Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mathew, An Eyewitness Account

By Colleen Podmore

Matthew. Who was he? Where did he come from? Why did he write the gospel of Matthew? What was his purpose?

The 4 Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Matthew, Mark and Luke are called Synoptic gospels which means the same, or they have similar content. They are all very similar in content but at the same time quite different. Of the three synoptic gospels it is thought that Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke used Mark’s account of events, but changed the order. They agreed with Mark’s accounts but added their own perspectives. Mark is written in the order that events occurred but Matthew and Luke are not written in the order that they occurred.

For example all three gospels give an account of who Matthew was and how he came to be a follower of Jesus.

Matt 10:2-4, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-15.

From these passages we see that Matthew was also known as Levi, that he was a tax collector and that he could have been wealthy as he put on a feast for Jesus and his disciples with many invited guests.

Levi and Matthew – Jewish and Greek names. Matthew means ‘gift of the Lord’. Mark and Luke call him Levi but Matthew uses his Greek name, Matthew. I find this really interesting and I’m wondering why that is? Jesus also gave Simon the name ‘Peter’ or Cephas, which means rock – did Jesus give Levi the name Matthew, which means ‘gift of the Lord?’

Matthew the tax collector

Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors were employed by the Romans to collect taxes for them. Tax collectors were often greedy and took more from the people than they were supposed to. They were considered traitors and despised (Perhaps a modern day equivalent might be a drug dealer or worse a pedophile).

So, we can perhaps assume that Matthew loved money, perhaps he was greedy and swindled people. It’s interesting that Luke provides an account of tax collectors who came to John in repentance and they asked him what they should do? John said, ‘Don’t collect anymore than you are required to.’ (Luke 3:12) Perhaps Levi was one of these tax collectors?

Jesus was ministering in Capernaum where Matthew collected taxes (Matt 4:13). Jesus started his ministry in Nazareth about AD27. He then moved into Peter’s house in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee and called Matthew/Levi, 12 months later (AD28) to follow him and the following year after that, appointed him an Apostle… So when Jesus said ‘follow me’ Matthew was ready – he had seen the evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, the prophesised king of Israel –and he was ready to leave everything behind to follow Jesus. He wasn’t like the rich young ruler who had so much wealth that he turned back from following Jesus. Indeed Jesus said how difficult (but not impossible), it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Matt 19:23).

Jesus told Matthew to follow him and that’s exactly what Levi did.

So in summary, here was a man who was despised and rejected but he met Jesus and he was never the same again. In fact, because of his job he was probably the most educated disciple. He would have known Greek and Aramaic and been able to write and count. He was Levi and he became Matthew, the ‘gift of the Lord’ perhaps because he wrote the gospel, the account of who Jesus was and what happpened during those few short years when God became flesh and dwelt among us!

Matthew the Apostle

Matthew was an educated man, he was intelligent and he was also humble. When Jesus selected his Apostles, I find it really interesting to read the accounts.

Levi the tax collector, becomes Matthew the tax collector, who becomes Matthew the Apostle. He never forgot who he had been before he met Jesus and discovered the grace of God and forgiveness which saved him. Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16, Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13

Consider Matthew’s background – in spite of who he was he was

Totally accepted by God

Totally accepted by the other disciples

In humility calls himself Matthew the tax collector (Matt 10:24)– perhaps remembering who he was but more than that, who God is!

What name do you call yourself? Would you describe yourself as you are now or as you were before God called you, when Jesus looked at you and said ‘Follow me’? Is this a name from God or a name that is holding you back?

For example, I used to believe in the theory of evolution as an explanation of how life began. I neither knew God or acknowledged His creative power, but Jesus said, ‘Follow Me’ Now if I call myself ‘Colleen the evolutionist’, I’m reminded of the profound and saving grace of God who opened my eyes and set me free from bondage and slavery to lies! The miracle of new birth and new beginnings. Hallelujah!

The Gospel of Matthew

Matthew walked with Jesus for 3 short, action packed years and witnessed His words and works, His death and resurrection and Matthew wanted to capture the events and meaning of those years. He was inspired by the Spirit of God to use his gifts and talents in this way.

