Evangelical Magazine https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com A bimonthly print magazine, published by the Evangelical Movement of Wales Thu, 17 Oct 2019 09:57:03 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 A closer walk with God https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/a-closer-walk-with-god/ Thu, 17 Oct 2019 09:57:03 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2647 Ann Griffiths

God must be known and felt.

Nobody comes to the Father but through Jesus Christ.

These two truths hold up the life and work of Ann Griffiths (1776-1805) – a young farmer’s wife from rural Montgomeryshire who has been called one of Europe’s leading religious poets. Her hymns articulate personal spiritual experience with theological clarity and a poetic melody. But most of all, they present Christ wonderfully from different perspectives.

This short article is not biographical. Instead, Ann will speak through one of her hymns. Poetry is not always easy. That doesn’t mean that its contents should be watered down. I hope that you’ll be able to see how close a young Christian can be to her Saviour. Ann was only 29 when she died, but her vision was clear and saturated with living hope.

Ann wrote in Welsh, and here we have the original Welsh together with the English translation. Listen to this hymn, and may we all seek after that closer walk with God:

Stormy waters

Bererin llesg gan rym y stormydd,

This storm-battered pilgrim (Heb. 11:13) is the sinner. It’s you and me. As we read, we are commanded to look up and see God’s Lamb mediating on our behalf (Rom. 8:34). We look carefully and realise that the Lamb flickers into that high priest (Heb. 4:14). What is he wearing? A loose garment (Ex. 28; Dan. 10:5) and a golden girdle labelled ‘faithfulness’. We can also hear the little bells ringing on the hem of his tunic.

What does it all mean?

The picture is based on the tabernacle in the Old Testament (Ex. 28). Ann visualises Jesus walking into the sanctuary as both priest and Lamb (Heb. 10:12; John 1:29). He re-emerges from the Holy of Holies – bells ringing because the sacrifice pleases God. This great high priest is alive and makes intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). Ultimately, the storm of God’s wrath doesn’t fall on us anymore because of Jesus’s ‘propitiation’ (1 John 2:2). He is storm-calmer, wrath-appeaser and empathiser (Heb. 4:14).

Cleansing waters of purification

But it doesn’t end there. The hymn goes deeper:

Cofiwch hyn mewn stad o wendid,

Yn y dyfroedd at eich fferau sy,

Mai dirifedi yw’r cufyddau

A fesurir i chwi fry;

Er bod yn blant yr atgyfodiad

I nofio yn y dyfroedd hyn,

Ni welir gwaelod byth nac ymyl

I sylwedd mawr Bethesda lyn.

 

Remember this when in your weakness,

The healing waters feel ankle-high –

Numberless shall be the cubits

Measured to you in the sky.

Children of the Resurrection

They alone can swim its depths

There no shore, no bottom either

To Bethesda’s vast expanse.

Can the healing waters cover me? The angry sea transforms into a soothing lake. Ann takes us to Bethesda, that pool in John 5 which supposedly cured the sick. In the great story of redemption, we have all been somewhere better. Ann mentions a vast lake. As you entered those healing waters, perhaps you thought it was too late and the cleansing waters all used-up. How can there be enough for my sin?

It’s enough! Why? It’s very deep. As William Cowper wrote:

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins

Where sinners plunged beneath the flood

Lose all their guilty stains.

The greek word translated as Bethesda, Βηθεσδά, literally means ‘house of mercy’ where the sinner can come freely to the water. Ann may have known Toplady’s hymn, ‘Rock of Ages’, which talks about the ‘double cure’:

Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.

The water purifies the soul from the guilt of sin while the blood atones, taking away the power of death. A sinner need not wait for some angel to stir these waters. Like that poor crippled man in John’s gospel, go to Jesus as you are and be washed in the blood of the Lamb.

The depths of salvation

Ann then approaches the person of Christ from a different angle:

O! ddyfnderoedd iechydwriaeth,

Dirgelwch mawr duwioldeb yw,

Duw y duwiau wedi ymddangos

Yng nghnawd a natur dynol-ryw;

Dyma’r person a ddioddefodd

Yn ein lle ddigofaint llawn,

Nes i gyfiawnder weiddi, “Gollwng

Ef yn rhydd: mi gefais Iawn!”

 

O! the depth of this salvation!

Mystery of godliness!

God of gods has now appeared

In the form of sinful flesh;

He, it is, who bore God’s anger,

In our place, he suffered so.

Until Justice cried, ‘Release him,

For Atonement has been made!’

Ann explores this salvation and remembers Bethlehem. God became a man, taking upon himself the likeness of sinful flesh. She then says, ‘Dyma’r person,’ or, ‘This is the person,’ who bore God’s anger, making atonement for you and me. She focuses on the Saviour; he is priest and God, but he is also man. Her mind then returns to Calvary where she sees him suffering on the cross. But then, God’s justice shouts: ‘Enough!’ The debt is fully paid!

The sea of wonders

O! ddedwydd awr tragwyddol orffwys

Oddi wrth fy llafur yn fy rhan,

Ynghanol môr o ryfeddodau

Heb weled terfyn byth, na glan;

Mynediad helaeth byth i bara

I fewn trigfannau Tri yn Un;

Dŵr i’w nofio heb fynd trwyddo,

Dyn yn Dduw, a Duw yn ddyn.

 

O! Blessed hour of eternal rest

From my labours, home at last.

A sea of wonders

Without ceasing, without shore;

Access free to dwell for ever

In the mighty Three in One;

Water to swim in without passing through,

Man in God, and God in man.

