Without Mention – But Always There

I was watching Andy Murray play Novak Djokovic for the ATP World Tour Finals title last last year. The title was important, but nothing in comparison to the title of world number one which was also up for grabs that night. I watched as these two masters of tennis battled it out, and as the hours passed, Murray received the title he fought so long and hard for. The two men on the court were surrounded by seventeen thousand spectators, and they all shared Murray’s delight as he lifted the trophy. But how did Murray arrive at that moment of victory? No doubt through countless hours of practice. But what else? Tennis is often seen as a solo sport, but every step of his career Murray has had individuals who have supported him both financially and emotionally, individuals who have trained him, who have taken the time to work on his consistency, correct and perfect his service. But when journalists wrote about his victory, the people who surrounded him day after day, who were essential for his success, were never mentioned. It makes you wonder if they were ever there at all?


Rock relief of King Xerxes

The author of the book of Esther doesn’t mentions God’s name once. The book is set in the reign of the Persian King Xerxes (c.438 B.C.), in the citadel of Susa. There are ten chapters filled with drama, with twists and turns, and a good pinch of irony. But not once do we read of anything even slightly religious. As Karen B. Jobes observes, “Esther shows no concern for dietary laws”, she gets married to a Pagan King after losing her virginity to him, and is celebrated for pleasing him more than any other virgin of the harem. Mordecai too, encouraged Esther to hide her identity, compromise her faith, and disobey the Torah. Together they hardly make a set of role models for the Jewish people. Jobes goes on to say that the book has so little in common with the rest of Scripture, that if you were to replace the word “Jews” with the name of another ethnic group “there would be no reason to think the story had anything at all to do with the Bible.” Yet we have received this book as part of our canon of Scripture not because of the characters we meet in the book, but rather because of our God that is constantly working behind the scenes. He is not mentioned once, but this book is absolutely about Him.

Many of us know the thrill of encountering God in a powerful way. We each long for the Holy Spirit to speak to us, to move us, to fill us, and these dynamic meetings between God and humankind are wonderful and exciting, but they aren’t our usual experience of God. What happens on a Monday morning, the day after Sunday’s meeting? Where are you going? What are you doing? Is God with you there at work, is He with you during your lunch hour, and the drive home? When you are stuck on the M25 in rush hour traffic, where’s God? We spend comparatively little time in a Church building collectively worshipping God, what happens for the rest of our time?Sometimes we can harbour an unnatural disconnect between the God of Sunday and our everyday lives. The Book of Esther challenges us to look for God in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. Esther’s entry into the story occurs through a beauty contest, and I cannot think of a more shallow event than this one. Yet this thoroughly irreligious event gives birth to a Queen who sits on a throne “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

I believe that it is the genius of the author to hold themselves back from explaining every event that happens. Instead the author gives us ‘coincidence’ after ‘coincidence’ and we are left to fill in the blanks ourselves. Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer helpfully summarise these ‘coincidences’ for us;

Esther happened to be selected as Vashti’s successor; Mordecai happened to uncover the plan to assassinate the king; (Xerxes) Ahasuerus happened to have insomnia on the night before Haman planned to kill Mordecai; the selection of royal chronicles read to the king that night happened to contain the report of Mordecai’s good deed.

Often when we think of God we recall the powerful images He has given us of a parted sea, fire falling from the sky, people healed and sometimes even raised from the dead. Wonderful images of His power and might, a reminder surely that nothing is impossible with God. But what about the God of the gentle whisper? God need not appear as a burning bush to become involved in human affairs. The book of Esther teaches us to look for God’s whispers, rather than His fire alone. Over the next few months it is my intention to share with you the book of Esther. I trust that God will be challenging you and I to look at the ‘coincidences’ in our lives, because perhaps there is a little more to them than meets the eye. Perhaps behind the scenes is a God who is shaping His world without receiving the credit he deserves. Perhaps that same God has placed you where you are today, not by accident, but purposefully, “for such a time as this.”


