Philae landing – an amazing achievement

The setting down of the Philae landing craft on comet 67P was nothing short of amazing. It was also highly reminiscent of that historic day in 1969 when man first set foot on the moon – an event which some sceptics refused to believe.

What makes this even more remarkable is that it has happened completely out of sight – some 300 million miles away – and as the result of an expedition that began with a rocket launch ten years ago. I wonder if there are many sceptics today who will question the veracity of these reports and would dare suggest that this is just another massive publicity stunt. At least, with this being a European Space Agency venture, we cannot lay that accusation at the feet of the Americans this time around…!

But it does make we wonder what we shall learn from this highly expensive expedition. What discoveries are there to be made on this rather inauspicious lump of frozen rock that has suddenly become famous?

Will it yield information critical to our understanding of the origins of the universe and more especially our own planet Earth?   It seems from knowledge gained so far from examining the cosmos that the entire universe is all made of the same stuff. But could there be elements out there that we don’t have on earth or have not yet discovered? Scientists will argue that all the basic non-nuclear, stable elements have been accounted for.

For me I find myself holding the hope that whatever they find will be just one more piece of the puzzle about our origins. My hope is that it will affirm once again the case for a Creator who designed and assembled this amazing and complex system of planets and stars that capture our imaginations with awe as we gaze skywards on a clear night.

Praying Through the News

The weight of recent world events can sometimes be overwhelming. We have the rapid spread of Ebola We have IS and their sickening beheadings. We have Syrian refugees, the Palestinian issue – and before that, planes being brought down over Ukraine and massive fighting there too.

In fact it gets so bad we begin to find ways of coping with this weight. The easiest thing is to stop listening to – or watching – the news because it is too depressing. We simply switch off. Or we de-sensitise ourselves to horror and bloodshed because we cannot handle any more emotional involvement. It leaves us feeling gutted and empty. Helpless too. Besides, we may have many problems of our own to work through…

But there may be another way… As followers of Jesus I don’t think we can disengage from the world. Instead we need to speak into that world with a meaningful Christian response. As a former radio colleague once said, News eloquently tells the story of a fallen, sinful world. By so doing it provides a ready platform for the Good News.

As I have been watching the news in recent days I have found myself praying that God’s will might be done in all these various situations. I have begun praying through the news. Each story becomes a project in itself. This has taken me beyond being simply a passive consumer of news but one who actively engages it. I run the risk of becoming more actively involved. How many of us have found that as we have prayed about things God has pointed back at us, suggesting that we might have an active part in the solution.

By praying, yes, we run a risk. But more than that – we pray down God’s intervention. God is the author of history – and he also has a final say in how world history will one day come to an end. When he reigns. But that can only be achieved by prayer.

Good luck!

It is time for me to come out and say that I hate this phrase… and I have done for a long time… When people wish me ‘good luck’ it makes me irritated. I usually take them to task … especially fellow Christians…and ask if that is what they really think and believe…

Why? Because I don’t believe the world really works like that. Life is not a matter of chance as some believe.

Of course, it could be just a light-hearted, off-the-cuff comment used to express the kind of support you would like to give a person. The sentiment is good and supportive.

If I see things as a matter of probability it makes handling ‘luck’ a lot easier. In other words there may statistically be a reasonable chance of my winning something. It may depend on my skill but there is also a high level of uncertainty over which we have no control.

The overall scheme of things as I see it, is for me the fact that God has my life in his hands. Whatever happens or does not happen is part of that scheme. Moreover He will not allow anything to happen to me that is outside of that sphere. Fatalistic?  I don’t think so – but God ordered, or God-ordained.

That is tremendously reassuring. It means I can go to bed at night knowing that I will be safe – and if something does happen, then that is all part of a bigger plan. Tomorrow will be just another exciting adventure.

It sounds to me like win-win! And as for luck let’s just say that is ‘bah humbug’!

Can’t Buy Me Love!

The Beatles’ song came to mind as I reflected on the recent attempt by the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to take over AstraZeneca, another large company. It failed – and I was pleased it did.

Talking on the radio an American commentator reflected on the failure. “They were thinking it’s all about money!” he said. Sad to say that is very much a trait these days – as though money (and sanctions, foreign aid, handouts, etc.) can buy us anything we want. Money is influence and provides a powerful lever for making things happen, and getting your own way.

But with AstraZeneca it was different. According to a company spokesman a takeover would have upset their current research into new, vitally needed drugs. It would also have meant a scaling back in their workforce causing layoffs.

Such a response brings some degree of hope. Some people – and commercial companies – still operate according to good ethics and put the common good above their own greed.

Across the world in Thailand another battle has been going on this week as the military seized control, putting an end to the recent spate of political unrest and bloodshed. For years the politics of wealth has fuelled a long-standing campaign as the rural poor have been paid to stage riots and vote in favour of the previous regime. It was a corrupt government by democratic standards and the election process flawed. Such corruption should not be rewarded and large numbers of Thai recognise that and want to end its crippling impact on the national economy. Meanwhile ways need to be found to help raise the standard of living for the rural poor who have been by-passed by rising wealth in the cities.