Ann’s mind then looks forward to a time when she can be with God forever. Having experienced the stormy waters of life, the cleansing waters of purification, and the blood of atonement, she comes to the ‘Sea of wonders’. This is no physical expanse. In Ezekiel 47, the prophet is given a vision of a deep river issuing from the altar:

It was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.

If the waters signify the gospel of Christ (Zech. 14:8), gushing forth from that final altar of Calvary, then Ann has known it in her life. There are times when she has even been overwhelmed by that gospel – it felt as if she was waist-high, but it only lasted a while. These experiences were God-filled; God seemed to inhabit her whole being: ‘Man in God and God in man.’ These moments, she says, are glimpses of that future consummation between the bride and the bridegroom.

The wonder of redemption

These are weighty things to write about! Do you find them overwhelming? Too mystical? Ann Griffiths was relatively uneducated, yet God impressed upon her heart the depth and wonder of his redemption. This was a girl in love with her Saviour. Can you say the same? I challenge you, reader, to return to that soul-refreshing view of Jesus. Go further and seek a closer walk with him. For he said himself, ‘Ask and it shall be given unto you.’ Maybe then, we will be able to say with those early Christians: ‘Maranatha!’ ‘Come Lord Jesus, come.’

 

If you want to find out more about Ann Griffiths, E. Wyn James has edited an excellent book with all the translations: Flame in the Mountains: Williams Pantycelyn, Ann Griffiths and the Welsh Hymn (Lolfa: 2017).

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Unprepared to Meet Him https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/unprepared-to-meet-him/ Mon, 14 Oct 2019 17:00:54 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2606 The day of Christ’s return will be the day he will ‘judge the living and the dead’. Christians have confessed this in the words of the Apostles’ Creed for centuries, but, as so often is the case, we can rehearse these words without feeling their weight. More than that, it can be all too easy for those who are already Christians to so gravitate towards the blessing of that day for ourselves, that we do not stop to consider and shudder at what it will mean for those who are outside of Christ.

There is nothing academic about this. It relates the most serious thing any human being will ever have to face. So, we need to be clear about it – not just for our own sake, but also for those around us who are not yet ready for that day.

It has much wider significance as well. A significant amount of research has been done to explore the correlation between societies that believe in a future day of reckoning and levels of crime and antisocial behaviour within them. One such article by Wynne Parry in 2012 declared, ‘A strong belief in fiery punishment is good for a country’s crime rates, indicates a new study that looked at religious belief and crime data from around the world.’ It is hardly surprising, therefore, that there is a connection between the decline of social order in every sphere of life in many Western nations and their widespread rejection of the doctrine of hell.

Facing God

What, then, does the Bible teach regarding what will happen to those who reject God in this life when they finally face him on Judgment Day? The Westminster Larger Catechism provides a helpful summary of what it will entail.

Q.89. What shall be done to the wicked at the day of judgment?

  1. At the day of judgment, the wicked shall be set on Christ’s left hand, and, upon clear evidence, and full conviction of their own consciences, shall have the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them; and thereupon shall be cast out from the favourable presence of God, and the glorious fellowship with Christ, his saints, and all his holy angels, into hell, to be punished with unspeakable torments, both of body and soul, with the devil and his angels forever.

In the first place it will be a day when they come face-to-face with the risen and exalted Christ. Jesus makes this plain when, speaking of himself, he says, ‘And [the Father] has given him [Jesus] authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment’ (John 5:27-29). Elsewhere he describes this as a separation of these two groups one to his right-hand side (a metaphor of favour) and the other to his left, signalling the opposite (Matthew 25:33). The same Jesus whom they have ridiculed and rejected in this life will be the One they will meet in-person to determine their fate in the life to come.

Secondly, they will be confronted with the evidence on which Christ’s judgment is based. Paul spells this out as he makes the case for why we need the gospel in Romans. There he says that the conscience of those who persist in their rebellion against God – even if they have never actually read his law – acts as a witness against them in light of ‘that day when… God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.’ (Romans 2:16) The apostle’s point in saying this is to flag up the fact that humans are the only species who have such a faculty – and for good reason.

In the third instance, it will involve those people who are condemned being ‘cast out of the favourable presence of God and the glorious fellowship of Christ, his saints and all his holy angels’ and cast ‘into hell, to be punished with unspeakable torments, both of body and soul, with the devil and his angels forever.’ The fact that these two aspects of their fate are set over against each other only serves to accentuate the torment bound up with hell. The Bible makes it clear that, in this present world, God’s general favour rests on the unrighteous as well as the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17). So, bad as this world may be, it is nothing in comparison to the experience of those who reject God in that place where his kindness and mercy are forever withdrawn.

Making it known

Why do we need to know these things and, more than that, have the courage to share this information with those who are not yet Christians? It is that we might take these issues seriously. Even as Christians we can be lulled into complacency towards the danger and the consequences of sin. Only as we appreciate what sin deserves will we truly value what Christ has done to deliver us and why we as his children must hate it with a holy loathing.

There is, however, another reason why these things need to weigh heavily upon us. They provide the ultimate impetus to tell the world – including our family, friends, neighbours and all we meet – the good news of Christ and his salvation. Paul says as much to his young friend Timothy to incentivise him to proclaim God’s truth in full and ‘do the work of an evangelist’ (2 Timothy 4:1-5). If we do not tell those people, who God brings into our lives, how will they ever know?

