The Price is Paid

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Imagine a shoplifter being caught in a department store. He is held there until the police arrive. The police officer then pays for the stolen goods, and gives them back to the shoplifter before setting him free!

That’s exactly what happened to a young man attempting to steal clothes in a Walmart store in Toronto recently. thestar.com reported that the eighteen year old had stolen a dress shirt, tie and socks. Police officer, Niran Jeyanesan, realised that there was more to this case, and began to question him about why he wanted the clothes. The young man reluctantly explained that his father was ill and couldn’t work. So he himself had decided to find a job to help his family. He’d even been offered an interview, but needed clothes to go in.

“He was very remorseful, very ashamed,” said Jeyanesan. “I could see that this is truly a mistake and this person wanted a chance at life.” So he paid for the shirt and tie himself before taking the young man to the police station, where they decided not to charge him. He was given the clothes, which he wore for the interview, and got the job!

“It was a case that allowed us to use our discretion. You could truly see that this person was trying to do something with his life,” Jeyanesan said, “This is a chance where we get to do something good. We all make mistakes and someone, at some point, gives us a second chance.”

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Police officer Niran Jeyanesan  (Toronto police service / The Canadian Press)

By his actions, police officer, Niran Jeyanesan, showed us what our Creator is like. In my previous post, “Heaven … a free gift?”, I explained how the love and acceptance of our Creator is a genuinely free gift. For our part, maybe we, like the shoplifter, have regrets, things on our conscience, times when we could have behaved differently, less selfishly, more calmly or honestly perhaps, and yet God comes to us offering forgiveness, acceptance and love no matter who we are and no matter what we’ve done.

All this is possible because Jesus, like the police officer, has paid the cost of the forgiveness that we don’t deserve. Out of His love for us, Jesus willingly went to the cross 2,000 years ago. We often think of a cross as an item of jewellery, but it was actually the place where Jesus took the weight of all of our wrongdoing, and paid the ultimate price by dying in our place. Through His death, Jesus took away the barrier between ourselves and our Creator. Consequently, we can come to Him in prayer and thank Him for His amazing gift, admitting we’ve gone our own way for too long, and making that decision to follow Him. The way to God is open to all who will receive the new life that Jesus offers. As the lyrics to this song by Graham Kendrick tell us:

 

“The price is paid,

Come let us enter in

To all that Jesus died

To make our own.

More than enough He gave

And bought our freedom

From each guilty stain.”

Heaven … a Free Gift?

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How much have you earned during your life so far? It may be that you’re still a student or unemployed and are glad of every penny that comes your way, or maybe you’ve been working for many years and are still waiting for the ‘big money’ to start rolling in. In contrast, it was revealed recently that the BBC TV and radio presenter Chris Evans earns over £2 million a year. But there are some things that even that amount of money can’t buy, such as a place in Heaven.

Yet in 2013 Israel Today reported that Ari Mendel, a young Jewish American, tried to do just that, by putting his place in Heaven up for sale on eBay! He thought that his many good deeds, done while studying at a Jewish seminary, had earned him credit with God, even though he had subsequently fallen away from the “right path.”

“Surely my place in Heaven is worth something,” he declared, as he encouraged bidders to offer a reasonable price. Bids reached $100,000 USD on eBay, until the company put a stop to the sale, saying that “the afterlife is not a tangible thing, and therefore cannot be sold.”

Ari Mendel had made two rather basic mistakes. Not only is it impossible to sell a place in Heaven, it’s also impossible to earn one. Although our Creator calls us to a selfless life, all of Ari’s good deeds, whatever they were, could never have ‘earned’ God’s favour. God’s love, His forgiveness and a place in Heaven are all a free gift given to anyone who recognises that they are completely undeserving. And that is good news to the spiritually hungry amongst us.

… God’s free gift is eternal life in Messiah Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

 

So when we talk to our Creator, we can know that we are coming to Someone who offers His love and understanding free of charge and without condemnation. He knows the struggles inside of us; He knows what we’ve been through, and He calls us to turn from our own ways, receive His forgiveness and to follow Him.

