Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Nature of Christian Hope

This is adapted from a sermon I preached at a funeral today...

What is the basis for the Christian hope of life beyond the grave? One of the popular readings at a funeral is from Psalm 23.

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
for ever.

God loves to be generous and host parties, and the Bible tells us that one day he will host the best party of all, in his house, forever, and that we are all invited. It is a party where we see clearly where now we see but a distorted reflection; where we will move from this world of black and white to glorious colour. But is that a promise we can trust, or is it what used to be called sentiment?

There's a lot of sentiment around at the time of death. Things we know aren't actually true but which are stories that make us feel better, like people becoming stars when they die or having some kind of celestial gallery where they look down on us and occasionally send us feathers, like Jesus walking on England's mountains green or death being nothing at all. Don't get me wrong, God knows there's a place for sentiment at times like this, but is that all we have to hold onto?

No. There is one man – Jesus Christ, and he gives us what the Bible calls a sure and certain hope, a hope based not on wishful thinking or sentiment but on real events and on a love that never fails, a love stronger even than death. Because Jesus really lived, 2000 years ago in Israel. And he really died, executed by the Romans. And he really rose again from the dead – not in the James Bond sense of living to die another day, but he rose from real physical death to real everlasting life.

This Sunday, Christians across the world remember that Jesus will one day return to this world in glory to put everything right and to bring in his everlasting kingdom of truth and love.

But when he does that, as the Psalmist says, if he kept a record of sins, who could stand? (Ps 130v3) However good we are, we all need God's forgiveness, and so the Psalmist continues "But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you." (Ps 130v4)

Our only true hope in life or in death is Jesus, who loves us with a love that is patient and kind, that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus, who will walk with us even through the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus who brings us God's forgiveness and his comfort so that we can serve him with reverence, Jesus who has beaten death, once and for all, and who offers us his new life in the glorious party in his Father's house forever. Trust Jesus, trust Jesus. Because one day it will be our turn, and when that day comes, may we know truly that he is with us even through the valley of the shadow of death, so that we may dwell in his house forever.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Rule of Life?

For a long time I have mistrusted the idea of a “rule of life”. It all sounded terribly... legalistic – the kind of thing that was externally imposed on someone as yet more man-made rules they had to keep before a church which had grossly misunderstood God would allow them into heaven, or something like that.

But over the last year or so, something like the idea of a “rule of life” has come at me from several angles. Here's Martyn Lloyd-Jones, for example.

... the question of discipline is thrown right back on the [preacher] himself. Nobody can tell him what to do. What controls everything is his realisation that if he is to be what he should be, if he is to be a true preacher, a spiritually minded man who is concerned about ministering to the glory of God and the edification and salvation of souls, he must do this. That should compel him to exercise this discipline. If he has the right motive and the right objective, if he is truly called, he will be so anxious to do all he has to do in the most effective manner that he will take the trouble to find out how best to order and organise himself and his day.
Preaching and Preachers, ch 9 (sic)

Or here's James Emery White:

This is what a “rule” is – a collected, organized set of practices we determine to follow in order to tend to our spirits and shepherd our souls. We need structure and discipline for our spiritual lives every bit as much as we do for every other area of life.

Whatever our “rule” may be, it can, and should, be natural to our personality and developed in light of our season of life – but it must be created. If we know that we would be profoundly served by reading, praying, and spending time with a soul friend, then we must work toward establishing the patterns of life that allow it.

Several times, the phrase “rule of life” has come up in that sort of context and in the longer and better ones (e.g. Finding a Personal Rule of Life by Harold Millar) they tend to explain it roughly as follows:

“Rule” is a translation of the Latin “regula”, which has the sense of a standard or a pattern as well as a rule – regularity rather than regulations (both come from the same Latin word). So a “rule of life” is not something external and imposed on us – it is a pattern of life that we decide to stick to because it is good for us and enables us to live at our best.
(wording my own)

My response to that is simple. If that's what you mean by the phrase “rule of life”, then wouldn't it be better to call it a “pattern for living”? That also has the nice ambiguity that it's a pattern by which I decide to live which then enables me to really live.

And with that overly-pedantic improvement made, it sounds important to do, great to put into practice and I've written one!

(that's me "really living"...)