Category Archives: Last Things

Poetry Monday – Humility and hope in a broken world

narniaI try to always read some poetry on my day off – my Sabbath Monday. This poem by Anne Porter struck me in a unique way. It reminds me of my part in the brokenness inflicted by sin. My “blind complicity” as she says in the third stanza. How I dismiss people in their wounded state, “as if I were not one of them.”

The last lines remind me of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan’s resurrection ushers in the spring of the New Creation!

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded 
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.

“A Short Testament” by Anne Porter, from Living Things.
reprinted in The Writer’s Almanac

Live with the end in mind!

Eschatology – or the study of “Last Things,” has often been mis-applied. What the Bible tells us about the end of all things is not to make us speculate or to make us panic and evacuate.  Rather it is about living NOW in light of the in-breaking of Christ and His Kingdom! It’s about being prayerful, pure, watchful, and on-mission.  Preaching on 1 Peter 4:7-11 made me appreciate again, the challenge of living the rest of my life with POSITIVE URGENCY. (Here is the sermon)

This is a section from N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian that further unpacks the practical implications of the Bible’s end-times teaching:

ntw   God’s future has arrived in the present, has arrived in the person of Jesus. In arriving, it has confronted and defeated the forces of evil and opened the way for God’s new world, for heaven and earth to be joined forever…Not only heaven and earth, but also future and present, overlap and interlock. And the way that interlocking becomes real, not just imaginary, is through the powerful work of God’s Spirit. This is the launchpad for the specifically Christian way of life. That way of life isn’t a matter simply of getting in touch with our inner depths. It is certainly not about keeping the commands of a distant deity. Rather, it is the new way of being human, the Jesus-shaped way of being human, the cross-and-resurrection way of life, the Spirit-led pathway. It is the way which anticipates, in the present, the full, rich, glad human existence which will one day be ours when God makes all things new. Christian ethics is not a matter of discovering what’s going on in the world and getting in tune with it. It isn’t a matter of doing things to earn God’s favor. It is not about trying to obey dusty rulebooks from long ago or far away. It is about practicing, in the present, the tunes we shall sing in God’s new world!   Christian holiness is not (as people often imagine) a matter of denying something good. It is about growing up and grasping something even better. Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.
And a closing prayer:
Almighty God, who alone can bring order to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity: Give your people grace so to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that, among the many changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

So, Will All Be Saved in the End?

A follow-up to the teaching, Will All Be Saved in the End? in our Tough Questions Series

I had the privilege at North Park University of speaking with Kallistos Ware, elderly Orthodox bishop and scholar from England. I had read his essay called, Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All? (I found it on the web here.) I asked him about his views. He said that the freedom of the human will as part of being in God’s image, was for him (as for C. S. Lewis) a decisive point. There must remain, despite God’s love and the victory and future restoration of all things in Christ, the possibility of choosing to refuse God’s gift. His article is worth reading to understand how Christians through the centuries have addressed these issues.

Here are some C.S. Lewis’ quotes on this subject that are insightful and provocative.

To enter hell is to be banished from humanity.  What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is “remains.”To be a complete man, means to have the passions obedient to the will and the will offered to God…hell was not made for men…It is in no sense parallel to heaven. (from The Problem of Pain)

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, chose it.  Without that self- choice there could be no Hell.  No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.  Those who seek, find…” The Great Divorce

In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: “What are you asking God to do?” To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them?  They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.

ONE MORE resource for deeper study that I’ve appreciated is an important alternative to some western views of heaven and hell that often come more from Dante’s Inferno and Greek mythology than from biblical teaching. It is linked here: Heaven and Hell in the Afterlife According to the Bible, by Peter Chopelas, an Eastern Orthodox writer.  Though the writer sees this understanding as being counter to both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, I would say that many evangelicals, including myself, increasingly accept the basic premise of this line of study. Certainly Lewis was on this train.

What Questions are raised for you by this discussion?