But God Remembered Noah

I’m happy to announce that on Saturday the 21st at 14:27, my wife Fiona gave birth to a baby boy weighing 8 lbs. We decided to name him Noah. Every person I’ve spoken to so far has loved the name (or they were just being polite). I was surprised to find out that the name Noah actually ranks as the 2nd most popular name of 2015 according to BabyCentre. But we didn’t choose the name because it is popular, nor because it sounds good, and especially not because of the recent film starring Russell Crowe. I have always loved the name for different reasons.

“The narrative itself is not even about Noah, but rather God’s dealing with humanity.”

Since becoming a Christian I have been fascinated by the story of the flood found in Genesis 6-9. The narrative is set to the backdrop of a sinful and fallen world, where “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). God’s shining creation had been plunged into the darkness of human sin, and if I can say one good thing about the Russell Crowe interpretation, its depiction of human sin goes some way to correctly portray its severity. And so God resolved to wipe out the human race from the face of the earth, preserving two of every animal along with Noah and his family. Often the story of Noah’s Ark is told as a cuddly, cutesy, children’s tale, where Noah and his family smile as the animals enter two by two, before setting sail upon the newly formed sea. In reality though, what lies behind the fairytale is the real account of the terrifying reality of sin, and God’s justified cleansing of the earth. The narrative itself is not even about Noah, but rather God’s dealing with humanity. In fact, Noah doesn’t say a word until the waters have dried up. His first and only recorded words are his cursing of his son Ham, and blessing of Japheth and Shem. So why the name Noah you might ask?

“What sets Noah apart, is not his good behaviour, nor his ship building skills, nor his animal husbandry.”

1280px-Domenico_Morelli_Noahs_DankgebetI am writing this with our boy Noah sitting beside me squeaking away. As I look at him I am filled with all kinds of hopes and dreams for him; I hope he will be a good man, I hope he will find a career he loves, I hope he will have a wife and family, and I hope he too will know Jesus as I do. And I find great comfort in the Genesis narrative. The man Noah stands as a good man who walked faithfully with God (Genesis 6:9), but was given a monumental task. As a result he stood, not as a man petting the lions and elephants as they entered the Ark, but as a man who must have been full of doubt and conflict, calling out to those around him to turn from their ways, yet knowing deep inside he deserved the same fate.

What sets Noah apart, is not his good behaviour, nor his ship building skills, nor his animal husbandry. The Hebrew narrative is written in such a way that one verse stands at the centre of this whole story, and it is Genesis 8:1; “But God remembered Noah.” In the midst of a fallen world, of so much suffering and terror, by grace alone Noah is protected, shut inside the safety of the Ark. Actually, Noah is no different from any of us. What makes Noah special is that he knows God, and God remembers him. Like all of us, our baby Noah will make mistakes; like the man Noah he will sin, fall and fail. But we know that ultimately his fate lies not in our hands as parents, nor in his own decisions – good or bad, but in the hands of his Heavenly Father. In the midst of the storms of life I can trust, as we all can, that God will remember us.


All Our Life, In All Its Fullness

I recently had the privilege of taking a tour of Israel and Palestine, and unlike England, Harvest time remains a large part of their culture. As I travelled up the country I noticed distinct changes in the land. As we journeyed from the south of the country from Masada, up through Qumran to Jericho, the land was noticeably barren, and with the exception of a few oases, little was growing; the only crops I could see were olives and dates. As we made our way to the north of the country past Megiddo, Nazareth and Galilee we noticed great vineyards and crops of bananas; the land full of long green grass and trees. Israel and Palestine is a fascinating land, and just one of the reasons it has been fought over through history is the fertility of the earth. It is amazing that even in the plains of Jericho, if you just add water the land comes to life.

DSCN1368“As important as Church meetings are, if we pour all of our time into them, other areas of our lives are bound to dry up, just like the land in Palestine.”

