A Wee New Year Reminder

There’s something special about the minute of 12:01AM on the 1st of January. Not because of the noise. Not because it’s the only time in the year where it’s socially acceptable to hug and kiss everyone in the room. Not because of the parties, or even the wee dram those of us so inclined like to enjoy at that moment.

When the clock strikes 12:01am on the 1st of January, when everyone has wished everyone in view “Happy New Year!”, when the kisses have stopped and the cheering has died down, a surge of confidence seems to flood through most people.

“This is going to be my year!”

“This year is going to be better than the last!”

“I’m going to change this year!”

“This is the year I will finally keep my resolutions!”

“This is going to be the best year for our church/business/family ever!”

I dare say that the boldness and assertions made in that little minute as the euphoria of the moment washes over everyone is greater than any other time in the year.

I mean, within minutes of the clock striking 12 on New Year a cursory glance at my social media feeds showed heart-warming posts filled with optimism, positivity, hope for the future and dreams of a year better than the last.

Lovely sentiments, all of which I will say a hearty “amen” to.

Sadly though, many of those declarations don’t come to fruition. Those new running shoes, or that lovely new bike, will see a flurry of activity from January through February, only to sit gathering dust the next 10 months of the year. Gym memberships, bought with such enthusiasm and energy, sit unused, happy to eat away at our bank accounts each month.

As they find themselves in the same boat they were in 12 months ago, many people slowly come to the realisation that there’s actually nothing magic about the final digit in our yearly calendars changing.

“Wow, Jordan, you must be fun at parties.” I can already hear you think. Actually, my wife thinks I am, but that’s another conversation. Humour me for a minute.

There’s a wee passage from the Book of James that I like to reflect on at the start of every New Year. It helps keep me grounded and focused as we begin to think about what the future may hold. And if you’ll let me, I’d like to share some of my short New Year reflections with you. Here’s what the passage says:

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say “If the Lord wills, we will love and do this or that.”

James 4:13 (ESV)

In the above passage, James (the brother of Jesus) warns Christians against boldly making our own plans, as if we somehow have everything worked out. He warns us against boasting about tomorrow. In fact, most of that book features warnings for Christians in trusting or boasting in anything that isn’t God. If you take time to read the surrounding verses, you’ll find them filled with warnings against trusting in things like money, comfort or worldliness.

Now, in my experience, those verses aren’t often quoted or preached on in many church circles. You’re unlikely to find those verses on a coffee mug (something I say about almost every verse I talk about here!). In fact, a quick look at the social media pages of some well-known Christian “influencers” (🙄) or popular churches will show that James’s advice often goes unheeded in the modern world!

A Lesson Learned

If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic should have made all of the above abundantly clear. I mean…how many businesses who declared that 2020 would be their best year yet went under when the pandemic came seemingly out of the blue?

How many families wished and hoped for a peaceful year when illness, tragedy, death, unemployment and division ripped that apart?

How many churches who boldly declared and even prophecied “2020 is going to be the best year ever for our church!” struggled and collapsed after 9 months of pandemic gutted all of their planned programmes, worship services and members?

How many people at the end of 2020 declared “Thank God that’s over – here’s to next year, which can only be better than the last!” only to find that 2021 was almost as bad, or maybe even worse, than 2020?

Suffice to say, within a couple of months of this decade starting, many of us began to realise how little control we actually have over anything, how fragile our lives are, and how easily our best intentions can be cut short and cast aside. And even how (whisper it) sometimes…sometimes what we think are prophecies from God…well, aren’t actually prophecies from God (😬).

Now, I don’t want to be a party pooper. Wishful thinking is good and well, and should be encouraged in many cases. After all, Christians believe in a God who can do far more than we can ever hope or imagine. When I pray for members of our church, I do it in faith that God will hear and act. I wouldn’t pray for my family each night if I didn’t believe God was listening. But for those of us who do call ourselves Christians, as is often the case, there is a tension and a balance we must be aware of, and a prudence we need to carry.

For the same Bible that tells us of how powerful and big God is; the same Bible that encourages us to pray to God with faith and without ceasing; this Bible also tells us again and again that our lives are fragile; we are like mist, or grass; here one day, gone the next. All it takes is a single moment; one phone call, one momentary lapse in concentration or judgement, one diagnosis, one tragedy, or one seemingly random act of nature to throw all that we know and love into disarray.

