Posted in My Journey

My New Book Is Here!

I am pleased to announce God Is Love: Comfort Through Trials is now available for download. All royalties go toward supporting Looking to God Ministries, an organization dedicated to spreading the Word of God through outreach programs, literature and preaching. Below is the Preface to the book:

I grew up Catholic. That means I was baptized into the Catholic Church. It also means I received my First Communion and my Confirmation in the Catholic Church. In all that time, I knew God existed, but I had a different idea of who he was than what I know of him today. I thought he was old. I thought he was distant. And I thought for a good portion of the bible that he was very angry with people.

It was only after I hit my twenties that I began to question God’s nature. I did not question his existence because I knew he was alive, well, and looking after us. I did not need a degree to understand that. All I had to do was look around at nature and I could see God there. For me, it never made sense to think God was dead when all I saw were the seasons changing like clockwork and the animals following a pattern of behavior. No, what I questioned were things like, “How could God, who supposedly loved so much, care so little for people that he would allow them to suffer?” And I wondered, “What kind of God was he if he would cause that suffering?” Because allowing something to happen was one thing, but to actually cause it?

So for a long time I searched for those answers. I was part of a cult for a number of years and learned about a god who was more interested in the letter of the law, than of the spirit of the law. Throughout that entire time, God was still an angry god who would punish Christians who sinned and would reward Christians who obeyed. Jesus was a passing notion, an emissary, delivering a message of the coming of the kingdom of God.

It was then that I had stopped attending church. My disillusion with organized religion was just the beginning. I simply felt no one had a clue who God was and why suffering existed in the world. For twenty years, I laughed at people who would put their faith in a god who did not care for their well-being.

Soon, one January morning, I began to read the bible. I had made a resolution that I would read the bible in its entirety strictly for its literary value. Little did I know what would happen to me. I began seeing a god who ruled all creation. I began to see a god who looked after his creation. I saw God love human beings so much that he would give his only son as a sacrifice so that he could save them from the penalty of sin, which is death. Then I saw my life unfold before my eyes.

I returned to a church, and as quickly as I had returned, a year later, my oldest son took ill. He spent a month in the hospital having suffered an autistic shutdown. That month was when God revealed himself to me. He showed me why people suffered. He taught me trials were good. And he took care of my family throughout the ordeal.

If you are looking for answers, read God Is Love: Comfort Through Trials knowing I was looking for answers, too.

Posted in My Journey

The Reward of Our Trials

When I think about of all that has happened in my life, of all those times when I could have failed miserably, and of all those moments when one decision could have altered my future permanently, I am thankful. God could have allowed one of those fleeting instances to change my life irrevocably. But he did not. Instead, he looked after me. He watched over me. And he protected me as I went on my way. Why?

That question, why? is a big question to me. Why would God spare me the pain I would have otherwise experienced had I endured certain trials?

The Apostle James talks about trials this way:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

James is saying, trials offer opportunities to grow in faith, in that no matter what happens to us, God will give us the patience to endure whatever trial comes our way. Saying it another way, God will provide the help we need when we suffer.

I may have avoided certain trials, but I cannot tell you how many times I have felt alone, broken and upset, only to find God there, waiting to help me. He never leaves us. He is there always, hoping that we would come and give of our hearts to him in prayer. All God wants is a relationship with us. He offered his son, Jesus, as a sacrifice for our sins. Everyone who believes Jesus is the son of God will have salvation. So how difficult is it to understand that God loves us more than he loves anything in this universe?

When I think about trials this way, it is then easy to accept the truth that God allows suffering, because no one suffered more than Christ did on the cross. And although Christ’s suffering was not a trial for him, his whole purpose for coming was so that we who suffer would have hope—hope for a future—hope for eternal life. James confirms this when he says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

Friends, continue to love God as he loves us, unconditionally and without end, for as we love him this way, our trials will then be as steppingstones toward our reward, which is the crown of life.

Audio transcript:

Posted in My Journey

Our Trials Have Meaning

I once attended a church whose pastor believed trials are not from God. I actually had a lively discussion with him in terms of proving God uses trials and persecutions to build a Christian’s faith and love for God. It was not until some time had passed that I realized the pastor believed in the prosperity gospel.

The prosperity gospel convinces Christians that God wants them to be healthy, wealthy and happy in this lifetime. I will not revisit this topic, as I have already written about this before. What I would like to write about today, though, is to make the point that God loves us and that no matter what happens in this lifetime, he will never abandon us. The trials we go through as individuals, and as a church, happen for a reason. We may not know the reason for our suffering now, and we may not know it until we have lived our lives to the full, but God has it all planned one-thousand moves ahead of us. He knows where all the pieces of our suffering fit in the grand scheme of his design. What we have to do is trust him with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our minds. Then, and only then, will our trials have meaning.

Before Moses died, he provisioned Joshua to be his successor. Part of that provisioning included encouraging words that would carry Joshua and the next generation of Israelites to the Promised Land:

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

In the same way, God will not leave us or forsake us. We may have days when we feel we should have stayed in bed and not faced the world, but God will not give us a trial we cannot handle. He has already counted the cost, and he knows we can overcome. We just need to look to him for the courage and strength. Through his son Jesus, we can do all things, as the Apostle Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). And by the power of the Holy Spirit, God brings into remembrance the words we need to move forward, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

Whatever you may be going through, whatever trial you may be facing, remember: God is always there listening, whispering; he will never abandon you (Psalms 16:1). You are very important to him, and no one can prevent you from drawing closer to him. His purpose for all of us is for us to rely on him fully, perfectly and without hesitation. He is our God, our creator and king.