He loves you. Let Him lead you into a future that is beyond price.

Focus

 

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Earlier this year, the bomb squad blew up an unattended Vauxhall Corsa outside Workington police station. Following the controlled explosion, Cumbria Police apologised to the owner, who had earlier been taken ill.

As a result of the man’s illness – and presumably his inability to drive – officers on duty had parked the car outside the police station. Other officers had not been told about the car, and regarded its presence as suspicious. So they called in the bomb squad!

Inspector Ashley Bennett said, “The officers who dealt with this morning’s incident did so with public safety in mind and followed the appropriate procedures in respect to an unoccupied, suspicious vehicle.” The force blamed “an internal communications error.”

Communication is important. Communication problems sometimes occur when we don’t focus properly on the person who’s trying to communicate with us. (Ever tried having a serious conversation with someone who’s trying to check Facebook?) It’s the same with prayer. It is possible to pray while driving or cooking or showering, and better then than not at all, but to really communicate with your Creator, you need to take time out, to be still, shutting out the rest of the world and focussing solely on Him.

Jesus once visited the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. When He arrived He sat down to speak to all those who had gathered, including Martha’s sister Mary, who sat at His feet. She was more interested in hearing what Jesus had to say than in helping her sister, who was busy serving everyone. Martha was upset with her “lazy” sister, but Jesus, who normally commends those who are servant-hearted, said to Martha, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NLT). Mary had chosen to focus on Jesus. Martha’s serving was important, but not as important as listening to what Jesus had to say.

The world around us focusses on ‘self’: our feelings, our possessions, our rights etc, and encourages us to look within ourselves to find the answers to our needs. Yet the Hebrew scriptures remind us that,

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Deuteronomy 8:3 (NIVUK)

 

Growing spiritually is far more valuable than anything that we allow to get in the way of our relationship with God. So how important it is to find a quiet space, where we can rest quietly and focus on the Life-Giver, our Creator and Friend. Let His peace enfold you as you welcome Him into your inner being. Listen for His voice, and as you follow His prompting, turning from ‘self’ and allowing Him to lead you, He will fill you with His abundant life.

 

Love One Another

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St. Ann’s Square, Manchester  (Photo credit: Warren Smith)

I stood in St. Ann’s Square, Manchester, just a few days after the tragic events of May 22nd, gazing across the sea of flowers, vibrant in the morning sunshine. The crowd quietly looked on as balloons bobbed and candles flickered. Moving messages of sorrow and solidarity had been chalked on the paving stones, and satellite vans were dotted along the street, waiting to send the latest ‘moving’ pictures around the world.

What can one say after the tragic bombing at the Manchester Arena already over a week ago? Ariana Grande was right when she tweeted, “I don’t have words.” Nothing can bring back the loss suffered by those who have been injured and bereaved. Our hearts go out to each one; for them life will never be the same again.

1705.i-love-mcr-1024x768.CroppedWhen I was six my father would occasionally take me to work with him on a Saturday morning. Before going home we would stop at the sweetshop next door to his offices. That sweetshop was about 35 yards from where the sea of flowers lies today. Neither I, nor my father, could have comprehended the tragic event that would carpet the square with flowers so many years later.

Despite her initial tweet, later that week Ariana Grande found the words to express her sorrow and her thoughts for the future:

“My heart, prayers and deepest condolences are with the victims of the Manchester Attack and their loved ones.

There is nothing I or anyone can do to take away the pain you are feeling or to make this better. However, I extend my hand and heart and everything I can possibly give to you and yours, should you want or need my help in any way.

The only thing we can do now is choose how we let this affect us and how we live our lives from here on out. …

Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we did before. …

We will continue in honor of the ones we lost, their loved ones, my fans and all affected by this tragedy.