Transfiguration and Transformation

August 6 on the Christian calendar celebrates the Transfiguration of Christ recorded in the Gospels (e.g. Luke 9:28-36, with 2 Peter 1:16-18) The icon in the Eastern Church draws attention to “the uncreated light” of Christ.  An ancient hymn for the Feast summarizes the great significance for understanding Christ and his mission…

On the Mountain Thou wast Transfigured, O Christ God,
And Thy disciples beheld Thy glory as far as they could see it;
So that when they would behold Thee crucified,
They would understand that Thy suffering was voluntary,
And would proclaim to the world,
That Thou art truly the Radiance of the Father!

Not only did this event foretell Christ’s atoning death, it also looks forward to the restoration of all things. Many of the Church Fathers said that the coming again of Christ will mean the whole universe will be like the burning bush seen by Moses: “radiant with the fire of God’s holiness, but not consumed.” (David B. Hart in The Uncreated Light)

Christian Poet, Scott Cairns, writes on the Transfiguration with wonderful eloquence ending with his poem, As We See.  Here is the first stanza and  a link to the whole article.

As We See

The transfiguration of our Lord — that is, the radiance in which
he was bathed at the pinnacle of Mount Tabor — did not manifest
a change in Him, but a change in those who saw Him.
—Isaac the Least

Suppose the Holy One Whose Face We Seek
is not so much invisible as we
are ill equipped to apprehend His grave
proximity. Suppose our fixed attention
serves mostly to make evident the gap
dividing what is seen and what is here….

Between the Groaning and the Glory

Pentecost

I mentioned in a recent sermon, Set Free to Pray, N.T. Wright’s reflection on Romans 8 that helps to capture the TENSION we are called to live in between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet;’  between the ‘groanings’ of our fallen world and the ‘glory’ to come when God restores all things.

“…as the bracing ethical imperatives of Romans 8:12-14 and the call to groaning in prayer in 8:26-27 make clear, the Christian is to embody the tension involved in bringing the new to birth already within the old.  The challenge to holiness cannot be put off until some future date; nor can the challenge to bring all things in subjection to the saving rule of God’s people, a task that  must begin with inarticulate prayer and continue forward from there….If the creation is to be renewed, not abandoned, and if that work has already begun in the resurrection of Jesus, it will not do simply to consign the present creation (to decay and misuse and eventual destruction.)  Christians must be in the forefront of bringing, in the present time, signs and foretastes of God’s eventual full healing to bear upon the created order in all its parts and at every level….Christians must be in the forefront of bringing, in the present time, signs and foretastes of God’s fresh beauty within the world, signs of the hope for what the Spirit will yet do!”  (Commentary of Romans, pp. 605-606) Continue reading Between the Groaning and the Glory

Imago Dei – ‘No Ordinary People’

I had the privilege of attending a C.S. Lewis conference in Oxford a few years ago on my sabbatical.  The closing event was a service at St. Mary’s church.  A British actor read Lewis’ sermon preached during WW II.  He called it The Weight of Glory (from a phrase in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Here is the link to the entire sermon. It is a masterpiece that adds greatly to our vision of eternity and to understanding the Imago Dei – humankind made in the image of God.
Christopher Mitchell in a wonderful article on Lewis’ evangelistic zeal demonstrates how Lewis “longed above all else for the unseen things of which this life offers only shadows, for that weight of glory which the Lord Christ won for the human race. And knowing the extraordinary nature of every human person, Lewis longed for and labored for their glory as well.”