The hymn, ‘Great God what do I see and hear!’ includes a verse by William B. Collyer that presses home the gravity of what is at stake:

But sinners, filled with guilty fears,
behold his wrath prevailing;
for they shall rise, and find their tears
and sighs are unavailing:
the day of grace is past and gone,
trembling they stand before the throne,
all unprepared to meet him.

How sad it would be if those very people turned to us at that moment and mouthed the words, ‘Why did you never warn me?’

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Something to Look Forward to https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/something-to-look-forward-to/ Mon, 07 Oct 2019 17:00:25 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2595 A few months ago I sat at the hospital bed of my dear friend Andrea. We were as comfortable as we could be, given the clinical nature of her room, and the daffodils were just beginning to flower in the hospital grounds. Here was the promise of new life. Imagine my shock when my friend turned to me and said, ‘I know I am dying.’ It was not what I expected to hear, and I was stunned by her honesty and bravery in sharing this with me. I held her hand and prayed a brief prayer, not quite finding the right words.

I came home in shock and tears. How was I going to handle the next hospital visits? I am wary of platitudes at the best of times, but also of using Bible verses as aspirins. Then I remembered that on my bookshelves in my office at home was a copy of Sharon James’ book The Dawn of Heaven Breaks – Anticipating Eternity. I reached for it and reminded myself of the contents.

Constant companion

Here was a book written for the very situation I found myself in. It says on the back cover, ‘If you or someone you love is enduring trials or even facing death, this book will help to provide courage to persevere in the faith and hold on to the hope that the believer has in Christ. It will also help and encourage all of us to prepare for eternity.’ This was it – the very resource I needed. It was my constant companion on every subsequent hospital visit. Sometimes I just read aloud from some of the Bible texts in the book, sometimes I referred to thoughts from the book in our conversations. But to be honest, I think I benefitted the most – from re-reading the book and from contemplating eternity in the face of death. Eternity really is something to look forward to!

As part of the book, Sharon James pulls together extracts from the writings of long ago and more recent days. Here are some which I found moved and comforted me as I watched my friend face death after a long fight with a rare cancer. I read most of them in the hospital while I was with her or in the waiting room before going in and see her.

“To be lifted from a bed of sickness to a throne of glory! To leave a sinful troubled world, a sick and pained body and be in a moment perfectly cured and feel yourself perfectly well and free from all troubles… You cannot imagine what this will be like.”

John Flavel (1630-1691), Puritan minister and author

“The hope to see one another on the other side of the grave is entirely natural, genuinely human, and also in harmony in Scripture… It is true that the joy of heaven consists primarily in fellowship with Christ, [but] it also consists in fellowship of believers with each other… Jesus himself pictures the joy of heaven under the symbolism of a banquet where all will sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Matthew 8:11, Luke 13:28)”

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Dutch Reformed Theologian

“Christ himself will lead us, scarcely knowing where we are, through the waters; when we open our half-bewildered eyes in brief wonder, the first thing we will see will be his welcoming smile. His voice will say, as a tender surgeon might say to a little child waking after an operation, ‘It is all over.’”

Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), pastor and writer

“The saints shall know that God loves them, and they will never doubt the greatness of his love and they shall have no doubt of the love of all their fellow-inhabitants in heaven. The saints shall have no fear that the love of God will never abate towards them, or that Christ will not continue always to love them with unabated tenderness and affection.”

Jonathan Edwards ((1703-1758), American preacher and theologian during the Great Awakening

“The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as he approached, and now he fills the whole hemisphere, pouring forth a flood of glory in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun, exalting yet almost trembling when I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wonder why God should deign thus to shine upon a sinful worm.”

Edward Paysen (1783-1827), minister in USA in times of revival. He wrote these words to his sister shortly before dying of TB at the age of 44.

Conclusion

My friend died peacefully with her dear family by her side. It was a privilege to spend time with her in the days of her final journey and to be reminded along the way, that death is not the end, just the beginning of something new and exciting, prepared for us before the foundation of the world. Something to look forward to.

All extracts are used with the permission of Sharon James, the editor of the book, and the publishers, Evangelical Press.

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The ‘Now’ and the ‘Not Yet’ https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/the-now-and-the-not-yet/ Thu, 03 Oct 2019 17:00:08 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2594 One of the greatest pleasures of the Christian life is living in the expectation of the return of our King. He is coming for his bride, the church (Revelation 21:9), ushering in an eternity of spiritual and physical blessing on this our new earth (Isaiah 42:9). As citizens of this Messianic Kingdom (Revelation 21:5), we will live in the presence of the everlasting God (Revelation 21:3). There will be no more death or mourning or pain (Revelation 21:3), and we will live in total harmony with every tribe and nation (Revelation 7:9). Isn’t this just wonderful? I am so excited, I can’t wait!

Beware of the danger

Such a great hope has many practical applications in our walk with Jesus. The promise of Christ’s return helps us to overcome today’s suffering (1 Peter 5:10), it improves our relationships with other Christians as we journey together through this life (2 Timothy 4:7) and it helps us to be better custodians of our resources (Matthew 6:20). But there is a danger that comes with our longing for the second coming (Revelation 6:10).

The disciples were rebuked by angels at Christ’s ascension for staring up at the sky – they had work to do and were abandoning the ‘now’ for the ‘not yet’ (Acts 1:10-11). Paul rebukes the church in Thessalonica for doing the same (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

The Bible is clear that we are not to fall into complacency while waiting for Christ’s imminent return. Rather, the second coming should drive us to live heaven out today (1 Thessalonians 5:10) for our King is coming!

