It barely seems possible that we have reached the end of another year, with this opportunity for new beginnings before us. During these days, we make our resolutions to do better and be better. A year ago we were doing the same thing but – looking at back on 2017 – I wonder what happened to some of our hopes and dreams?
Despite much good that has happened, 2017 has been shrouded in scandal and disaster, with shocking demonstrations of inhumanity including terror attacks and mass shootings. I can hardly believe that in recent weeks we have even seen shocking footage of slave sales in Libya. Open-air slave sales – in the 21st century!
The entertainment industry was hit by wave after wave of sex scandals that have now moved into other areas of public life and – I’m particularly sad to say – the Church. The people who carried out these despicable acts should have paid more attention to Jesus’ words: ‘For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open’ (Luke 8:17, NIV).
In wealthy, supposedly enlightened nations, fear and hatred of foreigners and particularly refugees seems to be growing, with racial tension on the rise and even the chilling sight of Nazis marching through the streets.
Human trafficking shows no signs of going away, with men, women and children being forced into servitude because of poverty, powerlessness and false promises. There are more people in slavery today than at any time in our modern history – 44 million men, women and children. That’s equivalent to the entire populations of Canada, New Zealand and Mongolia.
Make no mistake, friends – at the heart of all of these issues is man’s continuing quest for wealth and power. It sickens me – as it should strike the heart of any person who is capable of compassion. Where is the respect for our fellow human that was modelled so clearly by Jesus Christ?
When he was with women who – according to cultural norms – were ‘below’ him in society he didn’t take advantage, he didn’t belittle, he didn’t ignore, he didn’t lord over them. Instead he used his position to raise them up. Look at how he interacted with Mary, Martha, the woman at the well or the woman who touched the hem of his cloak. He showed respect and love to those who others may have considered lesser. And his approach to racial and cross-cultural issues is clearly dealt with in the story of the Good Samaritan. To his audience, ‘good’ and ‘Samaritan’ could never have gone together, but he showed the value in people that others considered valueless and even as enemies.
As Christians, we have a clear example of how to treat everyone with respect and love. It’s obvious, isn’t it? So this is why I find it inconceivable that behaviour I see from Christians often falls well short of the standards set by our Lord.
‘Selfish Christian’, ‘intolerant Christian’, ‘hard-hearted Christian’ … I’ve heard them all and worse – but none of these descriptions makes sense. If you are a Christian you are aligning yourself with the very likeness of Christ, who demonstrated selflessness, tolerance and a warm heart through his every deed and word. It may seem an impossible task, but – with the Holy Spirit to help us – I believe that every Christian ‘may be Christlike’, as one of my predecessors General John Gowans wrote, ‘and in liberty rejoice’. Isn’t it amazing that giving up our urge to be selfish can actually set us free?
I may be ‘the General’, with gold epaulettes and oversight of a movement that works in 128 countries, but in front of my Saviour I’m simply André – a sinner saved by grace. I’m no more valuable than any other human being, irrespective of gender, race, sexuality, faith, wealth or social status.
My challenge to us all as we enter 2018 is to play a part in making a new, better way of living. A way based on grace, freedom and respect, not selfishness and power-seeking. Let us give value to those who society says are worth nothing; let us empower the powerless; let us love the supposedly unloveable.
May we each resolve to live out The Salvation Army’s international mission statement: to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.
Indiscriminate love – now, that would make the world a better place.
May God bless you all. And may you have a happy and grace-filled New Year.