As Christians, we may often talk of ‘believing and doing’. But when was the last time we shared the gospel with a person or a group of people? We are called to take the gospel into all the world and make disciples of all men. This is part of our faith; we should be active and alive. This is where organisations such as UBM (United Beach Missions) play an important role.
Serving the Lord on a beach mission offers a brilliant opportunity for Christians to share their faith to children, families and individuals on beaches up and down the country. Whilst our lives should be continuous testimonies before the Lord and men; too often we can slip into a routine of saying little and doing little, blending into the world, or even leading a ‘double-life’. For this reason, beach missions are a great opportunity, especially for young believers. They are a real challenge and test of your faith.
Introduction to Beach Missions
Essentially, beach missions consist of small-ish teams of Christians, working with children on beaches across Britain (as well as parts of Europe). Each mission lasts a week (although many places run for several weeks) with the stated aim of building lasting friendships with children and parents, and more importantly, pointing them to Christ. The following video (although a little dated) provides a good overview of how UBM achieve this:
Beach missions aren’t just about serving others, there is time set aside for personal study and spiritual growth, as well as collective prayer and worship. Being with other brothers and sisters in Christ (from mixed backgrounds), day in, day out is one of my favourite things about beach missions. It is so refreshing and revitalising, compared with day to day life. There is no swearing, no crude humour, no girl-boy flirting, immodest dress or other temptations. This difference was something that was brought home to me in stark form yet again as I arrived back home from a mission in Cornwall on a Saturday night. Almost everyone was boozing or getting ready for a night-out.
Instead of judging the poor souls who ‘live for the weekend’ and the sex, drugs, alcohol lifestyle, we should be filled with compassion, a love for the lost, a burden for lost souls, a desire to share with them the most amazing gift of God that we have. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says:
“In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
When we do so, we will be blessed, you can be sure of that!
One of the greatest things about beach missions is the fact that the gospel is being proclaimed to a receptive audience, publicly on a beach (something we still have freedom to do, although opposition abounds). The sight of boys and girls eagerly singing songs of Christ and listening attentively to Bible stories, and their parents watching on, happy to have a break from parenting; is one of the highlights for me.
A beach mission is a test of your faith, your character and a test of your ability to survive with not that much sleep; but with God’s grace it’ll be a doddle and great fun too.
For the first couple of years I dreaded going on a beach mission, my shy old self wanted to hide away. It was only with the persuasion of my parents that I somewhat reluctantly went along. I loved every minute of my first beach mission however, having just turned fifteen, but no sooner had I returned home than I retreated back into my shell like a tortoise.
Now, having aged a bit and lost some of that shyness, I can look forward to beach missions with great anticipation and excitement; it is now one of the highlights of my year. This year, I was given much more responsibility, which is daunting and scary, but with God’s grace I survived! Beach missions are an excellent training ground for building yourself up into an effective soldier of Christ. The uniform, the team, make it easier (although it’s still hard!) talking to strangers, inviting them along to beach events and pointing them to Christ, perhaps by sharing your own testimony. Before every event there’s prayer, always a primary focus – we go not in our own strength with our own message but as servants and children of God bringing his message of forgiveness to the world.
So next year, put your name down for a beach mission! You won’t regret it.
Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Arguably the most important stage of a person’s life is their childhood, their upbringing. Take one look at the packed prisons up and down the country: nine times out of ten, for many of the poor inmates who seem to know no better, it all went wrong from the start. There is a clear correlation between how a child was brought up and where they end up. Although, of course, it isn’t always as simple as that.
My first day of school was September 11 2001. A day synonymous with another dreadful event, a harrowing reminder of the dangerous world we live in. When I was almost seven years old, my parents took the decision to home educate me and my siblings. This decision has impacted my whole life, and ultimately I believe was the right decision.
So yes, I am one of those weird homeschooled kids, not from a necessarily large or particularly wild family (as far as home educated families go!). It is my desire in this brief piece to reflect on my homeschooled childhood and weigh it up as I see it. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting, if not edifying.