At the moment of our salvation, we became new creations (Ephesians 3:1), citizens of heaven on earth (Philippians 3:20), whom Jesus has strategically placed (John 17:15) to serve him ‘now’ (Matthew 6:10).

Empowered by his coming

At his first coming, our King won the day at Calvary (1 Peter 2:24). As we pick up our crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24) to victory (1 Corinthians 15:55), his second coming should be the cavalry charge (Revelation 19:11) that drives our zeal to live out the promises of the ‘not yet’ (1 Thessalonians 2:12) in ‘the now’.

The promise of the second coming should empower us to pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17), love the unloveable (Matthew 5:44) and give to the needy (Matthew 25:31-40). The promise of the second coming should strengthen us to fight for peace (Isaiah 2:2-4) and to forgive the unforgivable (Matthew 18:21-35). The promise of the second coming should drive us into heavenly worship today (Revelations 5:9-12).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the good news is that we have a great future awaiting us in the ‘not yet’, but let it not distract us in our Christian duty to live for Jesus in the ‘now’.

Jesus is coming, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8)

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Ellen Ranyard: A Women’s Ministry Pioneer https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/ellen-ranyard/ Mon, 30 Sep 2019 17:00:38 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2593 Historians know about Ellen Ranyard. They view her as one of the great founders of social work, a visionary leader in her field. But that’s not how she would have viewed herself. She would have seen herself simply as a Bible woman.

Born in London in 1810, she was raised in a non-conformist, middle-class home and was converted at the age of sixteen through the witness of a friend who took her to distribute Bibles among the London poor. Ellen later recalled, ‘She spoke to them, but the Spirit of God carried the message home to me.’ Both girls caught typhoid on this excursion, and Ellen’s friend died, which left a great impression on her, she wrote later, ‘I remembered thinking that the Bible work was the one work to which I had been called by God, and to which I must keep faithful.’

Deeply devoted

At first Ellen’s life was a picture of conventional piety; she married, reared children (two of whom died in their late teens), and supported others in the distribution of Bibles. Gradually, this developed: she published devotional poems, wrote a children’s book and began editing The Bible Society’s journal. At last, when she was nearly 50, her family moved back to the East End of London, where she’d grown up.

As in London today, the rich lived close to areas of devastating poverty. Unemployment, over-crowding and all kinds of abuse abounded. Women even were known to make paltry livings from collecting the skins of dead cats. Some well-to-do ladies did visit and distribute charity, Christians took Bibles as well. But the very poor often scorned the rich. They often took the gifts but rejected the gospel. Or they struggled to apply its message to their lives, so different from those of their visitors. With God-given perception, Ellen realised a new approach was needed. Working-class women already living in these areas could be gospel messengers – ‘the missing link’ as Ellen put it – between wealthy believers and the struggling masses.

Building an army

Ellen’s first recruit was Marian, an orphan who had known homelessness and poverty, but who had put her trust in Christ and longed to spread the news that saved her. Dozens more would follow her, gaining access to some of the most degraded homes in the darkest areas. Recognising that charity didn’t always signal respect or teach responsibility, Ellen’s army sold Bibles in instalments, a penny a week for 24 weeks, and did the same with much-needed mattresses. They taught mothers to read, make soup and sew, never giving away anything but charging cost prices. They built genuine relationships with the slum women and all the time they would boldly speak of the Lord Jesus.

Rising at 5am every morning to pray before immersing herself in the detailed administration of her growing organisation, Ellen also invested time in recording the work. Through letters, articles and books she told of the workers and those they helped. And so, the organisation grew and was duplicated in other British cities, as well as overseas. A nursing branch, with its own training school and which lasted well into the 20th century, was established. Through it all, Ellen’s mission remained – to see women equipped to minister to women, to advance God’s kingdom through the faithful presentation of God’s Word. She wrote, ‘if you would have (a country) redeemed to the Lord… send women to women and let her teach the ABCs of Christianity, which is mother’s work the world over.’

Trailblazing

At a time when Protestant churches didn’t employ female workers, and women’s ministry tended to occur in formal Sunday school type settings, Ellen’s work was trailblazing. This older woman, who had suffered her own tragedies, was used by God to create something new and beautiful. She didn’t dominate the work but equipped others to serve, not seeking her own glory, but Christ’s.

A previous version of this article was first published by The Gospel Coalition.

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The Great Commission and the End of the Age https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/the-great-commission-and-the-end-of-the-age/ Thu, 26 Sep 2019 17:00:07 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2592 The statement of Jesus in Matthew 24 about the destruction of the temple shocked the disciples. They then asked a three-part question, ‘Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered all three in his long response, but we find it difficult to tease out to which portion of the question he was referring to in each of his sentences! Were the three events – the temple destruction, his return in glory and the end of the age – connected?

It seems that in the mind of Jesus, the local event of the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70AD was a terrible prophetic illustration of the latter two global events of Jesus returning at the end of the age. Much of Jesus’ words here is a recounting of the cataclysmic events that would accompany both times. He wanted to shock his disciples into living for that which counts for eternity. Jesus answers the disciples’ query about ‘the close of the age’ in an extraordinarily positive statement in verse 14: ‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ To me, there is plainly an intimate link between the return of Jesus and the completion of evangelising the world. Jesus confirmed this in Matthew 28:20. After giving that last commandment (and one of the most disobeyed by the church), he promised to be with those who go ‘to the close of the age’.