So why isn’t there life everywhere you might ask? The answer is simple; there is only a certain amount of water to go around. In this country, whoever controls the source of the river Jordan, controls the land, and there are no prizes for guessing who controls the source; Israel. It takes ten times the amount of water to grow grapes and bananas than it does olives and dates. And it is no accident that these crops are grown by Israel in their well managed land, and even the oases in the south belong to Israel. This is just one of the reasons there is so much tension in this land. Please note that I am not making a political statement, but stating a reality; there is only a certain amount of water to go around, and Israel has a responsibility to use it wisely.

“We may be surprised at what God considers good fruit.”

We face a different situation here in England; we only have a certain amount of time, and we too need to use it wisely. Sometimes we get the impression that all that matters as a Christian is that you go to Church, to a home group, to the prayer meetings, to the members meeting, and talk to your friends about Jesus. This at first seems great, but soon the reality is that we end up jumping from meeting to meeting and when it comes to sharing Jesus with friends, that becomes more difficult as we don’t have any friends left outside of the Church. As important as Church meetings are, if we pour all of our time into them, other areas of our lives are bound to dry up, just like the land in Palestine. We only have a certain amount of time, how we choose to spend it is essential for a good harvest.

We are told that there will be an ultimate harvest one day when Christ returns. We will surely stand in front of Him and have to give an account of our fruit, and we may be surprised at what God considers good fruit. Did you know God values the work you do 9-5, He values the time you spend with your family, He values the relationships you build at the pub? Our entire lives should be an offering of worship, and He values the relationships we have and the work we do, in the same way He values our attendance on Sunday. Balancing our time is always difficult, always requiring wisdom, but always worth reviewing to ensure we see all our life, in all its fulness, for the glory of God.


The Whisper Is Mightier Than The Storm

I’m many of us share the experience of being woken abruptly by the almighty sound of thunder and the unmistakable flashes of lighting. It is at moments like this when I stand in awe of the awesome power of nature. I recall many years ago sitting on a beach with my Mother and Sister admiring the crashing waves, feeling the spray on our faces, observing the swirling sky and experiencing the sound of thunder. I remember though, being shocked as a lighting bolt struck the beach just 20 meters away from where we were sitting. In that moment my sense of awe turned into respect and fear as we scrabbled off the beach to safety.

“Lightning bolts, burning bushes, seas parting and heavens being opened; they hope to see God at work and become convinced.”

It occurs to me that many people secretly hope for an experience like this when it comes to faith. Indeed, many of the people we come into contact with are eager to hear about where to find God. In their minds they have images of lightning bolts, burning bushes, seas parting and heavens being opened; they hope to see God at work and become convinced. All too many times I’ve heard people ask for a sign, for something miraculous, for evidential proof of God almighty. I remember an old colleague telling me that if he saw God reveal Himself in a miraculous way he would believe. I don’t believe he would have, in the same way I didn’t when the lightning struck the beach near me. For some people these “Damascus road” moments are sought after and longed for. Perhaps like Paul we would like to hear Jesus speak to us from heaven, or like Martin Luther have lightning strike near us and change our lives, but so often this isn’t our testimony. So what do we say, God is dead?

“If we truly wish to hear from God, we need to make space for silence – to hear His ‘low whisper'”

whisper-656x450Consider the life of Elijah; few people have seen so many wonders of the Lord, no-one else has seen answer to prayer in the form of fire falling from heaven – but for all this, Elijah’s faith still crumbled. To restore it, God took him to a cave at mount Horeb and before him came a strong wind that tore the mountain apart, following this came a mighty earthquake that shook the earth, and then there came a great fire that scorched the mountain, and for all this power and wonder displayed, God was in none of it (1 Kings 19:9-18). Instead we read that God came to Him in the “sound of a low whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Some of us, like Elijah, may live to see great works of power in our lives. It is right that we should long for this as these moment really do build our faith, but we shouldn’t expect this to be the norm. Instead, if we truly wish to hear from God, we need to make space for silence – to hear His “low whisper”. Never before has this been so difficult in our age of distraction, but never before has this been so vital. I encourage you to make the time, carve it out, guard it and cherish it for, like Elijah, the “low whisper” of God has the power to change lives – not only for us, but also for the world around us.