Broadening one’s horizons
Home-schooling/home-educating/home-edding/CHEddering (or whatever term floats your blow-up dinghy) opens up new doors and opportunities whilst closing others. Basically – it’s quite different from the orthodox state-school approach (as anybody with even the faintest idea of what it is will agree).
One of the fun things about home-education is that you get to do everything, washing clothes, cooking dinner, cleaning out gutters, emptying drains, carrying out archaeological digs on veg patches, etc. These, all being things that normal kids don’t often get the opportunity to do, with schoolwork and homework. Home education is very hands-on, although different parents do different things.
On a practical level, for a homeschooled family, outside of the state school system and holidays: you can do what you want when you want. Discount term-time holidays; trips to adventure parks, museums, and swimming pools on weekdays minus the usual hustle and bustle; and etc. are all in order.
Due to the lack of a class-room atmosphere, and depending on how strict your parents are (and how much else they have on their plate), home education offers up chances of skipping work to focus on more ‘fun’ activities (I speak from experience!). We got up to all sorts…
Another result is that us home-educated kids can end up a narrow-minded lot. Our main sources of information are our parents, siblings and other home-educated kids. Whilst we miss out on some of the often erroneous and arguably dodgy teaching in public schools (as well as the increasing atheistic/humanistic agenda), we basically grow up in a bubble, protected from the outside; this can be good and bad. When the time comes to venture out into the big wide world, it can come as a bit of a shock!
Myth-busting: homeschool style
However, with all this, there are many popular myths flouted around by namby-pamby type people who don’t know any better (just kidding of course!).
One such is the perceived lack of social life. This isn’t completely true, and really annoys homeschooled kids. Home education groups offer children the opportunity to mix and interact in different circles, with older and younger children – a very rewarding experience, and something you don’t necessarily get in the same way in classrooms at school (bully from the year above anyone?).
Home education holidays, weekends and conferences take things further, with the added benefit of home-edding circles being fairly small.
Overall, I guess we do kind of miss out on social interaction outside of home education circles, but you do miss out on school bullies, and other school mischief (although home-educated kids can certainly get up to plenty of mischief on their own!).
The legal stuff
Fact time. In many countries, across the world, home education is illegal, including Germany where Adolf Hitler reportedly first banned it (a fact you may well hear often in home education circles). As you can see in the graphic below (Green is legal, yellow is legal in most political subdivisions but not all or is practiced, but legality is disputed. Red is illegal or unlawful. Orange is generally considered illegal, but untested legally. – cut n’ pasted from Wikipedia)
The United Kingdom is one of the few places where home education can be practiced with minimal interference from the state, a fact home educators are very grateful for. Up to 100,000 children are home educated in the UK, and roughly 2.5m in the USA. These figures have risen steadily over the last few decades, as dissatisfaction with the school system grows and (of course) the astronomically high birth-rate of home educated families (something we are all so dearly fond of).
As a slight diversionary note: In 2009, in England, home educators were required to register and report back annually to local authorities. This was based on a review conducted by a certain Mr G. Badman. Taking a leaf out of John Bunyan’s book, if names are anything to go by, this was resented by home educating folk!
However (and thanks to Peter Reynolds and others for pointing this mistake out to me in the comments section) there was such a large uproar over these plans that they were never actually passed through parliament.
Consequently, with understandable motives, there is a growing movement to discourage home education and better ‘support’ parents.
Home education is a whole world apart from orthodox state schooling. In some ways it is less demanding on parents than school (my Mum was glad to be rid of the schoolrun!). However, it also presents new and different challenges for the family, which can be much more demanding in different areas. For the parents, you’ll never get away from the kids!
