Our Great Hope

A few months ago I was in a meeting of the editorial board of the Evangelical Magazine discussing what we should have as the theme for the next issue. There were a number of pressing issues in our minds, but eventually we settled on a topic which was absolutely relevant to every reader, and one that is often neglected or deliberately not discussed. The topic we chose? Death.

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that scene being repeated in the offices of The Guardian, GQ, or Woman’s Weekly. In the media, everything must look fresh and youthful, as the BBCs recent employment tribunal demonstrated, and as a quick glance at the magazine rack in a supermarket will confirm. Glance through the women’s magazines (and even the men’s!) and you’ll see dozens of tips on how to look young and feel young, but none at all on how to die well.

Tragedy

Of course death is not easy for even Christians to consider. Perhaps more than anyone else we realise the tragedy of death – this unnatural intrusion into a world which God declared was ‘very good’. Every one of us has lost loved ones; most will have lost a parent, spouse or even a child. Just like those who are not converted, when Christians think about death, we think about those we loved, and our happy recollections of all that they contributed to our life are mixed with our sense of loss and grief that they are no longer with us.

But, that said, Christians do not grieve as others do, who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). It is that hope that tempers our grief, and enables us to think carefully about death. The Christian can look this great, all-conquering enemy in the eye and say, ‘Death, where is your victory?’ (1 Cor. 15:55).

Hope

Our hope is, of course, that death is not the end. The world says ‘where there is life, there is hope’. The Christian says ‘even in death, there is great hope’. And it really is great hope. I have some friends who believe in re-incarnation – the great ‘circle of life’. But who wants to come back to life, only to suffer the same troubles, the same pain, the same grief, the same tears that we have already experienced? Who wants to be locked in an endless cycle of birth, toil, death, birth, toil, death? That is no hope at all.

But for the Christian, our hope is resurrection. We don’t simply believe that one day we’ll go to heaven. We believe that the whole creation is groaning in eager expectation for the return of Christ. And as part of the creation we groan too – not in despair, but in longing – for the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:18-25). Our hope is not simply that we’re going to live forever, but that we will be given new resurrection bodies in order to enjoy the new heavens and the new earth free from pain and the struggles which come through illness and old age.

Transformation

Have you ever spoken to someone who has had a hip- or knee-replacement? When the operation is successful, it can give the recipient a new lease of life. The man who could barely drag himself from the front-door to his car, can now walk to church and enjoy the service pain-free. The grandmother who could hardly find the energy to visit her grandchildren can now play hide-and-seek and even give piggy-backs! But that transformation is nothing compared to the transformation that one day awaits all those whose faith is in Christ. Resurrection is no mere ‘patch-up’ job – we need more than that! Just as our hearts have already been made new, so our bodies will likewise be made new.

Scripture is keen to point out that this hope of Christians is no mere pipe-dream. There is one who has gone before us, and blazed the trail. The Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death. He has received his resurrection body; he is already glorified. Our hope is not that we will have ‘done enough’, not that somehow God will give us a second-chance, but that we will be found in Him.

Life to come

So all this means, not that Christians can think about death, but that we should do so. After all, if we have hope in this life alone, we are to be pitied beyond all men (1 Cor. 15:19). If we fail to look beyond this life, we will miss the joy of meditating on the life to come, and be unable to deal with the grief that will inevitably come our way.

So when we planned the magazine we commissioned articles from John Woolley and Jonathan Pearse on how the truths of the Bible can help us to deal with grief – not with platitudes or mere stoicism, but with simple trust that God is good. And, to help us to help others who are hurting and grieving, we asked Arthur Bentley-Taylor to remind us that we can bring the presence and peace of God to those who are afflicted.

Comfort

We can bring comfort and have hope, because the good news taught by Scripture rests in reality, and Paul Wells was asked to write about Christ’s death on the cross that reconciles us sinners to our God. Our hope is sure, because God’s goodness has already been demonstrated and, his power to raise from the dead is already made clear.

This hope should not merely be of help in our old age or in our hospital bed, but it should transform our lives. Hope in resurrection will give strength to the weak, hope to the dying and courage to the timid. The Boxer Rebellion in 19th century China is a salutary yet uplifting reminder that frequently God’s people have had to be prepared to ask themselves whether they really believe that ‘it is not death to die’. So, to complete the picture Lowri Iorwerth and Gareth Edwards looked at heaven and hell and reflect on the truths (and some of the myths) of the life to come.