Heroes and Villains

I have watched over the past few years as my favourite comic book heroes and villains have made their way onto the silver screen – for a geek like myself, this is a dream come true. What I’m noticing about this genre though, is that the stereotypical hero and villain roles are becoming blurred. It is hard to find a hero who doesn’t have some dark past or who doesn’t face some sort of inner demon. And the opposite is true for the villain. Many villains are made as a result of tragic consequences, or hide a purer motive that if exercised in a different way, would perhaps enable them to become the hero themselves. I find this interesting because this blurriness seems to resemble real life more than we care to admit.

“We have a habit of raising individuals upon pedestals and being surprised when they fall.”

With many of the famous and infamous characters through history, we read of their great triumphs and their great sins. Charles Wesley for example is a hero of evangelism, sharing the gospel throughout the land, but when it comes to his marriage he is seen as nothing less than a villain who sacrificed his family upon the altar of service. His life can be told from both angles, either as hero or a villain – but it isn’t that simple, and it never is.

spiderman-3-wallpapers-free-download-4The story of Hagar, Abram and Sarai speaks of the objectification of Hagar, as Sarai uses her as a slave to give her children. This narrative is shocking to a large extent because of how even the great heroes of faith, such as Abraham, can become such villains. The problem though is ours, because we never should have considered them heroes to begin with. We have a habit of raising individuals upon pedestals and being surprised when they fall. Scripture contains real people like you and I, who sometimes do good and at other times evil. We aren’t to elevate the people themselves to be our examples, but rather imitate their goodness and learn from their evil. There is only one who can be be safely elevated.

“He has died for us to allow us to be recast as the hero – finally we can be who we were made to be.”

In reality, God saw us all as villains “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God“ (Rom 3:23) – no-one can be called a hero, each deserves judgement. But it is possible to become the hero through the only one who has ever earned the title. Jesus walked that perfect life, and so He is the only one should be lifted up as our example. But more than that, He has died for us to allow us to be recast as the hero – finally we can be who we were made to be. In response to this, as Christians we are expected to grow into our new role, increasing in courage, in fortitude, and in faith. Let us live up to our intended role, redefining heroism as we grow to look like Jesus.


How To Answer Suffering

The problem of suffering is not new. Most likely, the answers we give to the problem aren’t either. In fact, most of the questions asked during my Church’s last Christianity Explored course revolved around suffering.

“Before we can deliver the good news of Jesus,  we first have to explain away the bad news of the week.”

The same can be said for schools work. Both pupilswomen-tears and teachers alike are concerned with the world around them and for those of us who claim to know God, representing Him even, the first question on their lips is “Why does God allow suffering?”

There is a certain irony in the Greek word for “Good News” from which the word evangelism is derived. We find that before we can deliver the good news of Jesus,  we first have to explain away the bad news of the week. This can be challenging as we scrabble for the words to give an answer, any answer, to let us move the conversation on to a more comfortable area.

Often we fail to recognise the reason for the question and in so doing can do more damage than good. For example, to simply quote Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him”) to someone who has just lost their fiancé in a car crash is deeply inappropriate. Or to tell a young man in a wheel chair who suffers with cerebral palsy that “suffering is simply a result of human sin” can only be offensive. Or to tell a young married couple who are unable to conceive that “it’s because we live in a fallen world” offers no comfort whatsoever. Instead of attempting to answer these questions with ill-thought out theological concepts (like Job’s friends, filling many chapters in the process), sometimes it’s better to stay silent.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words.”

Other times it’s better to enter into their suffering with them, sharing their tears and showing them love and compassion, sharing something of your own testimony.

Each of the three situations above are from real people I know and have been given these answers. Unsurprisingly they took no comfort from their answers. But each of them came to faith hearing that unlike any other religion where God is portrayed as a distant concept, their God is a personal God. The God of the Bible is one who entered into human history, who suffered with them, who died for them to give them an inheritance in heaven, and so can empathise with them whilst they remain on earth. Our God offers great comfort as although we aren’t given all the answers as to the question “Why Lord?” we know Jesus Himself asked the same question upon the cross.