Can this help us to determine when the end of the age might be? Matthew 24:14 emphasises the proclamation of the gospel – preaching and testifying (implying an understanding of the message).  Matthew 28:19 emphasises the discipling of the nations – lives and cultures being transformed by the gospel. When will the proclamation and discipling process reach that tipping point and the church be complete as the bride of the Lamb? We can never determine when that moment in the counsels of God will be. But we have indications that we are nearing that completion.

Much of my ministry has been spent gathering information to mobilise God’s people to pray and work for the evangelisation of the world. Millions of copies of Operation World have been printed in over sixteen languages, and thousands of Christians have gone in obedience over these years to evangelise and disciple the nations which the successive editions have highlighted. The global changes in the church have been staggering, but under-reported by an increasingly secularising western media. In the church in the West, we have become pessimistic and moved to survival mode, not realising that for most of the rest of the world the church is growing.

Consider the following:

  • In the 1960s, Africa’s great turning to God took off with many indigenous movements that have grown massively. Today, the Redeemed Church in Nigeria is expanding the ‘campsite’ at their annual conference to be able to accommodate five million people.
  • The 1970s saw millions of nominally Catholic Latin Americans begin to turn to the gospel. There are now more active evangelicals than Catholics in South America.
  • In the 1980s, many parts of East and Southeast Asia began turning to God. South Korea’s mission movement exploded across the world, and in China, evangelicals grew from half a million in 1949 to maybe near 100 million today.
  • In the 1990s the Communist states of Europe rejected that ideology and new areas of Central Asia were opened up for the gospel.
  • In the 2000s, with the advent of violent jihadist Islam, the great turning to God out of Islam began, especially in Indonesia, Iran and Algeria. I recently researched the possible number of believers from Islam who have believed in Christ. In 1960 there may have been globally 60,000, but this had grown to about ten million by 2010, and some estimate this to be over 20 million today.
  • There is hardly a nation on earth where there is not a known group of evangelical believers.
  • Probably about 20 to 30 million people on earth have no access to a part of God’s Word. But these speak about 3,000 languages, many of which will be extinct by the end of this century.

It really looks as if that Great Commission has been largely accomplished, but how will God define the key moment when it is complete and cause that final trumpet call to be sounded? It could be any day soon! Can that day be hastened? Yes, according to Peter – he wrote of ‘waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God’ (2 Peter 3:12).

How then can we hasten that day?

We can hasten that day by our preaching and testifying – in other words, by our obedience to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. Any church which loses that vision for the world and its salvation has lost the kingdom plot and is no longer a biblical church. The task is not yet accomplished.

We can also hasten that day by our prayers. Jesus prepared a place for us and revealed it in John 14 – not for heavenly rest (though that is also true) but for authority and co-reigning with him now. That is the whole weight of Jesus’ words in the rest of that discourse to comfort his disciples to survive and thrive in his physical absence. Then think of the greater works he promised would be accomplished (John14:13-14). These verses reveal that the greater works are connected to prayer. So, our prayers cause things to happen which otherwise would not have happened. God is restrained by our prayerlessness. How can this be so with a sovereign God? Yet the promises about prayer being answered also have to be part of our theology. Andrew Murray indicated (in my paraphrase): ‘When we pray, our prayers enter into eternity and work together with God in the formulation of his eternal decrees.’ Let us therefore obey and pray that his coming be hastened!

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What keeps me going? https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/what-keeps-me-going/ Mon, 23 Sep 2019 17:00:11 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2591 Life for me, like so many folks, has brought its many challenges.

As a child, I had a lot of illness, difficulties and sadness. My childhood was during the Second World War. We lived just six miles from Biggin Hill, one of the principal RAF bases for the fighter planes that attempted to shoot down German bombers before they reached London. When the siren went off, we’d all sit around the kitchen table and sing a song which my dad wrote:

Jesus is with me
With me all day,
With me at home and
With me at play.
When bombs are falling
And danger is near,
He will be with us
Until the ‘All Clear.’

Jesus has promised to be with us through all kinds of danger and trouble. ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ (Hebrews 13:5)

Illness

My parents left Kent for the remainder of the war, and we moved to a cottage in the middle of a field, with no water, gas or electricity. We had a pump at the bottom of the garden and therein lay the trouble. The water was not pure. Being the youngest, I was the only one affected and severely so. I had very bad water poisoning, which meant we returned to Kent to receive regular visits from the District Nurse, making me continually late for school!

I was ill with this for many years. I wish I had known Isaiah 41:10, ‘Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you.’

During the last year of senior school, I had peritonitis, which sadly affected the last part of my A-level studies. I didn’t get the grades I was forecasted.

Loneliness

After training to be a teacher, I left home and for several years lived on my own. During that time, I had very few real friends. Most of my contemporaries were married, and I felt very alone. I was lonely, desperate to get married and have a family. To make matters worse, my brother and family emigrated to New Zealand. Then one day, I read the words of Psalm 37:5, ‘Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and he shall bring it to pass.’

I believe God drew my attention to that verse. They were such a comfort for a very long time and still are. After many years I did get married, and John and I together served the Lord in church, Crusader Camps and SU Beach Missions. What a privilege to ‘serve the Lord with gladness’ (Psalm 100:2). He also graciously gave us two lovely children – a boy and a girl.

More sickness

I had been teaching for some years when the next challenge arrived.