As I reflect back on that meeting, and read again the articles we commissioned, I find them both a challenge and a comfort. We worship a God who has conquered death and dealt with its consequences. Blessed be His name!

This article was the editorial of the March 2011 edition of the Evangelical Magazine.

Neither Poverty nor Riches: A biblical theology of possessions

Neither Poverty nor Riches is the best book about wealth I have ever read. It is practical, comprehensive, scholarly, balanced and thoroughly biblical. Blomberg’s central point is a simple one: that extreme poverty and extreme wealth are not to be tolerated – hence the title which is drawn from Proverbs 30:8, ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches’.

To give an indication of the challenge of the book, Blomberg argues that the rich should give more than 10% (perhaps many times that amount), to enable the poor to give less. But he takes a global perspective, reminding Western readers that the vast majority of us are firmly in the ‘rich’ side of the scales. And he reminds us that spiritual growth in the area of stewardship is ‘a necessary sign of [spiritual] life’.

Thankfully, Blomberg never falls into the trap of declaring all riches as evil, or advocating asceticism. God’s gifts are to be enjoyed, he reminds us, but they are also to be shared.

If I have one criticism it would be that in the chapter with application there is an emphasis on the relief of material poverty in the world that was not apparent in the earlier exegesis. As I read the New Testament (or the Old for that matter) I see a wide concern for the spiritual well-being of all people, and a narrower concern for the material well-being of believers. That is not to say we should be callous towards the non-Christian poor, or that we should only bring Bibles and not bring bread. But it is to say that when it comes to loving our neighbour, the Bible seems to make our two priorities the sharing of the gospel with the world, and caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

That, however, is a relatively minor criticism. If you want to think about the Bible’s teaching on wealth and poverty I know of no better book.

You gotta love APIs

Today I created another video introducing the upcoming version of Logos Bible software 4.1. Having created the video and uploaded it to Vimeo, I then needed to update this site with the necessary embed code, etc. Having already keyed in the description once (into Vimeo), I didn’t feel like typing it all again – or even copying and pasting. And when I change theme, I’m going to have to change all those pages to fit new video sizes.

[Read more...]

iPhone app review: Logos vs OliveTree BibleReader

The iPhone Bible app market is really hotting up since Logos entered the market back in November. Since then I’ve been using both Logos and OliveTree’s BibleReader on a daily basis, so you can think of this as a long-term test. It’s worth saying at the outset that both apps are can be downloaded with a small number of bibles and books for free, so you can try them out for yourself. But although you can do a huge amount for free, you’ll need to pay to get the most benefit, and some of the features I refer to below are not available with the free packages – you’ll need paid upgrades.  I’m reviewing the top-end packages: Logos Portfolio (version 1.3.0) and BibleReader Scholar’s Collection (version 4.11).

[Read more...]

The case for expository preaching

The February 2010 edition of The Banner of Truth contains an article by Iain Murray warning of the disadvantages of ‘expository’ preaching (by which he mean “preaching which consecutively takes a congregation through a passage, or book of Scripture, week by week). Unfortunately the article is not online, but you can read a summary here. Iain is right to warn of the dangers, but as the letter below (which I’ve just sent to Banner HQ) says, I think he goes too far:

[Read more...]

How should Christians give?

Photo credit: Kendra MalloyI was once quizzed by a man whose adult daughter had become a Christian and applied for church membership. He himself was not a church-goer and had many questions. One was, ‘What will she have to pay?’. I assured him there would be no charge! ‘But the church must need money,’ he told me. I explained that attenders gave voluntarily. ‘So what will she have to give?’ I told him it was entirely up to her. He kept pressing me for an appropriate amount. ‘What do other people give?’ he wanted to know. I replied, ‘Many Christians believe around 10% of their income would be appropriate’. There was a long silence. My answer had come as a bit of a shock — he’d apparently been thinking that around £50 a year would be adequate! [Read more...]

Prioritising resources in Logos 4

Sorry for another post about Logos version 4, but it really is a terrific piece of software. This time I’ve got two videos about prioritising resources. Resource prioritising in Logos 4 has replaced key-linking from Logos 3. Key-linking was a powerful magic that few mastered. Prioritising, on the other hand has drag and drop simplicity. It’s not quite as powerful as the key-linking feature, but as these two videos show, that’s not to say you can’t personalise Logos 4 almost exactly to your tastes. There are two videos. The first covers the basics and intermediate tips, the second is a bit more advanced. Update: I’ve added a third video on managing collections.

[Read more...]