Jesus, the King of Israel came to His own, yet His own did not recognise Him. Matthew recognised Him and wrote about Jesus credentials as King of Israel starting with His genealogy, His miraculous prophesised birth, going on to record His words, which ‘amazed the crowds (Matt 7:28), His baptism, the healing miracles, the parables of the kingdom, discourses on the end times and finally Jesus betrayal, death and resurrection. In light of all this, Matthew exhorts those who follow to go and tell the whole world the good news about Jesus the Messiah!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Intercessory Prayer - Abraham & Lot

By Hayley Boud

This is a short message of encouragement for us as we come this morning to fast and pray for the servants of God using the story of Abraham and Lot to help us be ready to pray.

When God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorah, He decided to pass by Abraham first. He didn’t have to, He could have destroyed the city first but it was His will to involve Abraham. God wants to use us today to pray for these servants of God. God wanted to use Abraham to lead Lot out of that city and that is what we are doing today...we are going to be used by God to lead these servants of God from one place to another. Some might already be in the right place and we will praise God for that and we will pray they will continue to be in the right place. For those that are not in God’s will...we might have to be like Abraham who had to push Lot to get out. We might have to use our prayers to push these people to move.

Lot wasn’t even someone special but God wanted to save him because of Abraham’s prayers. Because of our prayers today, God will save these servants (either from moving in the wrong direction or from staying in the wrong place).

Once Lot started moving, he was told not to look back and we know the consequence of his wife who looked back. We need these servants to keep focused on Jesus and not to look at what was in the past or what is going on around them.

It was God’s will for Lot to be in that city at that time so His glory could be seen.  We might look at some of our people and think they are not in the right place but we need to know God’s will. Eve took the fruit because God wanted it to happen that way, He knew she would and that was His plan. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus because it was God’s will. It might be God’s will for our brother to be separated from us, or for servants to be going places we think they shouldn’t, so we need to pray for God’s will to be accomplished and while these people are there, pray God will protect them from sin.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


By Hayley Boud

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, By deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom…the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, Then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, Full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” James 3:13, 17


“Let him show”
The verse says that we should show our wisdom by the actions we do in “humility”. So we don’t have to tell people we are wise, they will discover it by themselves through our good actions. They will see by your wise decisions, by your transformed life, by the words you choose in everyday situations and they will discover you are wise without you having to tell them.

“Good life”
It’s not just the deeds we do that need to be good but our whole life: our character, our personality. A good life is someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit and this is proven by the good fruits they possess, “love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, goodness, gentleness and kindness Do my actions reflect wisdom or foolishness? Does my life reflect the fruit of the Holy Spirit?

What are our deeds or works? The bible says that faith without works is dead/useless (James 2:20,26). For example, if I’m the leader on Wednesday, I know that if I spend the time reading the Bible, meditating and reflecting on a particular verse and working out exactly what I will say, my works will prove how wise I am because I will lead with confidence and I’ll have something to say that has depth and meaning.

“Wisdom that comes from heaven”
So what is the wisdom that comes from heaven? It is “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere”. This is the wisdom that comes from heaven.

Wisdom that comes from heaven (not wisdom as the world thinks of wisdom) doesn’t have any impurities: it won’t have any selfish desires or biases and it won’t cause someone to stumble, it won’t be motivated by self-interest or pride, it is humble and clean of sin.

Wisdom from heaven is “Peaceable” which means it brings about peace. It turns a difficult situation into one where people have peace. This is both physical (people are fighting and you help them to forgive) and spiritual (bringing peace between God and others with a gospel message).

“Considerate” or “Gentle”: find good strategies to help those around you, gently cleansing them with a soft sponge rather than attacking them with a harsh scrubbing brush. Find the right words to say at the right time spoken with kindness will achieve far greater results than pointing the finger and rebuking.

