Sgt Pepper’s homage 2016 – Happy New Year 2017

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All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands for ever.” (Isaiah 40:7-8)

It is hard to summarise such a turbulent year as 2016, but the Sgt Pepper’s homage (above) has done this so well.

2016 will be remembered (by the west) for the loss of many treasured celebrities and the political shift from the mundane to the bipolar.

(For more on this read Dealing with Change – thoughts on BREXIT)

I have certainly mourned the heavy blows to our cultural heritage. As the Rev at Ringside, the loss of Muhammed Ali was upsetting (although expected). But out of all the celebrity deaths the most moving (for me) was David Bowie. To us it was a shock, but for him it was not a “sudden death”. The public-eye did not know of his battle with cancer and he orchestrated his departure (as much as possible) around his final album release. The lyrics revealed within gave voice to the dichotomy faced by all who are approaching death without the assurance of a loving saviour.

(For more on this read David Bowie “Look up here, I’m in heaven”).

There were many unsung heroes who also departed this year without any fanfare, such as Dr Donald Henderson who eradicated smallpox, a disease that killed 300 million people in the 20th century. We can also mourn the 1/88 refugees who were lost at sea whilst searching for a better life in Europe, as well as all those who have needlessly died in various world conflicts.

As each celebrity met our maker in the midst of political change and civil unrest, social media flooded with memes about the apocalypse, some suggesting that David Bowie had discovered a new dimension and was hand picking those he wanted to join him – it is quite a guest list!

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The media paints a picture of a most terrible year, but when we put this into perspective with the events of 1916 where the battle of the Somme caused 60,000 British casualties in the first day alone (420,000 across the campaign), the inevitable (albeit tragic) loss of ageing icons pale in comparison.

So what can we learn from 2016?

Well the most obvious lesson is that people die, irrelevant of their wealth, record sales, sporting prowess or comedic genius. Their glory is like the flowers of the field.

2016 is the year that death has been brought back to the forefront of the popular psyche.

Our western culture has somewhat hidden death behind the fountain of youth (consumerism), limiting death to the poor, old and sick. But as we have seen through the falling of many icons this year, death is a reality that we all have to face at different times and in different circumstances (Romans 6:23).

The truth is, death is real and today could be your last!

Even the best times of life bring us all closer to death, there is no escape. The grass withers and the flowers fall.

Politically 2016 gave us more questions than answers, but as we all approach 2017, one step closer to our end, amidst the sad loss of so many much loved personalities, we are left with just one most important question – are you ready for death?  

If (for whatever reason) you were taken tomorrow, do you know where you are going to?

Do you know peace with God through His Son Jesus Christ?

Because it is only in Him that you can be ready for death and thus be ready to embrace life at its fullest in 2017. (John 14:6).

I mourn with Jesus for those who have departed (John 11:35) and my prayers go out to all who have suffered loss and grief in 2016.

I pray that the new found realism of death in popular culture will bring people closer to the living God in 2017.

I pray that the void left by our cultures great flowers of the field will be replaced with a greater love for Jesus Christ “the word (who) stands for ever.

May you all have a wonderful 2017.

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David Bowie “Look up here, I’m in heaven”

As a young sprog (over twenty years ago), my Auntie Jeannette (Jean Genie) introduced me to the work of David Bowie – I instantly fell in love. A passion for his art stayed with me through my adolescence, teenage years and into adulthood. The man’s talents were remarkable and I was looking forward to hearing his new album “Black Star” released on his 69th birthday.

As we now all know, just two days after the album’s release, David Bowie died after an 18-month battle with cancer.

This period of David’s life must have been agonizing as he came to terms with his pending fate (one that we will all have to share). But to us “fans” David’s death was “sudden,” as nobody knew about  his diagnosis. Such secrecy (you could argue) gave David time to plan his affairs outside of the media gaze and made his death, in many ways, a final artistic expression.

When the news broke the media was filled with tributes.

His face was all over the National Newspapers. The Sun, the Star and the Daily Express were of particular interest to me as they referenced on their front pages a lyric from David’s new track “Lazarus”, where he sang “Look up here, I’m in heaven”.

Some have said this track is a “goodbye” from David to his “fans”. It is clear that the mind behind such a track was obviously in turmoil, dealing with the truth of eternity and the vanity of life. Again something we will all have to ponder at some point.

David Bowie

In truth none of us can say where David Bowie is today. His public life (and his work) did not allude to any saving faith. With that said, the Lord could have graciously met with David in his final moments (as He did the thief on the Cross). With repenting heart David could have put His trust in Jesus Christ and thus now be in Heaven as an adopted Son. I pray (for his sake) that this is the case.

What has encouraged me through this shared experience of mourning is how; in an age where churches are at best poorly attended and even closing, where Christianity is ostracized and atheism praised, the papers where still happy to publish “Heaven” on their front pages and that there has been no retaliation from the public ( in light of David’s sad passing). Several known figures from the world of entertainment and politics have also publicly shared their condolences and have  agreed with the concept of David now being in “Heaven”.

It would seem that “Heaven” is clearly still accepted by general consensus to be a reality. (Praise God).

The same people who would otherwise reject the teaching of Jesus Christ and His church, who would dismiss me at any other time as being “a nut” for believing in the Bible, are now all in chorus agreeing with the Biblical concept of Heaven.

Yet, this should not surprise me, human beings are body and soul, we are all spiritual beings and the Bible does tell us that God has put such knowledge in our hearts.

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end“(Ecclesiastes 3:10-11).

David’s death has once again proved that at times of sorrow and in times of grief, the general populous do concede to this knowledge and this is because it is true.

However, we do also learn (with great sadness) that the general populous believe that everyone (including themselves) will be joining David there, without thinking through the logic of such a position.

Yes! They are right, Heaven does exist and  it is a perfect place. So why (you may ask) do they then think they have any right to go there?

None of us can claim to be perfect? Paul himself writes “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

If we all went to Heaven, our imperfections would be amplified throughout eternity, Heaven would cease to be perfect, because we are in it! Your very presence would ruin it!

If you (rightly) judge yourself not to be perfect and are by your own admittance an imperfect judge. How damming do you think the verdict will be against you when you come to meet the perfect God, who has perfect judgement?

Where do you think He would put you? Heaven? I don’t think so!

I know I am not perfect, I know that I do not meet the standard to enter Heaven. So before God, I could never sing in my own strength as David did, “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. It is illogical and un-Biblical!

This is the sad state of man! We are lost by our very imperfect nature!

BUT! There is some good news! The same book that tells us of Heaven also tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

It continues … “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned

Hope! Hope in our imperfections!

In Christ Jesus we can sing “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. Because in faith, in Him my sins are forgiven and forgotten.

God says “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25.

Jesus lived the perfect life that I never could and He took the punishment, the justice I deserve for my crimes against God on the Cross.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17

This should be front page news today and every day!

By coming to Jesus, repenting of my sin and asking Him to save me, I can  go to the mercy seat saved and justified. Not because of my good deeds, but because of His, Jesus Christ. For God the Son is my advocate before my Father, it is in Him that I trust my salvation. I mourn my failures, my crimes against God and  I know there is no way I could get to Heaven without Him.

What blessed assurance we have in Jesus!

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

In our sin, none of us have any right to sing “Look up here, I’m in heaven” but in Christ we can and we will!

What is for sure is that David Bowie has met his maker, as we all will one day. I pray He had Christ with Him at the time.