Hearts Not Handcuffs

There are many different beliefs surrounding the origin of Valentines day. One story believes St. Valentine was imprisoned and killed for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden from marrying, another tells of St. Valentine healing a jailer’s daughter, and another speaks of St. Valentine’s respect for love; cutting out fabric hearts for newly weds to carry with them as a reminder of their promises to one another. Curiously, in the wide range of mythology there is no mention of handcuffs, rope or masking-tape. Yet for many this year, what is associated with these items, is a reason to get excited for Valentines Day.

This Valentines Day sees the release of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film adaptation of E. L. James’ book Fifty Shades of Grey. The book sold 100 million copies worldwide and is the best selling book in the UK, and the movie is set to be equally popular with estimated takings of $60 million on opening night. Across the world, couples young and old, giggling teenagers and single parents will be visiting the cinema to see it. I have had emails and heard radio stations advertising the film, I have seen the trailer dominate social media for the past month, and I have been told there is 50% off fifty shades of grey tiles at a local supplier. Our country has gone mad for this film, which can happen with films, but never before with a film about Sadomasochism (BDSM).

“Replace Christian Grey with an overweight, balding, 50 year old man, and see whether the book maintains its appeal.”

la-et-ct-fifty-shades-of-grey-fandango-movietickets-20150204Aside from the obvious pornographic content, huge concerns have been raised by domestic abuse campaigners about the concepts promoted in the film. Amy Bonomi, a professor and chairperson of Michigan State University’s Department of Human Development and Family studies, has made some disturbing findings. A thorough study of the book concludes that “emotional and sexual abuse is pervasive in the novel,” appearing in almost every interaction between Anastasia and Christian. Both exhibit “textbook signs” of abuse: Christian, the so-called love interest, actively stalks Ana. He controls her behaviour, her food intake, and dictates who she is allowed to spend her time with, isolating her from friends and family. He belittles her, threatens her and blames her. As a consequence, Ana is afraid of making Christian angry, afraid to talk to her friends, and insecure in her own personhood. One commentator suggests replacing Christian Grey with an overweight, balding, 50 year old man, to see whether the book maintains its appeal.

“What happens when something we know to be shocking is no-longer so? Where do we go from here?”

But it is only a book right, where is the harm? I have never read the book, and I doubt I will see the film. But what I find concerning, as we put the debate about erotic literature to one side, is how an obviously abusive relationship can be marketed as “an incredible fairytale love story.” With the rise of the objectification of women in the media, divorce rates maintaining an all-time high, erotic literature read shamelessly on trains and other public places, the regular sharing of nude photographs in school, we have to ask whether promoting this film as a “fairytale” is helpful to an already confused generation. Sadomasochism is shocking, it is supposed to be shocking, but what happens when something we know to be shocking is no-longer so? Where do we go from here? The London Fire Brigade is preparing for a large spike in 999 calls from people who find themselves stuck in handcuffs, or tied to bedposts imitating the film.

The Bible, surprisingly for some, talks about sex. In a world filled with confusion, God’s word contains guidance for a perfect, loving, committed relationship – one involving consent and respect. The Song of Solomon was age restricted in Hebrew culture as there is some truly heated descriptions of sex. However it is set to the backdrop of a loving and committed relationship, where satisfaction is found in intimacy, one husband one wife, delighting in each other, sharing their hearts not handcuffs.


Christmas Crackers

Have you ever had something good come out of a Christmas cracker? Seriously, have you ever? I have been opening Christmas crackers by myself now for around 25 years (2 years with assistance from my Mother). And not once have I said to myself after receiving what’s inside, “this is just what I’ve always wanted.” Year after year we open these things and are disappointed; the cracker snaps, we find the present and groan, read the joke and then groan louder, and then we are forced to wear an ill fitting paper hat which we all secretly hope will tear when we remove it from the cracker. One year I had something close to a useful in my cracker; a toenail clipper. But alas, this was useful for only a week, because it snapped in two – which either says something about its build quality, or about my toenails.