The Bible often discourages Christians from holding tightly onto the good things of this world. Even Jesus himself warns his disciples time and time again of the dangers of holding onto earthly things (including their very lives), simply because of how easily such things can be taken from us!

That’s not to say we must always assume the worst. It’s not that we shouldn’t pray for protection, or provision – the Bible instructs us to do such things! It’s not that we shouldn’t seek to enjoy the good things God brings in our path, either.

It does mean, however, that for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, the start of every New Year should come with a reminder that we are not God. God is God. Or to quote the author of Proverbs: The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Something to Look Forward To

For me, 2023 looks exciting. My wee boy will be starting school, leaving me with two school age kids.

God willing, 2023 will bring exciting, positive changes in the life of our church. My wife and I are already thinking about what we could do for our looming anniversary. As a musician, my 2023 calendar is filled with a whole host of exciting gigs planned all over the country, and the prospect of travelling and playing to a bunch of new cities and people with my pals from the band (and all the fun and laughs that brings with it) fills me with no shortage of giddiness. There are birthdays, rugby tournaments (including the World Cup!), holidays and countless other things to look forward to and celebrate as I go into 2023. There are books to read, songs to learn, things to do and new people to meet.

But here’s the thing: I’m not going into the New Year with my hope set on these things, which can be taken away so quickly – I’m going into the New Year with my hope in One who cannot and will not be taken away. The One who endured and suffered the pains of this life, including death itself, so that those who would follow in his footsteps need not fear them.

For many of us, this year may hold untold blessings; joy, happiness, laughter, with fond memories made. For everyone reading this, I sincerely hope and pray it does. But the reality is that for many of us, 2023 may also bring with it tragedies, pain, suffering, and unwanted surprises. In fact, the Bible warns us not to act surprised when such things come upon us. Jesus himself goes as far as to tell us to expect them.

As Christians, we are to hold everything in our lives – even our earthly lives themselves – with an open hand, not a closed fist. We are to guard ourselves from clinging to things of this world that, much like us, could be here one day and gone the next. Human life is a wonderful, beautiful thing; but it’s also unfathomably fragile.

So dear reader, whether you call yourself a follower of Jesus today or not, my encouragement and reminder to you is this: enjoy whatever this year brings, and look forward to it with hope. If you’re inclined to do so, thank God for the good that he brings. But at the same time remember; our lives are like a mist, here today, gone tomorrow. Temporal things, as good as they are, are just that; temporary.

We know not what the future brings, but as Christians we serve and love the one who does. And that can bring us comfort.

For the Bible shows us a God who holds the future in one hand, while holding the hands of those who belong to him in the other. The same God who alone knows beginning from end promises to walk those who would call on him through it all – whatever happens.

To finish with an illustration from the book of Hebrews: Our lives may be like a mist on a stormy sea, but in Christ we have an anchor for our souls; sure, steadfast and utterly immovable.

If you’re going to be positive about anything this New Year, be positive about that.

J

Integrity in Leadership: A Christian Response

Once again, the UK has found itself in a crisis of leadership. Once again, our Prime Minister has been forced to step down following months of controversy, in what is (once again) becoming a disturbingly predictable season of uncertainty for our country.

The Government itself has had a rocky decade, with its leaders dropping like flies and our Prime Ministers changing like the weather; this seems anything but the “strong and stable” government the Conservatives promised us years ago! Both online and in the media, Brits from all walks of life are becoming more and more vocal towards a government which has frequently been described as “shambolic“.

Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s a reason I’m not a politician. I do not envy anyone in the slightest for taking the reigns over what has been a difficult few years for our country. I’ve watched PMQs over the past couple of months watching Johnson endure a near constant barrage of personal attacks, scything questions, and unyielding calls for him to resign. They have been relentless, and have no doubt taken their toll on the man.

As a Christian, I believe vehemently in justice. I also believe in being generous and loving towards the unlovable – especially those I dislike! These two things can sometimes seem to be at odds, especially in this “age of outrage”, where to defend or even slightly empathise with someone is often seen as the equivalent of giving them your full support (which, of course, is nonsense).

Through it all, the question I’ve been reflecting on more and more in recent months is: is it right for Christians to speak up against our (if the Bible is to believed, God-given) leaders? If so, how far can we go? When it is it appropriate to speak up? And if we are all sinners, do we have any right whatsoever to voice complaints against those in power?