“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” 1 Thessalonians 2:7


“Submissive” or “Willing to Yield” or “Reasonable”
Submissive means you give your will to someone else in the same way Jesus said, “not my will but Yours be done” when He prayed to the Father. It means we give complete control to someone else and that is what we decided to do when we became Christians. We decided to give our lives 100% to Christ and therefore, “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” Gal 2:20 and we chose to give up everything in order to be a disciple of Christ (luke 14:33).

So wisdom is submitting our whole lives into the hands of Jesus our God and letting Him be in control and letting Him lead us and make the decisions for our lives.

Hebrews 5:7, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his submission”.

Christ Himself was listened to by the Father when He prayed because He was submitted to the Father….submitted to the point of death on the cross.

We not only have to be submitted to God but we also have to submit to:

- Authorities = 1 Peter 2:13
- Our husbands = 1 Peter 3:1
- Those who are older = 1 Peter 5:5
- Our parents = 10 commandments
- Each other = Ephesians 5:21
- The Spirit rather than our flesh = Galations 5:16

So to be truly wise in the eyes of God, we have to submit ourselves to the government, to our husbands, to our parents and to our elders. Obviously wisdom also means we will weigh it up against the Word of God and be sure that we are following Christ. If my dad tells me not to say grace, then I will have wisdom and say grace quietly without him hearing. I will submit to his authority while also remembering that Jesus is above everything. If the government says that I can no longer meet here and pray with fellow Christians, I will still meet but if I am caught, I will submit to the punishment. I might try to hire a good human rights lawyer and ask people to pray but I won’t fight the government, I’ll submit.

Reasonable means that we should not be excessive or extreme. Wisdom from heaven has sound judgment. Often Christians are extreme or fanatic. We have Pentecostals on one side and Open Brethren on the other. Some Christians are rigid with rules and others are free with no boundaries at all. It’s not good to be an extremist or radical. We have to be careful as Christians to judge everything and be balanced. We can’t be one sided, we have to know that faith is extremely important and we can only be saved by grace but we also have to know that faith without works is dead. We can’t focus on one and forget the other. We have to know the whole story, the whole Bible and we need the Holy Spirit for that.

We also have to be careful not to judge situations and be highly moral. I lived with four boys in a flatting situation when I moved to Hamilton and none of them were Christians. They were the best flatmates ever but many people told me I was wrong as a Christian to live in the same house as non-christians who were boys. They told me that I have to make sure to not give any appearance of evil, they told me that I would be a bad influence on others by encouraging people to live with their boyfriend/girlfriend, they told me that I would be in a place of temptation and I’d be tempted to sin and one man even told me that I was living in an orgy. I lived in that flat free from temptation and I was able to show non-christians a life that they might never experience without me being there and they also taught me a lot about my life. They kept me on the right track because if I messed up, they would say, “and you say you are a Christian”. So I was very careful not to mess up.

I have a friend who won’t let her child watch any tv or internet. It sounds like a good idea but now that the child is older, she visits my house and sees the tv. She is totally obsessed with it. When she is an adult, I believe it will be a big issue because the tv can teach a person many things. I learn a lot from watching nature programs, Christian tv, the news, and even ordinary movies can teach us. Being excessive is dangerous.

But on the other side, there are parents who are too free with their child and they do whatever they like. This is also a form of extreme and this is also dangerous.

We have to look at situations and make a sound judgment, balancing good against bad and come with a decision that is reasonable. The Christians who judged my flatting situation should have looked carefully, if they had, they would have realised that I was growing stronger as a Christian and my flatmates were receiving the Word of God in action. But there may be times when a person shouldn’t flat in a mixed situation, but that is where we need wisdom from heaven and not our own personal point of view.

Monday, March 4, 2013

It's a Corpse

By Odon Bulamba

“Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ He said. ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” John 11:38-39

Lazarus was physically sick and poor and didn’t have a good job to rely on money. At that time there was no government support for those that were jobless, so if you had no job or ability to work, you had nothing so you had to work hard to get something in those days.

Regardless of his poverty, Lazarus was a good friend of Jesus. He was a good friend of the man whom we call God, he was a good friend of the one who possesses everything, who can create money, life and the existence to everything. Imagine if Bill Gates said you were his best friend, you will feel special.