And that brings me back to Bangkok where my wife and I tied the legal knot in Red Earth Road some 40 years ago this month. We didn’t have any money then – so we didn’t do it for money! We had found that we loved each other and that God had brought us together. Together we have faced many challenges over the years, but in all things God has been faithful and has blessed  us. We thank God for a loving family of four children, who shared many of the challenges with us, and seven grandchildren.

I don’t care too much for money, Money can’t buy me love…! Can’t buy me love. No no no...  (Lennon-McCartney 1966)

Emergency Landing

Sometimes we stumble across events that challenge us to think about the value of human life.

Just two weeks ago my wife and I were on a British Airways flight to Los Angeles. It was my wife’s first aboard the Airbus A380 and were hoping for seats together on the upper deck – but alas, our best efforts got hi-jacked…

More than that, the flight was forced to make an emergency landing in Iceland. No, not a technical problem, but because a passenger on board had a medical emergency. A medical team boarded the plane together with immigration officials while 500 passengers waited anxiously on board. We did not even get fed our dinner because all plans for our imminent dinner had to be aborted. Regulations prevented the food being re-heated. To cut a long story short we arrived in LAX four hours late, hungry and tired. All for one passenger whose name we shall never know, and who will possibly be blissfully unaware of all the impact she had had on the lives and plans of so many.

The pilot took the decision as a matter of routine duty. Happily no one disagreed with it. As fellow human beings we experienced a sense of solidarity at the realisation that it had to be done – it was the right thing to do in the circumstances.

Within hours we were hearing of the loss of life in the Kiev riots. People being shot dead – many human lives. How can we weigh the value of those lives against that of the elderly passenger? How is it that one person’s life is so important while others die so cheaply?

There is no easy answer.

Jesus went to some length to let us know that each of us is important to God – and even the death of one person does not go unnoticed by Him.

BA Airbus A380

A380 at Heathrow before departure

Two Lives Remembered

November 23rd is the day we remember the passing of two of the most celebrated men of the 20th century. They both died the same day 50 years ago – but the one who died from an assassin’s bullet drew the most attention. He was John F Kennedy, the president of the United States. His gravestone is in the famous Arlington Cemetery in Washington. But his death is still shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

The other was the noted author, apologist and academic C.S. Lewis, an Oxford don, best known for his literature. A plaque has been laid in his memory among the literary greats in what has become known as Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey in London.

Only history will tell who has left the biggest mark in world history. For me my vote is for C.S. Lewis whose Chronicles of Narnia have enchanted children – and adults – for two generations. The chronicles provide rich insights into ‘the other world’, that unseen world of deep magic where good and evil do battle. But the victory belongs to Aslan!

How did I celebrate these 50 years? I still remember where I was when I heard the news of the JFK shooting and was not so aware of Lewis at that time. A lifetime has passed since then. This year I did a very unremarkable thing and started assembling a small greenhouse for myself in our back garden.. It makes me wonder what I might be remembered for – if anything. Perhaps that is something that we might all take a few minutes to reflect on…

Remember, remember…

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The vivid colours of autumn

November is a month of remembering – first Guy Fawkes on the 5th – and now within a week Remembrance Day when we remember those who have died fighting for our country. Meanwhile Americans celebrate Thanksgiving this month too…

According to the preacher this morning remembering is going out of fashion. Everything is about ‘now’. The added burden of having to remember things in our brains is now removed by the multitude of electronic and computerised devices and The Cloud…. Should we be thankful? Diaries are mostly a thing of the past though electronic versions as apps are not uncommon…

This poses the question of why remembering should be important. We still need to remember our appointments so that we can keep them. We also need to remember birthdays and anniversaries – especially of those we love. But what is the value of remembering the past?

Remembering the good times is something we enjoy when with family and friends. Telling the old stories, and reliving those past experiences that did so much to bring us together, are powerful in reaffirming relationships and the bonding we share between us.

Those who believe in a loving God have so much to be thankful for as we remember with gratitude the ways in which God has directed our lives and blessed us. He has led us, protected us, provided and sustained us through hardship, danger, in the good times and in the bad.

‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth’  we are exhorted, but even when we get older remembering can also be a marvellous tonic!

Any idiot can destroy!

Every time I hear of another terrorist attack – or gun massacre – I feel a rush of anger. That was how it was when I heard of the terrible shootings at the Nairobi shopping mall.

It raises the question of how anyone can establish credibility or respect when they resort to such puerile means. Any idiot can destroy, but it takes a whole lot more effort to put things together in a constructive way. Isn’t it amazing that anyone should want to claim responsibility for such shameful acts?  Or don’t I get it? Have we developed an upside-down culture where true values are inverted and the bad somehow becomes desirable or noble?