While the answer may seem obvious, in practice very few people seem to be able to do this well.

On one hand I see Christians who are quick to condemn without giving any second thought to gentleness or nuance; on the other, I see cries of “do not judge” whenever anyone gives off even a whiff of disproval. If social media is anything to go by, it seems we’ve become quick to either pounce on those we disagree with, or let our important opinions and views go unannounced due to an admirable desire to remain meek and humble.

In this post I want to look at what the role of the Christian should be when examining and perhaps even challenging unjust leadership in worldly institutions. Later on in a future post I’ll ask the same question in regards to leaders within the church.1

To do this, I’m going to ask 2 questions. Question 1:

1. What should our attitude be?

Before looking at what we should say or do, we first need to look at our own hearts and attitudes.

Several times in Scripture, Christians are instructed to pray for those in power. Some may balk at this, but if early Christians were able to pray for the Roman Emperors and Governors who at one point were very much out to get them, and if Jesus himself prayed for those who crucified him even as he was being crucified, I think it’s not too big of an ask in 2022 for us to pray for those in power in our country – even the ones we dislike!).

I will never preach my political views from the puplit. I will always encourage people to pray for those above us, though, regardless of how much we disagree with them, dislike them, love them or loathe them.

In 2 Timothy 2, Paul says to Timothy:

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

2 Tim 2:23-25 (ESV, emphasis my own)

Those verses may have been written to a church leader, but I think the principles stand for all Christians. Yet give me 5 minutes on social media and I’ll be able to find you 100 examples of where these verses go unheeded.

In our interactions with those we disagree with, Christians must clothe ourselves with kindness, gentleness, and patience, without being quarrelsome. Too many Christians make “foolish, ignorant controversies” the focal point of their faith, and it does far more damage than good.

Christian: don’t be like the world.

You can pray for God’s blessing and wisdom on political leaders you cannot stand.
You can pray for the salvation of abusive worldly leaders without supporting them
.
You can pray for God’s blessing over those whose values seem to be directly opposed to your own.

As Christians, our attitude should be one of humility; our disagreement should always be charitable. Filled with gentleness, looking for ways to encourage, quick to forgive, slow to make assumptions, and always ready to give the benefit of the doubt. We should be praying regularly for those above us, especially those we disagree with, often remembering the mercy God shows us each day.

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.

Proverbs 29:11 (ESV)

That doesn’t mean we have to be pushovers, however. Which brings me to my second question:

2. Do Christians have any right to speak out against our leaders at all?

Quite simply; yes. I think we do.

In Luke 13:32 Jesus calls Herod, the Roman Ruler of his region at the time a “fox” – slang for a liar, deceiver, or wicked man, referring to Herod’s cunning and treacherous nature. Jesus himself was not shy about declaring the truth about Herod’s character.

Jesus was also not shy about condeming the Pharisees (the religious leaders of his day) for their wicked and unjust practices.

God’s public anger and wrath against unjust leaders in the Old Testament (using prophets to publicly speak against them, plagues to judge them and dogs to shamefully lap up their blood when they perished) isn’t exactly subtle.2

In his letters, Paul publicly rebukes several spiritual leaders who had gone off track.

These are but a few examples. So while the Bible certainly calls us to love and pray for those in leadership – no matter how wicked they are – there are many descriptive examples of Godly men and women (and God himself) speaking out against corrupt leaders in their day.

Striking the Right Balance

God is sovereign. On that, the Bible is clear. Nothing happens without his knowledge, or without his allowance – but that doesn’t mean he morally approves of everything that happens. The Bible says all have sinned, but that doesn’t mean God approves of sin. The Bible may say God is sovereign in appointing leaders, but it doesn’t mean God approves of everything they do. This potentially mind-boggling train of thought is worth a whole blog post in it’s own, which I don’t have time to go into today (maybe in future) but if you’d like to read more about it, this Relevant article does a fairly good job of unpacking it.

With all of this in mind, I think it’s okay to speak out against corruption and political injustice when we see it. I think it’s okay to speak out against wicked practices, and I absolutely think it’s okay to speak out against rampant inequality.