Even though Lazarus was a friend of Jesus, it can’t be read in the Bible that Jesus came to Lazarus with money or gifts because their friendship was not based on material things. On a few occasions Jesus visited the family of Lazarus and He was fed and He left. The Bible doesn’t say how much money Jesus left behind.

While Jesus was travelling His friend Lazarus became sick to the point that no one could intervene, nobody could support him, the community was there but no one could look after him and the two sisters were there to see if his health could improve but they were not capable of healing there brother.

Sometimes we face situations when we feel stressed and pressured because we don’t have a solution to our problems and those around us, our neighbors, don’t know what is going on. They say hello, how are you and we answer we are good but deep inside, there is a problem we can’t share. Because our neighbors can’t support us, we are obliged to see our family and sometimes they also are unable to find a solution to the problem.

Lazarus was very sick and he knew that he was going to die if he didn’t find healing. He might have thought, ‘The man Jesus who can heal, who supports others and changes their lives is my best friend but where is he now? Maybe he told Martha to tell Jesus he was sick. Phones didn’t exist in those days and Martha and Mary didn’t know where to find Jesus. I’m sure wherever Jesus was, He knew that his friend was sick but He knew it wasn’t His time to go because He would only go there for God’s glory, so He had to wait.

The more that Lazarus got sick, the more that their hope was decreasing. For example, you need something and you ask others and they can’t help you and the more you can’t sort it out, the more it presses down on you and you keep asking others to intervene and they can’t help. Maybe you had a friend/family member who has been sick for a while and have been going through a series of problems, and you have been trying to get solutions (dr, hospital, others) but no one can help.

Someone went to see Jesus and told Him that Lazarus is sick. Jesus said, “I’m coming.” Imagine you call an ambulance, and you ring 111 and they say, “can you hold for 10mins, I’ll get back to you”. If someone is dying, how will you feel?

Lazarus was going through this...Jesus was going slowly and not rushing while others were under pressure and fear. If I were Lazarus I might judge Jesus, ‘now I’m going through hardship, this so called good friend doesn’t even turn up’. Jesus was told on his way that Lazarus had died.

Imagine a friend who comes when your hope is completely gone and you don’t’ need them anymore. Imagine a friend who tells you that if there is any problem, call me first and then he is the last one to come. Imagine the ambulance arriving at the mortuary to help to take the body back to hospital. How will you feel?

Martha was straight with Jesus, ‘you are too late, regardless of your promises, it is late’. Maybe she was angry, maybe she felt disappointed with God, maybe she felt pushed away from God’s plan. In our lives when we face challenges we feel like we are far away from God. I remember some days I would kneel down and pray and ask God to help me and I’d count down the minutes and God says nothing and I’d start to feel, ‘are you really God, why can’t you do this in my life?”

Many people who don’t need God’s help, these are the ones He continues to help, He gives them a good job, good bosses, money, cars, health, houses and He keeps giving. Others pray for a job and God leaves you four weeks without a job and you lose courage to say thanks to God while He says we must be thankful in all situations. We lose courage to be thankful because God doesn’t respond.

Here Jesus went to the tomb. Maybe the family thought, ‘Where were you when he was alive, we needed you and you didn’t intervene, you used to heal those you don’t even know but this one was a good friend’.

In Israel, they believed that every family should have their own tomb where you take the body when you die and wrap it in material and leave it for three days and they believed your spirit would come out of the body and be there for the next 72 hours and if life doesn’t come back, then you are declared dead and then your body will go to a second place for decomposition and a name written for memory.

So they believed the spirit had already left Lazarus and he couldn’t be helped anymore. You and I have challenges in our lives, every step we make there is a challenge following you like a shadow. No one can tell me that in their daily life that they will go through a day without challenge, they are there even if we try to forget them.

At this stage Jesus stood up and told them to remove the stone. Sometimes you believe that with a problem you have failed because it is too late – you wanted to find a husband and you have failed because it is too late and there is no hope but God will ask, what is your problem and you say, forget about it, I asked you before but you didn’t help so forget about it.

