Banishing the New Year Blues
As 2016 dawns, the situation looks bleak in many parts of the world. We look with helplessness at the terrible political situations in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Latin America. Persecution of the Church is on the rise all over the world, including communist China. People in Europe and America live in dread of a random attack, a fear which is fuelled and nurtured by the unwise pronouncements of some politicians. In the meantime, the refugees from these conflicts turn up on Europe’s borders only to have the door slammed in their faces.
Some sectors of the Christian church seem to welcome this, believing that apocalypse in the Middle East is a necessary precursor to the Second Coming of Christ, while others see the call to be peacemakers as an absolute command of the Gospel, and believe that we should be doing everything within our power to end war and shelter those who flee from it.
On a personal level, many face an uncertain year. I know of at least two disabled children starting the year without having an appropriate school place that can meet their complex needs. I know of other people starting the year with diagnoses that, humanly speaking, seem to be terminal unless God intervenes. Then there are the many disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance claimants who are threatened with a £30 a week cut in a benefit that is already barely adequate, something that is bound to cause extreme hardship while at the same time being exceedingly unlikely to achieve its aim of motivating them to get a job (as though someone who is too disabled to work will recover enough to get a job if you add starvation to their other problems).
In a world of so much anxiety and uncertainty, a glorious opportunity is handed to us to bring the Kingdom of God to bear on the little part of the world where we are. We serve a God who never fails us, and on whom we can rely without fear or doubt. As David wrote in Psalm 37, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”
I can personally testify to a time, a few years ago, when I lived for a year with, on paper, nowhere near enough income to cover even the most basic needs of myself and my family, and yet every time the finance ran out, God provided again and again in miraculous ways that I would never have expected.
Jesus had some specific instruction for his disciples about living in a time of fear and worry. Here is what He said: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you – you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12. 22-31)
As we get hold of this truth and throw ourselves in calm trust upon the goodness of God, not only do we receive a supernatural peace that is the perfect antidote to the anxiety in the world around us; but also, our very peace and serenity becomes a beacon of light in a dark world, showing people that there is another way to live, and there is a God who loves them and cares about the things that matter to them. Let’s let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
Happy New Year (Ros' Blog)
Some years ago, I read an article by Miles Kington about New Years’ resolutions. He said he only made ones he knew he could keep. I can’t remember all the examples he gave, but I do recall that one of them was never to speak fluent Norwegian in public (easy, as he didn’t know a single word of Norwegian). I thought this was an excellent idea, and decided to adopt his method myself. This year I have kept all my resolutions – I never lapsed into speaking German at work, I always wore clothes to church and I didn’t swim the English Channel. I’m currently thinking about some impossible-to-break resolutions for the coming year!
The thing that makes the Gospel message unique among all the world’s religions is that it doesn’t involve keeping certain resolutions or observing certain standards of behaviour in order to achieve salvation. You can break every one of your resolutions, and never pick up your Bible, and God will still love you just as much and be just as committed to your salvation. That’s why it’s good news. In fact, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great preacher of the early twentieth century, once said, “If your preaching of the gospel of God's free grace in Jesus Christ does not provoke the charge from some of antinomianism (complete lawlessness), you're not preaching the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ.” He went on to say that Paul was exposed to the charge of lawlessness or antinomianism, and that to be so accused is a good test of evangelical preaching.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones wasn’t advocating that we should be able to behave as we like unchecked – he quotes Paul in Romans 6 to counter that idea: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! We who have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” But what he was saying was that our salvation does not depend on us – on our achieving certain standards of goodness. Our salvation is achieved by Jesus, independently of anything we have ever done or ever could do, and so nothing we do can make us any less or more saved.
I wonder if disabled people struggle with this concept more than others? After all, in every other walk of life they seem to have to go beyond what others have to do, just to prove that they are equally capable. For example, one study found that disabled employees are more loyal, harder working, take less sick leave and are up to 110% more productive than their able bodied colleagues; yet in the same year, a study by Civil Service unions found that disabled staff members are much less likely to be given pay rises for good performance than their non-disabled colleagues.
It’s good to be reminded that this kind of inequality, and the need to out-perform non-disabled people, does not extend to our relationship with God. Each of us stands helpless and incapable of influencing our own salvation by anything we do. All we can do is appeal to God for mercy, and rest in the knowledge that Jesus promised never to cast out anyone who turned to Him. No matter how many resolutions we fail to keep, the grace of God is great enough to redeem all our shortcomings. What changes our behaviour and transforms us into the likeness of Christ is not our efforts but His Spirit at work within us.
So, make New Years’ resolutions if it helps you to focus on changes you want to make in the coming year, but don’t set them impossibly high, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t keep them, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your relationship with God is dependent on your behaviour or performance.
In the meantime, I think my resolutions for 2016 will be to avoid auditioning for The X Factor, not to set fire to the Through the Roof offices and not to train for the 2016 Olympics. I’m pretty sure I should be able to keep those ones.