One day I stooped to pick up my car keys and found I couldn’t. My arm uncontrollably shot up into the air. We sent for the doctor, and he had never seen anything like it and had no idea what it was. I was shaking uncontrollably. Both my husband and I sang hymns and prayed through the night.

The following morning the doctor returned with a diagnosis. It was a result of myoclonic seizures, and I needed urgent neurological treatment, the only problem being the NHS were on strike! However, the Lord wonderfully over-ruled, but this is a condition I still live with, controlled with medication.

Happiness

Have you ever seen children suffering? I mean, really suffering, in a painful hopeless and helpless situation? I have, and as a result, went home, wept and prayed for help.

Come back with me 55 years, and I’ll tell you about that suffering. Take a sneak look into a noisy room with a record player, TV and radio all playing. At first glance, everyone seems normal, but then you notice all these boys are in wheelchairs as they have a debilitating illness with a short prognosis. Yet they are all amazingly happy. They know life is short for them, but they all have a goal – a music exam, a picture to paint, a book to read. This was the scene in the hospital school where I was the teacher.

One boy, who was very disabled, was always put to bed first. There he read his Bible every night. One morning he came in very happy. He had read the Bible right through and had come to know Jesus. That morning he passed away so was free of suffering and now with his Saviour. How wonderful!

Being with these boys taught me so much, and as I write about them now, it has made me stop and think about my own suffering. When I was a child, my mother would pray for me and with me through my early illnesses, and I learnt to pray for myself. This became a great comfort. I was encouraged by my parents to read the Bible for myself – a practice I have found a great comfort.

These boys taught me more than I ever taught them. They had limited tactile movement, spent their days in wheelchairs, were put to bed early, but they never complained. They accepted their state and made the best of it. I often think of them now, when I’m in trouble or in pain, or look back on my younger years when I had a lot of illness, and I know I was a good complainer. But now, like one or two of the boys, I’ve found complete peace in my situation.

Complete peace

In the last few years, I had cancer – now contained – and the treatment has left me with severe visual impairment. I have fallen and broken both hips and become wheelchair-bound, and my husband passed away while I too was in hospital.

I am now in sheltered accommodation, often lonely although I have visitors most weeks. I manage to get to church regularly. I’m pleased to report that the Lord has been with me every day and night. The carers comment on my cheerfulness. This gives me opportunity to speak of the One who keeps me cheerful. Many years ago, one of the stock phrases on a radio programme was, ‘It’s being so cheerful that keeps me going!’ But I’m able to say, ‘It’s knowing the Lord that keeps me going.’

I finish each day by reciting Psalm 121 and singing choruses. Four that speak of the cross, reminding me what the Saviour has done, one which asks the Lord to cleanse me, one for the Lord to be with me through the night, and one that asks the Holy Spirit to prepare me for whatever tomorrow holds.

A few weeks ago, our pastor spoke about the miracle when Jesus healed a man let down through the roof, but he brought to our attention that the man was healed to glorify God. I pray that however long the Lord spares me and whatever challenges he continues to bring my way, he will ultimately use it all for his glory.

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A New Heaven and a New Earth https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/a-new-heaven-and-a-new-earth/ Thu, 19 Sep 2019 17:00:19 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2590 By using only a few broad-brush strokes, a skilled artist can paint an outline of a picture allowing you to visualise the scene while omitting the details. This is akin to how the Bible represents its teaching on the new heaven and new earth. It is an essential consequence of our Lord Jesus Christ’s return, but the details are sketchy. What a prospect a new cosmos, free from all sin and corruption, is! But who can imagine what a universe liberated from the curse of sin with no sorrow, pain, and death will be like? Who can explain how climate change, diminishing fossil resources and natural disasters will vanish like the morning mist when nature’s groaning ends? Come to think of it, are we speaking about this universe renewed and transformed or a completely new one to replace the old one to be destroyed?

Such opaqueness concerning the future renewal (Matthew 19:28) is of course in line with ‘eye has not seen…nor entered into the heart [that] which God has prepared for those who love Him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:4). God has promised a new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22 ; Revelation 21:1) but faith’s walk of certainty and conviction about that ‘day’ goes hand-in-hand with a lack of clarity on the details of what that ‘day’ will usher in. As Augustine wrote, ‘that day lies hid, that every day we may be on the watch.’

What we look for

This lack of perspicuity does not mean that the consideration of the new universe is a province exclusively for seminary students or an invitation for wild speculations by those we may kindly call Christian cranks! Peter, in his second letter, explains how the cosmic renewal has a very practical impact on our daily lives. His first concern is quite simply that we do not lose sight of the fulfilment of God’s promise to renew all things. Christians are those who are ‘looking for’ or ‘waiting’ for that day of God. The same Greek word is used four times in three verses (2 Peter 3:12-14). It is translated in Acts 3:5 as ‘gave…attention’. Like the child eager for their birthday or the bride anticipating her wedding day, so Christians are to be eagerly expecting that day. The repetition suggests one’s thoughts being constantly re-directed towards the prospect in keen anticipation of what this new environment will mean for them.

Can God be rushed?

Christians are also to ‘hasten’ the coming of the day (2 Peter 3:12). As the shepherds ‘hurried’ to see Jesus (Luke 2:16), as Jesus told Zacchaeus to ‘hurry’ and he ‘sped’ down from the tree (Luke 19:5-6), so Christians are urged to speed its coming. It may be asked how can one hurry up the day of Christ’s coming? God has his own unchangeable programme. Peter is not saying God can be rushed but in light of the letter’s concern about false teachers and their folly (2 Peter 3:4) who pour scorn on a new cosmos, believers, in contrast, are to make the renewal of all things the daily diet of their spirituality.