The problem is that it can be difficult for us to strike the right balance between gentleness and speaking up. Some Christians focus so much on the loving and honouring part that they may not say anything out against injustice at all, even when God may be calling them to use their voice. Others will go too far in the other direction, abandoning any semblance of love, charity and generosity to spit venom at those they disagree with at the slightest opportunity. (And for the record: separating issues and people into categories such as “woke” and “unwoke” is entirely unhelpful and utterly foolish. That’s of the world folks, not of the Kingdom).

Christians have a God given impetus to use their voice for good. Proverbs 31 instructs God’s people to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” Christians are good at this, but some seem to be selective about doing it, especially when it comes to politics and hot-topic issues.

In fact, I don’t think it’s entirely unjustified when critics of Christianity point out that Christians tend to “pick and choose” what parts of the Bible we focus on. You’ll see plenty of Christians speak harshly and with hateful vitriol on topics like abortion and the LGBTQ+ community, but look for those willing to even speak up against policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and you’ll struggle a bit. It’s not as if the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about the latter either! Part of the problem is that very few Christians actually know how to engage well with non-Christians on these topics.

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

Proverbs 15:28 (ESV)

Lovers of Truth

Christians should use their voice. But the way we use it should be different to the way the world does. The world loves to pounce at the slightest whiff of controversy or outrage.  The world loves to attack, slander, lie and hate without listening. The world loves to react to headlines without actually reading the articles.

Christians should be set apart in the way we do these things.

We should be slow to speak and quick to listen. Willing to give the benefit of the doubt and to hear and understand the other side’s story. We shouldn’t just take things at face value, but weigh up the information given before speaking.

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

Proverbs 18:13 (ESV)

Unfortunately this is difficult in an internet culture where 95% of the most visited “Christian” Facebook pages in the US were controlled by Eastern European bot accounts. And if my own Facebook/Twitter feeds are anything to go by, Christians are as bad as everyone else (maybe even worse) at believing false information and speaking up on it before ever considering whether what they’re saying has any truth to it. I’ve heard plenty of pastors and speakers, in services or at conferences, give into sensationalism, sharing “shocking” statistics, headlines or anecdotes that, with a little research, are found to be mostly nonsense, or at least wildly overexaggerated.

Christians are to be lovers of truth, promoters of truth, and defenders of truth – however unpopular it is. Sharing dodgy information or political tripe from social media is not the way to do this. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy to “rightly handle” the word of truth – Biblical or otherwise. Sharing false information to make a point does not honour God; it actually damages our Christian witness.

Unfortunately, it’s much easier to take a false or sensationalist headline and get a reaction from it than it is to actually do a little bit of research and see if what we’re sharing has any weight to it. If we want our voices to have an impact, we have to make sure we’re speaking actual truth.

Once we’ve taken the time to do our research, listened to and understood arguments from each side, are convinced that we have the correct information, and that what we’re saying aligns with the Bible – then we can speak up.

So Christian: use your voice. Send letters to politicians, join in organised marches (including relevant non-Christian ones), and join in protests with a good conscience. Don’t be afraid of speaking out against injustice, but watch how and what you say when doing it.

Let your voice be used for good; the good of this world (which God created, loves and still thinks is “good”), the good of your neighbour (believer or not), the good of the oppressed, the good of our witness, for the glory of God, and the advancement of his Kingdom.

By the way, I’m aware I’ve not said much about challenging leadership within the church. That’s important too, but there are a few further considerations that need to be taken into account – I’ll talk about that in a future post.

Finally and most importantly, if ever in doubt, let Christ be your example:

Christ, who spoke up against injustice while praying for those who were unjust towards him.

Christ, who preached a message of repentance and judgement while being known as the “friend of sinners.”


Christ, who’s main focus wasn’t the political powers of his day, but on his coming Kingdom, the urgency and importance of repentance and salvation, and of the sovereignty of God throughout it all.

Christian: use your voice – but be set apart in the way that you do it. For in the end:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)

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Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments! If you found this helpful, please feel free to share it.

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  1. For the record: no, I’m not going to talk about the Nazis, or Dictators, or even Roman Emperors. Plenty has been said about living under those kinds of leaders already (and I refuse to succumb to Godwin’s law). 
  2. Please note that some of these examples are descriptive, not prescriptive – God sending plagues against his enemies doesn’t mean Christians are called to send plagues against ours!