God has not abandoned us!
During the last few months of 2011 the headlines spoke for themselves - 'Going down? Europe's fate in the balance'; 'Are we failing our children? The UN's verdict on Britain's parents'; 'Floods return - Pakistan's worst ever'; 'The time bomb's ticking under us all - UK's ballooning personal debt'
All this together with starvation in the Horn of Africa, global warming, instability in the Middle East and much, much more. We are bombarded by news 24/7 throughout the year and invariably its focus is bad. It's only occasionally that we are given a piece of something lightweight, fun or humorous which is close to good news and often that's at the very end of the six o'clock bulletin.
What about our own personal headlines, those of our family, neighbourhood or workplace? What are the conversations like around our meal tables, across the desk at work or with parents at the school gate? For many the rising cost of living, job insecurities or unemployment, pensions under threat, student debt, reduction in health and social services, crime on the street are topics which dominate.
So how do we respond as we embark on the first weeks of 2012? What does Christian faith look like in light of the psychological depression which surrounds us? How do we avoid adopting the headin- the-sand (while quoting Bible verses) approach? We all have a desire to control our lives, to manage risk. But with so much uncertainty around us, how are we to genuinely put our trust in God - not just for eternal salvation - but for the practical stuff of life which concerns us today? How can we as communities of faith all over the country support each other as we face the challenge of walking by faith while not always understanding what is going on?
I am challenged by the early Church's response to the world which surrounded them. The dominant power of the Roman Empire, the religions and cultures of the cities and towns in which these early Christians were expressing their faith, were far from favourable to them or their strange beliefs and practices. Facing pressure, persecution and discrimination, the Church continued to grow. Some clearly struggled. The book of Hebrews was written to Christians under pressure, facing hard times, indeed some having fallen away from the faith. The writer's intention was to encourage and support them and help them see the bigger picture.
Hebrews 11 provides us with a wonderful overview of God at work through history among His people. I have recently realised that one of the reasons reading the Bible is so important to me is because alongside all the wonderful truth, I find myself connecting into the big story of God at work in His creation. I recognise myself as part of this story and I am strengthened in my faith. In the beginning of Hebrews 12, the writer sums up the book providing a picture of a stadium with those who have gone before us, cheering us on, and then provides some clear instructions to those struggling believers. "Let us throw off; Let us run; Let us fix. Throwing off sin and hindrances; Running with perseverance the race marked out for us; Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the one who went before us, the one who went to the cross, the one who is now seated at the right hand of God." The writer of Hebrews perhaps then speaks to us down the centuries as he exhorts us in our fresh focus on Jesus to not "grow weary or lose heart".
So as we read or listen to the news or engage in that conversation at the school gate, there is another story to be told. God has not abandoned us! Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection marks a watershed of history and whatever our theology of the Last Days, God is in control and we can trust Him, not only for our future destiny but for every day living. In fact, perhaps even more amazingly, we get to play our part, to run the race we are called to, in seeing His will and purpose expressed here on earth at the beginning of 2012, as they are already in heaven.