We cannot hurry God’s programme, but we can live our lives in readiness for that day and in so doing the time will speed by till that day comes. In setting before ourselves the final horizon to which we are heading we do not get impatient (2 Peter 3:9) with God’s programme, but keep it alive in our hearts by meditating upon it, telling others, praying ‘your kingdom come’ and seeing the urgency of missionary endeavour.

Holy living

The reality of such a prospect is to transform our persons as it calls us to holy living before God and our fellow creatures. Quite simply, faith in the promise of a new earth hangs a question over our lives, one to be taken into every corner of our existence. In the light of its certainty, what sort of people should we be? Peter’s answer is we are to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), we are not to live depraved lives as the false teachers do (2 Peter 2:19) but rather lives of godliness (2 Peter 3:11).

Christian morality is a product of its theology, and the contours of theology are shaped by eschatology, for what we know about God (theology) finds its terminus in faith’s eschatological hope. Faith grasps that the Lord has certain expectations of those who look for a new earth. They are people with holy agendas who ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ (Matthew 5:6) because they expect to inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Those redeemed by Christ’s precious blood are to be blameless and live spotless lives (1 Peter 1:19) for, as Michael Green states, ‘The look of hope must produce the life of holiness.’

A balanced spirituality

This cosmic perspective of God’s redemptive purpose gives a balanced spirituality bringing a quiet confidence to our daily lives through the hope to be revealed. We are not to allow this hope to be buried under lethargy (2 Peter 3:4), neither are we to blur its reality by frenzied speculation or ecstatic expectation by predicting dates. It will, however, affect how we use this world and our attitude about its future. Our motto will be, ‘in the world but not of the world, we use the world by not abusing it.’

This present world

In April 2019 eco-warriors reclaimed the streets of central London, while Extinction Rebellion are threatening drone strikes on Heathrow airport, with their great concern for the future of the earth’s environment. As stewards of God’s world, Christians must have a concern for the environment. They care about its future, but they are not naive in believing its conservation is the end of the journey. For their sure and certain hope encompasses a passing of this present decaying universe and a renewed, pristine one, which shall be the ‘home of righteousness’.

This balanced spirituality allows the Christian to live with the dilemma of being ever optimistic about their personal salvation while being ever pessimistic about the future of the world as they know it. God’s promises (2 Peter 3:9) are not fickle and elusive like the world’s we live in; they are ‘precious promises’ (2 Peter 1:4). By these, Christians will escape the corruption of the world being united to the divine nature, by which they are made fit for their dwelling place in the new heavens and earth.

Reviving our hope

The promise of inheriting the new cosmos (2 Peter 3:13) for those struggling to live as new creatures in a sinful body in a corrupt world is a glorious hope. What a thrilling and tantalising prospect to explore a cosmos we are familiar with, but that will be entirely new to us! Freed from the vanity ensconced in life in a fallen world – to see futility banished, the end of all human conflict and nature’s red tooth and claw washed clean as the leopard and the young goat lie down together, while the wolf and the lamb will live in peace (Isaiah 11:6).

The hymnodist, John Fawcett, got it right when he wrote, ‘This glorious hope revives our courage by the way, while each in expectation lives and longs to see the day.’

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Are you living in the light of his return? https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/are-you-living-in-the-light-of-his-return/ Mon, 16 Sep 2019 17:00:46 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2587 One of the great contrasts between Christians I know in Moldova and Christians in the UK is to be found in our expectancy of the Lord’s second coming. My Moldovan friends would very frequently be talking about the Lord’s coming again and consciously preparing themselves in prayer, and readiness for his appearing. In the UK, I find that we rarely speak about this certain, awesome event which seems to have drifted to the edge of our soul’s conscious awareness.

Looking for his appearing

A close friend of mine from Moldova stayed with me for a while. She so enjoyed fellowship with believers here, but as she left, she asked me, ‘Are the believers here in the UK looking for his appearing?’ It struck me as a very revealing question.

The economic situation during the 1990s in Moldova with the collapse of the Soviet Union was dire. I can remember a Moldovan friend linking arms with me as we walked along a dark street in the capital (electricity was in short supply) and reminding me that the Lord himself was coming very soon and would descend on the clouds of glory. She said that on that day all the present financial problems would become totally insignificant. They live in the day-to-day reality of his return.

Come quickly, Lord

Moldova is seismically active. Another friend related to me that, as a powerful earth tremor struck, she knelt by her bed to pray, sensing that there would not be time to leave the block of flats where she lived. She thought the earthquake was heralding the Lord’s return and she wanted to be ready to greet him.

Another older brother in the Lord said to me recently: ‘I think there will be another awakening, but I am waiting for the Lord to come as soon as possible. I want the church to be boiling hot again, but my first desire is for his return – as soon as possible. I want to say to all believers to be ready at any moment because he is coming very soon – be ready to meet him!  Go to the Saviour for cleansing every day, be more holy, keep watch over your eyes, tongue and ears and look for his appearing!’

‘Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ (Matthew 24:44)

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Two Foolish Questions https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/two-foolish-questions/ Mon, 09 Sep 2019 17:00:25 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2577 ‘But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish!’ (1 Corinthians 15:35-36)

Since childhood, one of my favourite 20th-century paintings has been Stanley Spencer’s celebrated The Resurrection in Cookham Churchyard, where numerous, ordinary-looking people are depicted as happily emerging from their graves in an idyllic Berkshire village by the Thames. Even as a youngster, brought up in a non-Christian home, I was fascinated by the scene, and remember posing the above two questions to myself.