They removed the stone, Jesus didn’t do it. They respected Him and did it but Martha was right, the body was decomposed and the odor was not a good one. In one of the jails in Cote d’Ivoire to torture prisoners, when one dies, they leave the body there with the other prisoners. They see how the body changes, it swells, the colour changes, the smell is bad and what you see coming from inside the body is unpleasant – you can’t look at it twice and they leave the body there for weeks and you can’t eat, sleep or look at it but you have to live with it.

Sometimes your problems make you sick but you are forced to live with it because there is no solution. If that is your case, you have problems that are decomposing, you still need Jesus, He is still there for you.

The crowd was there to comfort Martha. This crowd were not there before when she needed the help and now there “sorry” doesn’t help at all. How often do we intervene when our brothers or sisters cross a hard time. When Colleen’s father was in hospital, who took the step to visit her? No one. We were all busy with our own business. It is sad to see people shouting for help but we wait until the last minute to rub there back, sorry for what happened.

Those neighbors started to talk about Jesus and they wanted to see Jesus, not Martha or Mary. Jesus started to cry. What was He crying for, for the crowd? For his friend? Because He had not been there? Imagine you present God your situation and He cries. You might think, ‘what a hypocrite’ because while he was alive, you didn’t care but now he is dead you want to show you care.

Jesus prayed, “thank you father because you listen to me”. What a powerful message. Do you pray that too? When things are going wrong do you say, thank you for listening to me? Maybe you complain and say, I told you from day one when the problem started but you didn’t show up.

“Lazarus come out” Jesus knew Lazarus couldn’t walk because his body was enveloped in material. Jesus didn’t listen to Martha’s “the body is decaying”, He put it aside and no matter how hard is your problem, Jesus is the solution. Don’t be disappointed because you don’t see the solution yet, it might take years but Jesus is coming closer and closer and you may even forget about your prayer by the time you get the answer but you will get a solution.

Imagine someone you know very well who has passed away a few days ago and then you see them on the street. You will be shocked. Jesus knows our problems, our situation, our needs and He is the only one who can be the solution for that. Our family has built up a tomb where we go to discuss our problems but very often we don‘t find a solution. The cave where we put our trust is not where we find solutions. If you put trust in man, put your trust in God. Sometimes God doesn’t come running, He sometimes walks slowly but He will always come and bring a solution. Money is not the solution but God is the solution

Money pulls us, everybody is fighting for money, even pastors. We don’t go to work because we enjoy it but because of money. If the money is a lot then it is a good job. That is not a good job, a good job is where God’s will is, where you put God first. Today in West Africa people join witch craft because of money – its common. If a man wants to go to USA without a passport/visa/money, no one will stop him, he will board the plane without any ticket and he will fly to the US and there he pays the magician back home.

Some people wake up in the morning and decide to see someone for money – they use a traditional African basket and every single night at midnight the basket will have a snake that will grow big and then vomit money. This is reality not a legend. When you feel it is enough, you can tell snake stop but you must not show anyone that snake. Later you will have to go back to the witch and the witch will ask you to give the snake a break, some food and some drink but they don’t drink water, they will ask for human being blood and not from the blood bank, you are obliged to give away your son, or your mother. At first you give away one person every 2 years and then it becomes one per year, then it becomes one per month and if you don’t pay, you will become mentally sick so you are obliged. It is common in Africa to see a man with 7 wives and 70 children to sacrifice one child per month just for money.

Take your challenges to God and at the right time you will be happy.

Let’s pray now and tell God all your challenges and ask God to sort out your problems.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Wake Up Call

By Peter Belchamber

Read Jere.22:6-9 (serving other gods)

Dan.1:1 "In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim" = 605 BC historically verifiable!

Spiritually Israel was as low as it could go. Dan. 1;1-2 gives us an historic milestone as to how bad things had become. In Jeremiah chap.21 we read of King Zedekiah's request to God. but it proves to be too little too late. Answers to prayer can be: WAIT; NO; OR YES Someone asked the question, "If we do not listen to God's Word why should he listen to our pleas? In Jere. 22;3 we read of how the civil and social structure had devolved into cruelty and injustice.