My home educated childhood has been the most important period of my life, a period of molding and shaping. I am immensely grateful for this upbringing. At times, I admit, I was envious of school kids; but hey, the grass is always greener on the other side, right? I knew many state-schooled kids who thought just the opposite…
Whilst on both sides, we can adopt a ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitude, our Christian faith and love transcends any such barriers. We should never judge each other, “This is how it should be done.” We are all different and should respect that. For many others, the situation is different, going to school is completely the right thing to do (much also depends on the local schools too and possibly a whole range of other factors). Both my parents happened to be teachers, giving my family a bit of a headstart. For me, home education was definitely the right step to take and so far I think I’ve turned out pretty good (although some might say otherwise!).
There are a great many valuable lessons we can learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s life; and in the following series of articles I intend to draw some out and apply them to our day and age. So join me as we explore the life of a great man, raised up by God!
I’m nobody special; I don’t have a doctorate or professorship, or even a degree yet. I haven’t studied academically into this area. What will be written here is based on my own personal study of the Bible and simple research and pointers from available commentaries, books, encyclopaedias and the great deal of information available through the internet.
It can be easy to read the Bible (particularly the book of Daniel more so perhaps) as just a story sometimes, but it all happened, it is as true and real as the hair on your head (unless you’re Ben Kingsley, of course) – archaeological finds and Babylonian records back it up too. These people lived, worked and played, just as we do today.
Many people today forget Nebuchadnezzar, or ignore him, yet in his day he was the most powerful man on earth, and a major Biblical character. I’m not going to launch here into how humble, unworthy or poor my attempt is on writing about the life and times of Nebuchadnezzar; you can judge that for yourself.
I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to write about a subject I love! I have attempted to present a balanced and honest picture as far as possible. I am human like everyone, so there are bound to be various mistakes and/or discrepancies. Hopefully, however, others will benefit from these articles, as I trust I will in writing them.
There are many grey areas, which is only to be expected, these events took place 2,600 years ago! Where there are conflicting opinions, I have tried to present all viewpoints equally.
Through Nebuchadnezzar’s life we can see God’s ever-present hand at work, sometimes ‘behind-the-scenes’, but other times more openly.
So without further ado: ahem, ladies and gentlemen, I present the first part…
Nebuchadnezzar: The king of kings
This will be the first article of many, I trust; setting the scene for the events that follow, and introducing you to this fascinating man.
Daniel addressed Nebuchadnezzar in the following manner:
“Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.” Dan. 2:37-38
In 570 BC the Babylonian Empire was at its fullest extent. It stretched from modern-day Turkey down to Egypt, and from modern-day Iran down into the heartlands of Arabia.
The Babylonians were the most powerful civilisation of their time, and subdued all challengers to that title in a series of successful military campaigns.
The city of Babylon, from where the Babylonians derived their name, was the central metropolis of the empire with around 200,000 inhabitants – a massive figure at the time. To put it into perspective, London wouldn’t reach this size until the 1600s.
The Babylonians, much like their counterparts throughout the pages of history (Sumer, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, etc.), lead the way in art, architecture, lifestyle, mathematics and learning as well.
At the head of this civilization was the king, worshipped by his subjects like a god, surrounded and supported by ‘great’ and ‘powerful’ gods of gold and stone.
He commanded unparalleled power. Woe to them that caused the slightest displeasure to his person; he would inflict the most severe tortures and punishments upon his enemies, skinning them alive. Those, on whom his favour rested, on the other hand, would be showered with riches untold.
Who made this kingdom what it was? Who was ‘the king of kings’? Who commanded such power and fear?
King Nabû-kudurri-uṣur II; more commonly known as: Nebuchadnezzar II.
Nebuchadnezzar raised Babylon from a backward puppet city-state ruled by Assyria, into the nation that it was. Babylon had been dominated by Assyria for centuries, despite being in a state of near-constant rebellion against them.
At first by his father’s side, but later on his own, Nebuchadnezzar elevated his nation into a major world power. Under his reign, Babylon experienced its golden era.
No other ruler was called ‘king of kings’ in the Bible by God Himself (Ezk. 26:7f), see note 1.
Daniel addressed him with this title too; he did well to do so, Nebuchadnezzar was certainly a man to be feared; he had just previously ordered the death of Daniel and all the wise men of Babylon because of their inability to tell him his dream (Dan. 2:9ff). In verses 5 and 6 of chapter two he says:
“’This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.’” Dan. 2:5-6.