They will be on my mind and in my heart everyday and I will think of them with everything I do for the rest of my life.” @ArianaGrande May 26

As Ariana tweeted, “the only thing we can do now is choose how we let this affect us and how we live our lives from here on out.” In response to the bombing, the people of Manchester have taken the Oasis song, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” as their theme song. Yes, we should be deeply moved by such a tragic event, but the people are right, anger will accomplish nothing. As wise King Solomon once wrote:

“A gentle answer turns anger away. …”

Proverbs 15:1 (NIRV)

 

It’s at times like this we can look to our Creator for inspiration; when we take on the gentle but strong spirit of Jesus, who said to His followers:

“I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you. All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other.”

John 13:34-35 (NCV)

I wonder how different Monday 22nd would have been if one more person in this world had understood the truth of those words?

Gone Today, Here Tomorrow

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The new beach at Dooagh.   (Photo: Sean Molloy)

The village of Dooagh on Achill Island has a new beach. The story of the reappearing Irish beach recently hit the headlines, when the waves deposited hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sand over a ten day period on what was a very rocky shoreline, recreating the village’s beautiful, 300m long, sandy beach. The beach had been missing since 1984, when a powerful storm washed it away. Tourist numbers declined as a result and three of the area’s four hotels closed, but this month the village has experienced gridlock from cars and campervans and people coming from all over Ireland and the UK to see the new beach.

This is not the first time that the beach has come and gone, or should that be gone and come? It was washed away before in the 1890s, but had returned by the 1920’s when currachs were launched from the sands. How long it will stay this time is unknown. The locals can only watch and hope.

Some feel that same uncertainty when it comes to prayer. They pray, but hold out little hope for an answer. Others pray, and feel cheated when the answer fails to appear. “How long, O Lord?” is a frequent lament from the ancients, recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. So what’s the point of prayer, and indeed what’s the point of this website, if that’s the case?

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The shore at Dooagh before the beach returned.  (Photo: Achill Tourism)

First of all, prayer brings us close to our Creator. It makes us aware that some of our needs can only be met from outside of ourselves. I once knew a nurse, who worked in a cancer hospital. She used to challenge me saying, “How can there be a God when I see such suffering around me every day?” Then she herself needed hospital treatment at a different hospital. What a difference when she came home! She told me that now she knew there was a God, because He had been with her to comfort and support her during her stay. Secondly as we pray, we do begin to see some answers to our prayers. Someone once said that the more they pray, the more coincidences happen. Try it for yourself and see.

However, answers to prayer don’t always come; at least not in the form we are expecting. How, or if, our prayers are answered can be summed up in three words: Yes, No and Wait. We have a loving Creator, who, despite the difficulties of this world, always wants the best for us. Sometimes His reply to our prayer is “Yes”, and we see our prayer answered relatively quickly. At other times He knows that what we requested won’t do us any good. So He helps us by not giving us what we asked for. On other occasions the answer is “Wait”; probably the same answer you would give to your 8 year old son or daughter, who wanted to learn to ride a motorbike or rent an apartment of their own.

Even so, we are encouraged to pray according to God’s will and not give up, believing that our prayer has been heard.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Philippians 4:6 (NLT)

Fogo Island

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Earlier this week I watched a television documentary about an exclusive, Canadian hotel situated on the very edge of Newfoundland on Canada’s Atlantic coast. The Fogo Island Inn is an unusual but attractive, white, ultra-modern building built on the rocky foreshore of Fogo Island. Twenty-nine suites are available for guests, who enjoy stunning, uninterrupted views of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The whole atmosphere of the hotel is light and airy, yet relaxing and homely. Spotlessly clean, white is the predominant colour, inside as well as out, setting-off the colourful individually designed furnishings, making it a home from home for guests. Facilities include an art gallery, library and sauna, but for me at least, the main attraction would be the peace and tranquility of an unspoilt haven, seemingly on the edge of the world. One night’s stay for two begins at approximately $1,500 CAD.

As a creative type, I was personally fascinated, as I’ve written above, by the stunning whiteness of the building, enhanced as it was by the beautifully made furniture, the colourful hand-made quilts and cushions, the natural wood floors and the unique wallpapers. Then I was suddenly brought back to reality as I watched the maintenance manager washing the windows with a brush on the end of an incredibly tall pole. Because the hotel is built literally on the rocks, just yards from the water’s edge, the salt in the air needs to be regularly washed from the windows. – No matter how beautiful the building, the windows still need to be cleaned.

