually, the same Bible that shows us God’s love says so much more about him, and gives us many reasons why his world is full of suffering and futility.  Here’s just one of them: Since we must all one day give an account of ourselves to God our impartial judge, everything in our lives that reminds us of our frailty and mortality brings, along with the pain and the tears, a healthy prompt to stop thinking that this life is all that matters.  Everything that vexes us is also a kind reminder from our Creator to be ready to meet him.  Even as we look at the stern face of sickness we need to see the warm heart of a rescuing Lord who longs for our hard heart to soften towards him.

And we certainly can’t accuse God of keeping his distance and avoiding all our trouble.  In his Son, God came to us, became one of us, suffered with us and then ended Death’s proud boast once for all.  However strange Easter will be this year I trust that we will once again be reminded that everyone whose confidence is in Jesus Christ will share fully in Christ’s resurrection victory.  “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus laid down his life for his friends, rescuing those who put their trust in him and giving us the best ever example of the kind of selflessness that is going to be needed as we try to help each other through this severe trial.

May God bless you this Easter

Graham Burrows

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Amazing Grace

March 2020

Like Jonah before him, John Newton “had previously run away from the Lord and it had taken a tremendous storm at sea in 1748 to humble him, convict him of his defiance and stir him to cry out to God for mercy.”

From a young age Newton’s life had been marked by tragedy and a self-centred rebelliousness.  His mother died when he was six, he went to sea at a young age, was press-ganged into the navy, transferred to a slave ship and was himself enslaved in Africa.  Freed again, he became an officer and eventually a captain on slave ships and was known for his drinking, gambling and swearing.

But after that storm the message of God’s amazing grace, his undeserved kindness in Christ, slowly took root in Newton’s heart and mind.  His life became characterised by a deep gratitude to God:  “What am I – that thou hast brought me hitherto?  Brought me from Africa, from the house of bondage, saved me from sinking in the ocean and from a thousand deaths – raised me from a state of contempt and misery beyond the common lot of mortals – to admit me among thy children, thy servants, to know and to preach thy gospel … I am surrounded with mercies and comforts.” (Written in his diary on 1st January 1780)

Retiring from his seafaring days, Newton became Surveyor of Tides in Liverpool Docks before eventually being accepted as a Church of England minister with a simple desire to “honestly and plainly declare the truths of the gospel … undoubtedly the most pleasant set of topics”.  With his friend, William Wilberforce, Newton became committed to the abolition of slavery; the ‘Act for the Abolition of Slavery’ was passed in Parliament in 1807, the year of Newton’s death.

Today John Newton is best known as the author of the hymn that was first sung by his congregation in the little village of Olney in Bucks on New Year’s Day 1773:

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

(All quotes are found in the excellent book ‘365 Days with John Newton’ from DayOne Publications.)


Graham Burrows