Piles of rubble can also be translated as ‘dunghill’ or ‘ash-heap.’
In this quote, we get an idea of the character of this man. It also reveals how much he was troubled by this dream.
If Nebuchadnezzar did not get his way, we can clearly see the drastic lengths that he was prepared to go to. Who could stand up to him?
One can imagine his advisers skulking around the palace, not daring to offend or disappoint him; offering up flattery and praise rather than opinion or advice.
Thankfully for Babylon, God did not allow Nebuchadnezzar to carry out his plan which he had ‘firmly decided’. Such a rash action would have deprived Babylon of the vast majority of its rulers and teachers (as well as the resident Jewish contingent); although admittedly, the court ‘magicians’ and astrologers might not have been that useful anyhow!
Here, God clearly intervenes by speaking through Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar, relating his dream (which he apparently had forgotten), and interpreting it for him – a great mercy for all involved; and a classic example of God overruling a man’s plans (Prv. 19:21).
Prophecies concerning Nebuchadnezzar
The Bible speaks a lot about Nebuchadnezzar; he was God’s tool – raised up by the Lord to punish those ripe for judgement. Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesy extensively concerning him.
Jeremiah’s prophecies (and the historical interludes in Jeremiah) relate his eventual conquest of Jerusalem, after destroying much of it twice, and instilling first Zedekiah as puppet-king and then Gedaliah as governor. Both of whom rebelled against him (or in Gedaliah’s case the people whom he was supposed to be governing), despite the Lord’s repeated warnings through Jeremiah (Jer. 22:25, 25:9f, 27:6f, 28:14, 29:21f, 32:28f, 43:9ff, 46:13ff, 46:26).
Nebuchadnezzar also fulfilled prophecies given by the Lord predicting campaigns against Tyre (Isa. 26, Ezk. 26:7f) and Egypt (Ezk. 29:19f, 30:10f) by name; and Assyria also (Nah. 2).
Unfortunately for Nebuchadnezzar, he did not recognise or acknowledge the fact that he was raised up by God and not by himself, resulting in the Lord humbling him severely; but more on that later.
Rise and fall of an empire
This period of Mesopotamian and Israelite history is fascinating with hindsight. The rise (under Nebuchadnezzar) and fall of the Babylonians in the 6th century BC is certainly one of the most dramatic in history. In actual fact the Babylonian Empire rose and fell in a little over half a century.
It should be noted before we continue, that the Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar’s time is the ‘Neo-Babylonian Empire’ or second empire of Babylon. Babylon had a fairly substantial independent empire eleven hundred years before. They also had a Nebuchadnezzar before, hence why our subject is labelled the second.
Babylon, in the land of Shinar, has a long history; it being the location of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 as well.
Rich archaeological heritage
I hope you will permit me a slight diversion (getting side-tracked already!): one note I would like to make on the first Babylonian empire is of special historic archaeological interest, as an example of the richness of Middle-Eastern archaeology. The site of Aqar Quf, a 14th century BC Babylonian city (near modern-day Baghdad, Iraq) is the location of “an unusually well preserved ziggurat.” Rising to a height of 180 feet, the mud-brick core of the ziggurat still stands today, weathering almost 3,500 years of history and conflict. It is remarkable that such a relic from a by-gone age has survived. Think of all that it has witnessed, from Alexander the Great to the Mongol invasions and the Iraq war …
Egypt and the pyramids get all the attention (and rightly so, to an extent), but we do miss out on the (arguably even more spectacular) remains of the Mesopotamian civilisations. Such a building makes archaeology and history in the Near East so amazing. So much still survives from its rich history; but equally so much has been lost, and so much is yet to be found.
1 – The only other human being called ‘king of kings’ in the Bible is Artaxerxes, king of Persia. However that was a title he gave himself, in a letter sent to Ezra the priest (Ezra 7:11-13); this was common practice for such rulers in those days.