The leaders of this devolution were the religious leaders of the day:/ and who demanded that Jesus should be Crucified? The religious leaders of the day!

In Jere 23:9-14 their "prophets" had become corrupt and were teaching falsehood.

Then in Jere.25 the prophet Jeremiah (the weeping prophet) (BAD NEWS PROPHET) reminds the Israelite of his preaching over preceding years but they had not listened (25:3) The battle Jere. had with the prophet Hananiah in Jere.28 is amazing to behold and I recommend that you read Jeremiah chapters 21 to 28 to see how difficult it was for Jeremiah and Daniel and his friends at the time of Daniel chapter 1

Daniel chapter one--The time is 605 BC, and at this time about 3000 Jews were deported to Babylon. This catastrophe was not UNexpected by those who heard God's Word. It was a terrible time of destruction and suffering and separation. No one should have been surprised. Jere had said it would happen. Can we: do we accept it when God says NO? Prayer could not change the situation but prayer was the tool that equipped and enabled them through this catastrophe. Daniel's life changed dramatically: he was torn from his family and friends (living comfortably) and put in chains and made to walk many miles (about 1000kms) as a prisoner. Jeremiah was about 50 years old and Daniel a young man (20+ years?) This is how Daniel found the center of God's will for his life.(and embraced it) God called D to Babylon but the king, Neb took him by force to Babylon. What is happening in Syria and Jordan today would be similar to what happened on the day Neb. attacked Jerusalem and looted it.. that was the worst humiliation The golden furniture from the temple of Solomon was taken by a Pagan nation and refugees fled in all directions.

THE POWER OF PRAYER AT WORK during a crisis, for this is when we pray earnestly (hard/) and often

Daniel 1:3-4 Ashpenaz... the right man in the right place (answered prayer) "showed favor"

The choice as to who would go into the palace to serve the King(answered prayer)

Learning new ways, language and literature,culture ( prayer for enabling)PATIENCE

Training for three years. I can imagine how the four friends prayed together.(prayer for perseverance.)



No resolve means no direction, aimlessness

SIN WAS THE CAUSE OF THE DISASTER, SIN IS THE CAUSE OF THE PROBLEMS IN THIS WORLD AND SIN IS "THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM" Nobody seems to want to talk or think about it. But faced with death people hope it will just go away!

Daniel was not prepared to pay the price of DEFILEMENT (v.8) It would put a barrier between him and God. We need to IDENTIFY sin in our lives, We need to deal with it and break free

It was a matter of principal for Daniel: it was a matter of life and death for all involved

Daniel was determined not to SUBMIT (John 8:34)(Rom.6:16)to a lesser power than God. He did not want to be a slave of this world.


(V.9) The official (Ashpenaz) showed favor and sympathy (and that is amazing)

He was possibly a slave and a eunuch

But he was afraid of the King (and rightly so) He did not know God

They relied on God to sustain them (vs 12-13) they were not afraid! NO FEAR

God honored their faith and obedience to Him. Heb.11


PROTECTION (Ps. 34:7 "The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him.") Mention break in at Seguela.

Daniel was esteemed highly: 9:23; 10:11+ 19

(V.17) God distributes gifts

Knowledge and understanding to all three(NO jealousy between them)

For Daniel understanding of visions and dreams.

They were ten times better than all the others serving Neb.

A long life (Dan.1:21 Daniel lived to the age of 90years, 70 of them in Babylon & he never saw Jerusalem again.

Matt. 6:33 tells us "To seek first His kingdom and his righteousness and all the things that you need will be supplied." (Lk.12:31)

Heb. 11:6 " And without faith it is impossible to PLEASE GOD, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him."

Today things are different but the same. Our world is unraveling and in some parts of the world today, God's people are suffering abuse, persecution and death. Will you, this morning, take the resolve that Daniel had and apply it to your own lives?

My family and I identify with Daniel and his friends in this story, not in theory but in practice.

Story of Stephy God takes us through hard times