6 lessons and 1 verse from 2016

6 lessons and 1 verse from 2016

It’s 2.34 am and I’m wide awake – trying to get my head around everything I need to do in the next few weeks. December is strange, a chaotic rush resulting in nothing to look forward to in January. No parties, no presents, no special services, maybe even no friends to meet because we did all that in December. Not only that but each year seems more momentous – more eventful - than the previous (or maybe it’s just that we can’t remember the previous). Well here are a few of those events, recollections from the year we are about to leave, based on UK and world news.

Jo Cox - lessonsA decent mum – fan into flame the goodness you see

Most of us had never heard of Jo Cox, the small outspoken mum from Yorkshire. But we all heard of her in June when her murder on a busy street transformed the mood of the country if only for a few days.

As Christians we see the world something like this …. On the surface we put on an appearance of decency, politeness and virtue, but beneath that we are inherently sinful, selfish, choosing to hurt one another…. I believe that, and yet beneath that we are created in God’s image. The image of God within us doesn’t easily rub off. It can be tarnished and we can do things to smother it, but it’s still there if we look hard enough.  Jo’s life, in particular her work among refugees and displaced peoples, reminds us to fan into flame the good that is already in society, whatever people believe or don’t believe.

Part of your being salt in society is to bring out the savour, the goodness, that is already there. Recognise it, celebrate it.

 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned?” Matthew 5:13

Boy in ambulance – guard your heartboy-in-ambulance

Mother Teresa once said “if I look at the mass I will never act, if I look at the one, I will”.

This picture from Syria appeared  in August. It’s a picture of childish bewilderment amidst a desperation that most of us will never experience. Pictures like this somehow bring home the plight of refugees as much as the shocking images of crowded boats or wrecked streets. The apparent normality of a little boy, alone, behind the bloodstains, the grime, and the confusion is what shocks us. And we should be shocked.

We gradually become indifferent, de-sensitized, and immunised to causes such as the plight of Syrian refugees. We saw those boats so many times this year. We distance it as something far away. We care, but not enough to do more, to speak more, to give more.

Love in the Bible is not a feeling, it’s an action. It’s about doing the best for others whether we like them or not, whether we know them or not. Question: “what is the opposite of love?” Hate? Fear? Maybe, but usually the opposite of love is simpler than that. It’s indifference.

“And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” 2 Thess 3:13

 BREXIT – recognise extremismPutting Britain back together

A few “impossible” events occurred in 2016 - not even including England’s humiliation by Iceland in Euro 2016.

We need to quit complaining about BREXIT now and make this work for the greatest good. But, as we go back to drawing up new laws and policies, we will find that ideas which were held in check by EU law for decades, suddenly come up for discussion. The way we pay taxes, the manner in which we view immigrants, the way we share wealth, and which areas of our country need special help and which don’t. It’s all to be decided.

This means being alert to extremism in all its forms and coming from any direction, left, right or religious, in whatever reasonable clothes it turns up in. The problem with extremist views is they seem “so reasonable”. As soon as it’s my kids’ education, my taxes, people moving into my town, the rubber hits the road. We will be tested in new ways.

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly”Micah 6:8

Church in decline? – do a new thing!Decline in church attendance

In 2016 the newspapers informed us at least twice that our churches are in terminal decline as congregations dwindle … There is a bigger picture.

Of course mainstream church attendance HAS declined over the past century, mostly due to nominal attendees realising you don’t need to go to church any more to look respectable. In the past church was more about social norms than a living faith. That’s not true anymore.

And several church traditions are growing. Examples in the UK include midweek congregations; Cathedral congregations; black and minority ethnic churches, fresh expressions of church such as Messy Church, and mainstream churched in London. Several of these are “off the radar” in counts of Sunday attendance.

But the nature of what we call “church” IS changing. Often, this is to better suit a society unfamiliar and unsuited to the 90 minute stint on a Sunday morning. So, if we are still hanging on to sacred cows (that might include for example the faithful few at the Sunday evening service) let’s ask ourselves: “what could God do with THIS resource that better meets our parishes and neighbourhoods in 2017?

“Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”  Isaiah 43:19

Class cluelessness – reach out to understand the otherDonald Trump

The success of President-elect Trump demonstrated that we don’t understand Donald Trump, and we don’t understand the many millions who voted for him. The white working class vote delivered this most unexpected of victories. Who are these people?

They are people who resent professionals because they look down on them, but they admire the rich. They don’t care about raising the minimum wage at McDonalds because that job holds no respect. They want real jobs - their own business, like for example owning a truck. They are people who Trump connected with because he apparently feels the same anger at being belittled by the elite as they do. And unsurprisingly they are more impressed by the cry “let’s make America great again”, however hollow that turns out to be, than the constant complaint “… he’s not fit to be President”.

The above is taken from this HBR article, but the point is: we don’t need to agree with the people around us. And if they commit offences we don’t need to excuse the people around us. But we do need to understand them. That applies whether they are Trump voters, Brexit / Remain or militant Islamists.

“Take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” James 1:19

Who wants to live forever?  - reframe deathReframing death

If you read the newspapers in November, you’ll be aware that a 14 year old became the first British child to be cryogenically frozen following a court ruling.

As a minister, death is a currency we learn to deal in. Nevertheless the process of assisting people who are dying or grieving is always difficult and draining.  And yet as Christians we have the privilege and the responsibility to “reframe death”. It’s called the Christian Hope – and hope is a strange word.

The Christian hope is not actually about “being hopeful” at all. It’s not about hoping that something will happen. It’s not about hoping that one day a cure can be found for whatever killed us. It’s not about hoping that something might happen. It’s about the fact the something already happened – and it changed everything.

“We do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” 1 Thess 4:13

Everything changes – everything remains the same

So back to my sleepless thoughts about December. And I’m reminded of one last headline, from early this Summer.  We celebrated the Queen’s 90th birthday. We sang and spoke of the stability she brings, and of her steadfast faith. It’s a tiny picture of God’s unchanging nature, his unending grace, his faithfulness through the years. And none of that has changed whatever else has happened.

And ONE verse for 2016?

Well as everything around us changes, we are reminded that actually everything stays the same.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” Hebrews 13:8

If Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, then we know he acted in the past, and we believe he will act in times to come.

This blog was published by Premier Christianity, and the Baptist Times.

  • Great reflections, Chris. It’s good to hear some of these year-end reflections in light of the crazy year that’s happened all across the world. Most people would agree that these are crazier times than we’ve seen in a long time. Yet we have to remain confident in exactly what you described, that in light of all the unexpected chaos, we can remain steadfast in purpose on an unshakable foundation. I guess our calling then is to call people onto the Rock to find grounding for themselves.

    • Its been a game-changing year and we will see the effects of it for years to come and yet, yes, how much more important is it to know our house is built on rock.

  • Cathy Buntin

    Hi Chris this is brilliant. I may use a few of the ideas in January if that’s okay with you

  • Mart

    Happy Christmas to you n yours mate!
    Thanks you for your work over the year!

    • You are very welcome – thanks for being a regular reader and commenter!

  • Hi Chris,

    I would add to that list the economic reality that China became the biggest economy in world in 2016.
    Its signs may not immediately be visible but we are going to feel it in coming years.
    The fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” becomes all the more important when we remember the pessimistic tone of Ecclesiastes how everything comes and goes.
    May you have a blessed Christmas and a blessed new year.

    • Interesting – China as a dominant world power and I think will accelerate even more our own Western nationalisms (which we see in both BREXIT and President elect Trump). That’s not a good thing. Thanks for commenting!

  • Fascinating summary of the year Chris. And thank you for pointing us to the unchanging truths of scripture. One other event that was significant, but not given much coverage by the mainstream media in the UK was the end of the 50 year war in Columbia that has cost 220,000 lives. Its a reminder again that what gets wide coverage is not necessarily more significant.