On a human level, skin cleansing products are big business, removing the impurities, so that our skin can breathe again; and though we may not realise it, our need for spiritual cleansing is just as great. The more we experience of life in this world, the more of this world clings to us. The noise, the brashness, the selfishness of the world around us leaves its mark. No wonder some people choose to holiday by relaxing on palm-fringed beaches or trek through mountains far from civilisation.

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Such holidays are short-lived. We need a more accessible source of spiritual refreshment, and that is where prayer comes in. When we come to our Creator in prayer, we arrive at the source of spiritual purity. Out of His love for us, our Creator calls us to Himself. He offers us forgiveness and cleansing as a free gift – forgiveness, because who hasn’t done something they regret, and which of us has lived a perfect life and has nothing on their conscience? – a free gift, because Jesus Himself paid the price for our cleansing, so our spiritual focus can be restored and we can enjoy purity and peace as, with His help, we make a new start and dedicate our life to following Him.

“So then, let us purify ourselves from everything that makes body or soul unclean, and let us be completely holy by living in awe of God.”

2 Corinthians 7:1 (GNT)

The Ugly Duckling

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Record Store Day is an annual event, which began in the United States and now takes place on every continent except Antarctica. This year’s Record Store Day takes place later this month on Saturday 22nd April. It celebrates the unique atmosphere of local record stores, which are once again growing in popularity thanks to the resurgence of interest in music on vinyl. If you are, or were, a frequenter of record stores, the appeal isn’t difficult to understand. Take this comment from John Stark of Flagstaff, Arizona: “Record shops totally fascinate me. I can dawdle and browse for hours, discover long sought after rarities and gems, feel at home, spend more than anticipated. It’s in my genes.”, or this one from Howard Hart, the guitarist from San Diego: “When I walk into an old, indie-owned record shop, I’m transported back to a truly happy place.”

I myself have happy memories from my teenage years of hours spent browsing in Kath Jones’ record shop here in the UK. It was basically a large, wooden hut filled with rows of tables, groaning under the weight of cardboard boxes stuffed with singles and LP’s of every musical genre. But today as I write, my thoughts go back to my childhood, to one of my first ever discs; it was the soundtrack of the family film “Hans Christian Andersen” starring Danny Kaye. For me, one of its most memorable tracks was “The Ugly Duckling“; just one of the many tales written by the real Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author and storyteller of the Nineteenth Century.

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The Ugly Duckling” is a story with a message. It tells of a duckling, the largest, ugliest and last to hatch of all its siblings. Ridiculed and bullied by the rest of the farmyard because it was different, it flew away. “They are afraid of me because I am ugly,” he said. So he closed his eyes, and flew still farther,” During the next few months, the duckling encountered much hostility and misunderstanding. A pompous hen advised him to conform and be like “half the world” if he wanted to be accepted. Then one spring day, paddling down a stream, he met a group of three magnificent swans. Compared with his ugliness, their beauty made him more unhappy than ever. He had endured so much that he didn’t care what the swans reaction to him would be. So he sailed up to them, prepared for the worst. Hanging his head, he suddenly noticed his reflection in the water and was amazed at what he saw, “no longer a dark, grey bird, ugly and disagreeable to look at, but a graceful and beautiful swan.” The other swans swum around him in welcome. “He had been persecuted and despised for his ugliness, and now he heard them say he was the most beautiful of all the birds.”

I hope you will understand if I say that many of us are ugly ducklings. We are criticised and pushed about by others, expected to conform if we are to get anywhere in life, and we fail to recognise that we are of infinite worth, and have a unique set of talents. We are the pinnacle of our Creator’s work, called to a relationship with Him, and here to reflect His love to a broken world. Each one of us is unique. Yes, we fail and mess-up from time to time, but we all have an in-built capacity to love and to care, to protect and provide. We are truly beautiful.