An expanded quote we used in today’s sermon at Christ Church will whet your appetite: Continue reading Imago Dei – ‘No Ordinary People’

N.T. Wright Sampler

Folks at Christ Church know that  I have referenced N.T. Wright frequently.  He is one of the top 5 most important New Testament scholars of the century.  I can vouch that he has the uncanny ability to speak to scholar and layperson alike with crystal clarity about the Word of God.  Wright most recently published a very important book called Surprised By Hope: Re-thinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  Some have asked for more background on how our future hope of resurrected bodies on a new heaven and new earth informs our understanding of our task now.   A recent sermon preached in Oxford, St. Aldates Church, summarizes the core of Wright’s teaching on this subject.  I want to urge you to go to the link and download the teaching. The sermon is titled The Roots, Basis, and Fruits of Christian Hope. Click Here (on the page where it says ‘download’ – just right click and save link as/save target as… and save it to your desk top or other folder and then open to play, move to an mp3 player, or burn to a cd.  Let me know what you think!

To go deeper, here is a posting from Scot McKnight of North Park University – a great NT scholar himself  – on why N.T. Wright and fellow Brit, Chris Wright (author of The Mission of God – the best book on Missions around) represent the future of evangelical theology. Continue reading N.T. Wright Sampler

Jesus’ Resurrection…and Ours!

He is risen….and Jesus’ resurrection is the the first fruits of all to come!  The resurrection of the body is so vital to understand.  On Easter I mentioned a new book by N.T. Wright – Surprised By Hope.  Here is an excerpt from the book printed in the new Christianity Today.

There is no agreement in the church today about what happens to people when they die. Yet the New Testament is crystal clear on the matter: In a classic passage, Paul speaks of “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). There is no room for doubt as to what he means: God’s people are promised a new type of bodily existence, the fulfillment and redemption of our present bodily life. The rest of the early Christian writings, where they address the subject, are completely in tune with this.

The traditional picture of people going to either heaven or hell as a one-stage, postmortem journey represents a serious distortion and diminution of the Christian hope. Bodily resurrection is not just one odd bit of that hope. It is the element that gives shape and meaning to the rest of the story of God’s ultimate purposes.  Click Here to read the whole article.

Incarnation ~ Miracle and Mystery

nativityi.jpgI invite us to reflect deeply this Advent on these words – some gleaned from Scripture and some from the ‘Church Fathers.’ 

Why did God – in miracle and mystery – take on a human body.In a word, Love!   “For us and for our salvation” says the Nicene Creed.  To be my Savior, Jesus must be true God and true man.  Salvation must reach the point of human need.  Christ heals my brokenness by taking on himself my human nature.  He became what we are so that we can become what He is.  He was made man that we might be made like GodHe became “in flesh” that we might be in Christ.  We can partake of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1) because He took on human nature!  

A marvelous wonder has this day come to pass: Nature is made new, and God becomes man… The Word put on a body; the Invisible is seen;  He whom no hand can touch is handled;  And he who has no beginning now begins to be.”

Chuck Colson has a great editorial in CToday you should read as it dovetales perfectly with the teaching and ministry at Christ Church. Here is an excerpt:  Continue reading Incarnation ~ Miracle and Mystery

Revealing the Book of Revelation

“St John saw many strange things in his Revelation, but nothing as strange as his interpreters.”  G.K. Chesterton

Here are some resources for the serious study of the last book of the Bible, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, or as the opening Greek word has it, the Apocalypse (unveiling.)  If you would like more on chapters 1-3, John Stott’s What Christ Thinks of the Church is now republished. A book used and recommended by Dr. Zeyl of Christ Church Elder and URI Phil. Dept. fame is by Craig Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things.  A website that covers many of the interpretations in a pretty balanced way is called Apocalipsis.org (you’ll have to get by some of the artwork and style of the site.) A pastors research site called Textweek.com has an incredible breadth of journal articles, reviews, whole commentaries on line, etc. that can take you into more background and depth on specific issues.  Finally, Hank Hanegraaff”s The Apocalypse Code  has just been published.  Despite the trendy title, it shows (through interpretive principles,) the deficiencies of dispensational method and especially the “Left Behind” version of much current pop writing on the end times. The subtitle is, “Find out what the Bible REALLY says about the end times…and why it matters today.”