“Whilst there are many traditions that we have surrounding Christmas; the ‘paper hats’, ‘plastic gifts’ and ‘snaps’ available, I would much rather have what Christmas was about originally.”

The Christmas cracker becomes even more frustrating when you discover what it started out as. In 1850 a London sweet maker called Tom Smith brought over the French ‘bon bon’ sweets to London. They were wrapped in pretty paper and included a small motto or riddle. When these sweets didn’t sell particularly well, he thought again about their packaging. After sitting next to a crackling fire, he thought, wouldn’t it be great to have the snap and sparks of a fire in the packaging of his sweet. The idea was golden and business boomed. Even the Royal Family bought into the craze, they have special crackers made for them to this day. You might be interested to know that inside a ‘millionaires cracker’ was placed a solid silver box, and in that both gold and silver jewellery – this really puts that broken nail clipper into perspective. And you might be thinking, as I did when I read the article, “what happened?”

The problem with the cracker is that it is tat. I would trade this tat for a ‘bon bon’ and a silver box any day of the week. Whilst there are many traditions that we have surrounding Christmas; the ‘paper hats’, ‘plastic gifts’ and ‘snaps’ available, I would much rather have what Christmas was about originally.  What made Christmas so special was none other than Jesus. It might amaze you to find out that He was none other than God come to earth in the form of a baby. He grew up, lived a perfect life, and died a sacrificial death for you and me, and this is what Christians celebrate each year. You can’t buy the original Christmas cracker anymore, Tom Smith has died, and with him the first cracker. But Jesus is alive, and what makes Jesus so special is still available to us today; the forgiveness He brought us upon the cross, if we would only ask to be forgiven, and believe that He is God.

Happy Christmas,


Everything Is Meaningless?

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

– Ecclesiastes 1:2

You would be forgiven for assuming the quote above comes from The Humanist Magazine. In fact, even New Atheism paints a rosier picture than the author of Ecclesiastes. Richard Dawkins was recorded saying “We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA… It is every living object’s sole reason for living… There is no purpose other than that.” Ok, so it is only slightly rosier, but at least there is some meaning to be found.

DSCN0380“Searching for meaning in experience, relationships, wealth, fame etc. is never ending – there is always more to be had, more to consume.”

This search for the meaning of life has been the preoccupation of humanity from the beginning of time itself. In the well known book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” turns out to be the number 42. More serious attempts have been made throughout history, as seen in the various religious world views, and New Atheism has been quick to pull these world views down without any consideration of what will take their place; if Christianity is wrong for example, then what is right? Is there such a thing as right and wrong anymore? How do we know what is right and what is wrong? From where, or whom do we get meaning? Is that all there is to life; reproduction? Or do we take meaning from our legacy; our families, our career, our wealth, our material possessions, those things we can pass on? Or do we find meaning through our mind, our philosophy, theology, education, wisdom and knowledge? Or is it from leaving our footprint on the path of history?

“There is only one person who satisfies – full stop, forever.”

Friedrich Nietzsche famously wrote the phrase “God is dead”, but many have misunderstood this to mean that Nietzsche believed in a literal end of “God”. The quote in context expresses a deep fear that the decline of Christianity in Germany, particularly the absence of a higher moral authority, would plunge the world into chaos;

What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down?

The writer of Ecclesiastes explores this theme in depth, questioning how we can find meaning without God. This may be right where you find yourself today; trying to navigate through life alone, trying experience after experience in hope of consuming something that might fill the depths inside you. The problem is, that searching for meaning in experience, relationships, wealth, fame etc. is never ending – there is always more to be had, more to consume. There is only one person who satisfies – full stop, forever. He is the one the author of Ecclesiastes points to, the one Nietzsche longs for and yet denies when he asks; “who will wipe this blood off us?” – the answer, always and forever, is Jesus our Lord and Saviour. The one who gives meaning to an unfathomable world.