Some people base their self-worth on their looks, their talents, their social status or their financial position, but these things are fleeting. Neither should we value ourselves by the negative opinions of others, but instead we can recognise that we are loved by the One who made us. As the ancient scriptures say:

“The Lord your God … is always with you. He celebrates and sings because of you, and he will refresh your life with His love.”

Zephaniah 3:17 (CEV)

“You’re a very fine swan indeed!”

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Puppet on a String

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Sandie Shaw       (Photo credit: BBC)

“Puppet on a String”, sung by Sandie Shaw, was the winning song of the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna. It was released 50 years ago this month, and won the event for the United Kingdom. In fact it had the second widest margin of victory in the history of the contest, gaining 47 votes to Ireland’s 22. In May this year, Lucie Jones will be representing the UK in Kiev, singing “Never Give Up on You.”

I once saw a picture of a puppet on a string. It had a pair of scissors in its hand, and had cut off all but one of its strings. Its head was up, but its body lay in a lifeless heap on the floor. In its longing for freedom and independence, the puppet had cut the very threads which gave it life and purpose.

In our longing for independence, we too can be like that puppet. Our Twenty-First Century lives are often stressful and burdensome, and we long for a way of escape, but instead we cut our links to our Creator and turn our backs on the One who gives us life. So often we forget we are spiritual beings, and we need that contact with God, who is waiting to lift us, encourage us and empower us ready to face the world again.

It was only a few days ago that I heard someone describe us as glove puppets. Like a string puppet, a glove puppet has great potential, but only when filled by its creator’s hand. God is not only someone we can confide in, who listens when no one else will, but He also loves us deeply and longs to fill us with His Spirit. We are at our best when we are in relationship with Him. He doesn’t promise an easy life – life in this world can be tough – but He promises to be there for us, to strengthen and encourage us and help us through.

It takes courage to try something new, but why not take this opportunity to turn your life around and discover a new way of living by asking Jesus to fill you with His life and allow Him to pull your strings? Risky, challenging maybe? But worth it!

OK Jesus, I’m new to all this. I don’t even know if you exist, but if you’re real, please reveal yourself to me, turn my life around and fill me, be that life within and help me to follow you.

 

A Tale of Two Citizens

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Do people judge you by your appearance or do you ever do the same to others? I have to admit I find myself doing so when I have nothing else to go on, but there is a better way. Talk to the person, get to know them; it’s likely you’ll find depths of character that no amount of looking could ever discover. Maybe you’ll make a new friend?

Appearances can be deceptive. Let me tell you about two people, real people who we may judge differently at first glance. My first story is about a vicar.

In the 1980’s a prison chaplain was encouraged when he found out that one of the prisoners in his jail had become a follower of Jesus. This young man’s life was transformed. He became a new person, eventually finishing his sentence and starting a new life in another part of the country. A few weeks later, the prison chaplain received a phone call about the young man. It was from a vicar, who explained that the ex-prisoner had started to attend his church, “but,” the vicar said, “he’s a bit odd!”

“What do you mean odd?” asked the chaplain.

“He talks as though he knows God personally!” was the reply.

“Well that’s probably because he does,” said the chaplain. Immediately the vicar’s phone went down! His unbelief had found him out. Here was a man representing God to his community and vice versa, yet who didn’t have that relationship of love and trust with the God he was trying to serve.

My second story is about a lady, whom I met recently in the high street. As I talked to this middle-aged lady, dressed as she was in an old, baggy track suit, she confided that she was an ex-prostitute; which probably explained the stares I got as I walked along beside her. Her life had become one of hardship and fear, yet there was something that gave her hope. She told me that she’d been reading the Bible, and had discovered that Jesus showed compassion and forgiveness to a prostitute he met while a dinner guest at someone’s home. This lady wanted to know that same Jesus for herself.

You don’t have to be religious to know your Creator; you don’t have to have lived a perfect life; you don’t have to have it all together. There is hope for every one of us. Our Creator doesn’t guarantee an easy life, but He offers love, peace, forgiveness and new life to everyone who will turn and follow Him.

As Jesus said:

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (CEB)