I heard recently about a group of teenagers chatting and laughing on a pavement when a lady, probably in her 80’s, tried to get past. The group wouldn’t move, however, blocking the path and forcing her walk on the road. As she passed they jeered at her and made disparaging comments about her age and appearance.
When I heard of this, my first reaction was one of anger. How dare they treat someone like that? But these feelings were soon followed by feelings of sadness and despair, even. I thought about our society which increasingly worships youth and celebrity, and where one’s worth is measured in terms of one’s bank balance, looks or abilities. Being raised in that environment, perhaps these young people have not been given the moral grounding that many take for granted.
The Bible speaks of honouring the one’s parents and the elderly and of caring for the weak and vulnerable, but when you don’t know or don’t respect biblical authority then it is hard to justify why you should do these things. The Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), but when society tells you that God is dead and ‘if it feels good do it’, life can easily become a moral free-for-all.
But then I started to feel hopeful as I thought of dramatic stories of God’s intervention in the lives of apparently hopeless cases. People like Nicky Cruz.
Nicky Cruz was raised in Puerto Rico and was the victim of repeated physical abuse and rejection at the hands of his parents. In an attempt to escape his violent upbringing, Cruz fled to New York City in the mid 1950s where he soon got caught up in the gang violence that was sweeping the city. Fearless and seemingly immune to physical pain, Cruz rose through the ranks of the notorious Mau Mau gang in Fort Greene, Brooklyn to become their War Lord. Cruz’ life was a downward spiral of violence and dysfunction. A psychiatrist once told the court and Nicky that he was “doomed… finished… on a one-way trip to jail, the electric chair and hell.”
Then one day a skinny preacher, David Wilkerson, came to the war-torn streets of Brooklyn delivering a message to Nicky – “Jesus loves you, Nicky.” Cruz threatened to kill the preacher, but several weeks later at a rally in New York City, Cruz surrendered his life to God and exchanged his weapons for a Bible. For the past 50 years, Nicky has been travelling around the world reaching tens of millions of people with his miraculous testimony and continues to minister in inner cities and prisons. His life story has been told in the best-selling book, ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’, and in the movie by the same title. I read that book and saw that film when I was a teenager, and they had a significant impact on my fledgling Christian faith.
There are many others like Nicky Cruz, radically transformed by the power of God through the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Many stories of God’s work in the lives of individuals are less dramatic, but no less significant, and some of those will be shared at the Songs of Praise event on Harwell Recreation Ground on Sunday 26th May. If you are tempted to despair and need to be encouraged, please come along. If you just want to join in with a good old sing then you are equally welcome. And if you would like to share your story of how God has been at work in your life, then be in touch!
Revd Dr Jonathan Mobey
Rector of Harwell with Chilton