What Is So Good About Heaven?

Several weeks ago I was invited into a school to answer some questions about Christianity and on this occasion I was particularly struck by the children’s interest in heaven. They asked countless questions; “what do you think it will be like?”, “will there be angels”, “will I see a Dinosaur there?”. What I found most remarkable was their level of excitement and enthusiasm, and the hope they had for an afterlife. Why don’t we feel that same excitement about what we know to be our eternal destiny?

Cartoon-798812“If your idea of heaven involves you being handed a harp and directed to a cloud to sit upon for all eternity then death is truly something to be feared”

It seems to me, that as we get older, this childlike enthusiasm and curiosity for the life to come is slowly squeezed out of us as the reality of the life right now takes centre stage. Our ideas of heaven, what it is and what it could be, become blurry and unimportant – there are bigger things to worry about. At funerals you can often hear the phrase “they’re in a better place now”, but vagueness abounds; where is this place, why is it better, what do you do there, do you have any details? For many there is little reason to think it better at all. For example if your idea of heaven involves you being handed a harp and directed to a cloud to sit upon for all eternity then death is truly something to be feared, and what’s more, ACDC’s description of a party in Hell might even sound appealing. But that isn’t a Scriptural view of the New Creation – whilst we aren’t given all the details, we know enough to get excited, surely!

The world teaches up to grow up and leave the fairytales behind, and in Church we are warned against becoming too spiritual incase we become of no earthly use – but that wasn’t what Paul taught. For Paul can declare “to live is Christ and to die is gain”, and that to depart and be with Christ “is better by far” (Philippians 1:21-23). Paul’s writing is deeply eschatological – he places great value on the last days and the life to come; the promise of the New Creation is a source of constant encouragement. For Paul, heaven is not a vague concept involving clouds and dead pets, but rather a real promise, a real hope, and a real vision to share with the world. It is so important for us to have a well established view of the New Creation, not just for our sake, but for those we look to share our faith with.

“Capture a better vision, a fuller vision of the age to come”

In the book of Revelation we read that in the New Creation every creature in heaven and on earth will worship the Lord (Revelation 5:13), and at first this might sound little better than harps and clouds. This may be because (1) we underestimate the importance of worship, (2) our sinful nature obstructs our true worship, (3) we fail to see worship as encompassing more than just singing on a Sunday morning, but rather living every part of our lives for the glory of God. Paul saw the ultimate goal of his mission, and indeed the mission of Jesus, was to “bring people into a relationship with God in which they love, worship, and glorify Him, and find their greatest joy in doing so” – bringing all nations to faith’s obedience (Romans 1:5). To put it another way, we are most fully ourselves as human beings when we are in a relationship with God in which God is glorified in and through our enjoyment of that relationship. As John Piper writes;

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship is, therefore, the fuel and the goal of missions.

If we believe this then it should effect the way we share the Gospel. Sometimes we hear messages given that are totally focussed on the love of Jesus, or the avoidance of wrath (both of which are true), but an essential focus which must be heard is that because of Jesus we are finally able to find the fulfillment we each long for, the joy we all search for, and live the lives we were all meant to – and what’s more we can live them eternally. And all of this we do because Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, in His blood we are reconciled to God and we now look forward to the day when He will dwell with us in the New Creation; where He will make all things new, wipe every tear from our eyes, and put an end to death, mourning, crying and pain (Revelation 21:4).

Like it did for Paul, this message should give us confidence, encouragement and produce endurance. If you’re struggling with the circumstance of life, with sin, with your faith even, part of the problem may be that you’re missing this vision. Capture a better vision, a fuller vision of the age to come. Not one of disembodied existence up in the clouds, but of a very real glorious existence with Jesus here on earth in the New Creation. Take hold of the hope promised, know the faithfulness of God to His word – because only with confidence in our God and the eternal destiny awaiting us, can we break free from the flesh and be effective for Christ in our present reality.