It is a sad commentary on the evil in the world. Nothing new, of course. The Bible describes death as the ultimate end and outcome of evil and we see that being lived out at various levels.  True good, by contrast, invests heavily in putting time, effort and resources into being constructive – usually at great personal cost.

Jesus came that we might have life and that we might enjoy it to the full… Bring it on!

 

Lust for Adventure

I am coming to the conclusion that I am a compulsive adventurer. I just love the unknown, the new, the risky and sometimes the dangerous. Or simply to go somewhere I have never been before..

It began when I was small. The best adventure I could have then was in the safe confine of my own bedroom. When the lights had gone out and my parents had said goodnight my adventure would begin…and I would dive headfirst to the bottom of the bed! Sometimes I would get lost, meaning that I could not find the way out so would have to lift up the blankets and sheets to get some air…

Growing up my biggest adventures were found climbing trees – the giant elm trees opposite my school or the chestnut trees in the nearby fields.

Going to Laos for two years during the Vietnam War was a more adult adventure after leaving university – and there were numerous others that followed. Riding a water buffalo, flying in a Comet 4 airliner, going to Mongolia…In fact life has simply been a succession of adventures strung together….

The last big adventure was two years ago when our eldest son Malcolm and I drove second son’s car (Ed’s) from Gothenburg airport to Monte Carlo in just over 2 days, taking in 10 countries… That was fun! The highlight was to find Ed waiting by the roadside as we drove down toward the harbour…

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Ready to roll!

Now my latest adventure begins next week, and I can hardly wait to get started. I plan to go on a long bike ride to raise money for a friend who is going to the Philippines for a year – to teach. It has been just the excuse I need to get mobile again. It will take me along roads and lanes I have never travelled before – partly we are still relatively new to this area of England around the Cotswolds. Hopefully 30 miles at least. With just over one week to go (till July 11) I have been organising it all in my mind: how often I will stop, what pictures I want to take, how I will document it – with Tweets and pictures (#FrankBiking) – and what I shall do if it rains… (answer: keep going and make the most of it!).

When I was a teenager I would sometimes do bike rides of 100 miles or more a day. In Asia I rarely rode a bicycle, though one holiday, out of boredom, I wanted to do something different in Penang so rode around the island – 46 miles – one morning on a small fold-up bicycle.

What will it be like this time? I really don’t know – but I am sure I will enjoy these new expressions to me of God’s creation…

Celebrity Failure

The list of celebrities who have disgraced themselves seems to be growing at a rapid rate.

“I’ve given up on heroes” says one of the UK’s top cyclists in the fallout from the Lance Armstrong confessions.  Others in the sport reflect on feeling duped or cheated as widespread disillusionment sets in. It is not just local to the USA but affects people across the globe.

With Oscar Pistorius now arrested on suspicion of murdering his girlfriend the whole of South Africa is sharing a similar emptiness.

Sex scandals in the UK media have also taken a heavy toll and the general public is no longer so shocked when another celebrity bites the dust.

Celebrity status is proving to be a dangerous thing. In fact it makes ordinary people wonder what constitutes “a celebrity”.  Is there a checklist by which those attaining a certain score take on that status? Or does one receive an official document – from somewhere – saying that it is now official – “Congratulations, you are now a celebrity!” Or is it something you drift into without knowing when you have crossed the line into a world of fame?

Perhaps the deeper question is “what is expected of celebrities”? Maybe that they have a recognisable face is one of the more obvious marks. Honour must surely have a part to play. We like to honour those who have achieved – perhaps against all odds. If celebrities become role models – which they do – then we also expect a certain high moral standard so that they become those whom young people in particular can get inspiration from.

Once they are thus elevated they let us down terribly when they fail, when they admit they have cheated on the way to achieving their fame, or subsequently.

How much did Tiger Woods’ misdemeanour impact the golfing world? Hugely, with ripples that spread through the advertising world, too.

We might even ask if somehow we, ordinary people, contribute to both the rise and the fall of celebrities. The fact is that few people can handle success well. Football players and other sportsmen rise to fame at an early stage. This brings them much wealth but often without good mentors to advise them on how to handle it and conduct themselves wisely.

The media have contributed enormously to the celebrity phenomenon. Indeed, media is arguably the single factor that creates celebrities  – sportsmen, actors, singers and TV personalities.

Malcolm Muggeridge, a famous journalist and one-time editor of Punch magazine, once wrote that if there had been a fourth temptation that the devil offered Jesus Christ, it would have been to have a media audience.

Maybe we need to re-define what makes a celebrity. But perhaps we don’t. We could just let celebrities rise and fall, and reduce our expectations of them. In the meantime we can seek out those who are quietly getting on with life, serving their communities, and performing thankless tasks without fuss or recognition.

For me, those are the true celebrities.

As for me, this is my prayer:

Dearest Lord,
teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve You as You deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for reward
save that of knowing I am doing Your Will. (St Ignatius Loyola)