Foolish questions they may be, but whether asked by sneering sceptics or concerned believers – or from mere curiosity – they are still top of the list whenever the topic of the resurrection of the dead is up for discussion. Of course, the Apostle Paul doesn’t answer foolish questions, but he does go to considerable lengths in 1 Corinthians 15 to explain precisely why it is foolish to ask them.

Some members of the Corinthian church were still infected with the Greek idea that matter was essentially evil and that death consequently liberated the soul from the body. But Paul taught them the biblical truth that God had created man to be both body and soul from the very beginning – and had declared this, his crowning work, to be ‘very good’. Death entered God’s perfect world only as a result of Adam’s sin and served as the enemy of both God and man by tearing body and soul apart.

1 Corinthians 15 is the great chapter of the resurrection. Paul here insists that Christ has overcome sin and all its consequences through his atoning death upon the cross. All must be restored according to God’s original plan. Therefore, the bodies and souls of all the saved must, and will, be ultimately reunited on the day that Christ returns to usher in a new and perfect cosmos. Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead is the ‘firstfruits’ of this general resurrection, and it is impossible to conceive of the one without the other.

How are the dead raised?

So, let’s come to our first question: ‘How are the dead raised?’ The question is not one of process but of possibility. Isn’t it simply absurd to speak of the resurrection of bodies that have long since turned to dust, and whose every constituent atom has subsequently passed through numerous other organisms?

I suppose Paul’s first response might be contained in the previous verse: ‘There are some who are ignorant of God – I say this to your shame.’ (1 Corinthians 15:34) Why should a God who creates out of nothing, not be able to recreate out of something? It has often occurred to me that if we can believe the very first verse of the Bible, we shouldn’t really have any problem believing anything that follows.

Foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified (Romans 8:29-30) – this is the unstoppable march of God’s grace in the unfolding lives of each one of his believing people. Why then should we question the possibility of the last link in this glorious chain, especially when we have experienced the wonderful life-giving truth of those that precede it? No wonder Paul calls the question foolish. He might have said worse.

But Paul goes on to assume that most likely there is a basic misconception in the question. Many people imagine, Christians among them, that the New Testament posits a kind of Cookham Churchyard resurrection, with believers emerging, clothed in their shrouds, and looking much the same as they did when they died, apart from perhaps a little more colour in their cheeks.

Paul, however, appeals at this point to his readers’ mundane experience. He says, ‘When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed’ and ‘God gives it a body as he has determined.’ (1 Corinthians 15:37-38) The plant that emerges from the seed will look nothing like the seed. So, Paul implies, don’t think of the general resurrection too simplistically. Don’t be embarrassed by the clear promise of the resurrection of the dead simply because you mistakenly believe the Bible teaches a fairy-tale version of it.

With what kind of body?

This leads us on to our second question: ‘With what kind of body will they come?’ This question may well seem more innocent, but Paul still calls it ‘foolish’, probably because, despite the attempts of many, and the certainty of some, it cannot be fully answered.

The fact is, our resurrection bodies will be very different from the ones we now possess. They will be no longer ‘perishable’, ‘mortal’, ‘dishonourable’, ‘weak’, ‘natural’ and ‘earthly’, but ‘imperishable’, ‘immortal’, ‘glorious’, ‘powerful’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘heavenly’ (1 Corinthians 15:42-53). This will be our glorification.

At this point, we should be guided by the words of another apostle: ‘Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’ (1 John 3:2) At first sight, the two parts of this statement might seem contradictory. John appears to be saying we can’t know what our resurrection bodies will be like because that information has not yet been revealed. On the other hand, we shall be like Christ, and we do know what his resurrection body was like. Right? Well, let’s be careful.

It is certainly true that our glorified bodies will be like Christ’s. He ‘will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.’ (Philippians 3:21) But exactly what a glorified body is like ‘has not yet been made known’. Confusion arises because it is often assumed that how Jesus appeared to the disciples during the 40 days following his resurrection is substantially how he now appears since his ascension into glory.

But does the biblical evidence point in that direction? As Jesus’ command to Mary outside the empty tomb suggests – ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.’ (John 20:17) – he knew the process of his glorious exaltation was far from complete, his first prayer in the Upper Room yet to be answered (John 17:1-5).

Consider also that a true apostle had to be a witness of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:22). Paul qualified because, as he tells us, ‘last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born’ (1 Corinthians 15:8). And yet the post-ascension appearance of the risen Christ to Paul was very different from his pre-ascension appearances to the Eleven (Acts 26:13-16).

The Eleven needed to be convinced that this was indeed the same Jesus they had known, loved and followed for the past three years, raised bodily from the dead. They needed to recognise him, see him eating, and be astonished at his wounds (Luke 24:36-44; John 20:19-29). Paul needed none of these things, and neither do we (John 20:29).

This same Jesus

As the apostles were told at the ascension, ‘This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ (Acts 1:11). But the appearance of ‘this same Jesus’ on that dramatic day when ‘every eye will see him’, may well be very different (Revelation 1:7-18).

And yet, despite all this, it is still staggeringly true that ‘when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’ We may have been considering ‘foolish’ questions but reflecting on them just a little should surely cause us to be lost in wonder, love and praise.

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