No one can take that away from us.

Audio transcript:

Posted in Bible Studies

God’s Purpose

God is amazing. He really is. There are no other gods, because he is the only God; and as many times as we read that, he is even more amazing when bad things happen to Christians.

The book of Acts tells us about the early days of the church, from the time when Jesus ascended to heaven to when the apostle Paul arrived in Rome. Of the numerous accounts told, one in particular is an inspiration for Christians going through trials.

This week’s scripture is in the book of Philippians:

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

The story of Stephen

In Acts, chapter 6, the apostles needed someone who would look after the widows in the church on their behalf in order that their preaching would not suffer neglect (Acts 6:1-2). They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. It was in those days that the church was growing larger, multiplying with believers (verses 3-7).

Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great signs and wonders among the people. But there were certain men who rose up against him, disputing with him, wanting him to stop what he was doing. The more they went against him, though, the more they could not seem to overcome the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen was speaking. So they tried another tactic. They secretly instigated false witnesses to spew lies against him, saying he had spoken evil of the law and of the temple (verses 8-12).

The men eventually seized Stephen, brought him before the high priest and accused him of blasphemy (verses 12-14). And after a lengthy speech where Stephen spoke about Israel’s history, Moses’ part in the exodus, and how his accusers were resisting the Holy Spirit, the men brought him outside the city and stoned him (Acts 7).

Had God failed Stephen?

For a Christian to read this account, it may seem as if God had failed Stephen. One might ask, why would God allow this to happen? Did not Stephen believe God would have rescued him? Would God not have silenced his accusers and intervened on his behalf?

However, two very important things happened during Stephen’s death. First, before the stoning, Stephen saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right hand (Acts 7:55). Second, those taking part in the stoning were laying their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (verse 58). Both points are significant in that it shows God had not really abandoned Stephen during his time of trial; and not only God but also Jesus was there with him, reassuring him everything was going to be fine (verse 56). Even more so, Stephen did not die in vain. His death served to transform Saul from a man who persecuted the Christians, to the apostle Paul, a man preaching about Christ Jesus the son of God (Acts 22:20-21).

God has a purpose

Only God could do this. Only he could put meaning to a tragedy and make it work for good (Romans 8:28). As much as we try to understand why bad things happen to Christians, it all makes sense in the context of God using that tragedy to do good from a thousand perspectives (Psalms 147:5). We may gain a glimpse of a fraction of one of those perspectives, but God ultimately knows why certain things have to happen in certain ways (1 Corinthians 13:12).

What we have to do as Christians is trust him (Psalms 25:2). We may not receive the answer we desire, but we will certainly receive the answer we need (Philippians 4:19).

Posted in My Journey

Faith in God

God is leading me in everything I am doing. This recent discovery has led me to make many significant changes in my life that I would not have otherwise made had God’s spirit not been with me. The biggest of these changes is how I view Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins. No longer am I taking his suffering lightly, for I now weep when I read the prophet Isaiah:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

I become distraught by knowing just how much Jesus suffered for me, but then my sadness turns to joy when I realize that I will never have to worry about my past sins ever again. God has forgiven me.

How wonderful a God I worship because now I have hope for a future where I will be with him forever. That faith he imparted through the Holy Spirit is the delight I now have living within me. And this has brought to life the beautiful belief I experience and is spoken of in Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

For as I believe Jesus is the Christ, son of God, who has saved me from the penalty of sin, which is death, faith is my guarantee that my reward will be great in heaven (Matthew 5:12).

And knowing this, what an amazing God he truly is!

Posted in My Journey

His Word in Season

After a very long, hard winter, it is a blessing finally to see some sun this week. I think spring decided to nap through most of the season, allowing the snow, wind and rain to have full reign. I had driven home from Pittsburgh last week, where it was like summer down there. What a contrast it was from our dark, gray skies here in Canada.

Sometimes we Christians also need a change in seasons. I know in my case, due to winter’s extended stay, I focused much of my bible studies on suffering: Jesus’ suffering and Christian suffering. I enjoy knowing that when God allows suffering, he does not allow it without a purpose; and most of the time, we may not know what that purpose is. I use the example of my autistic son’s recent hospitalization quite a bit to illustrate that point. As a family, we have no idea what brought on his catatonia just before Christmas. We know it was anxiety-related, but the purpose as to why he went into a catatonic state is still a mystery to us. I am sure that whatever the reason is, I trust God will one day reveal it to us.

With spring now appearing at our doorstep, I am finding myself reading Psalms of gratitude and memorizing the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6 and 7). Of particular interest is the one verse that has caught my attention this week and is not letting go:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

I always wondered what that verse meant; but as I am noticing spring unfolding, with the birds chirping and the first blades of grass spouting, it is evident to me that those who are trying to become more like God, are the ones who can also see God in nature.

Again, I am gleaning these tidbits as I walk the pilgrim’s path; and I am sure I will gain another level of understanding as summer approaches, too.

For now, let us appreciate what God reveals to us through his word in season, and let us move toward sharing that understanding with other believers.

Posted in Bible Studies, Other Things

I Hate the Prosperity Gospel

Hate is a strong word. I rarely use it. When I do use it, I make it clear that I do not use it in jest, or without reason. When I say I hate something, I mean I abhor it, I detest it, and I wish it were not in existence.

Therefore, saying that I hate the prosperity gospel, I still feel I am putting it mildly. Frankly, I wish it would disappear never to deceive another Christian again.

What is the prosperity gospel?

Without giving you a long, drawn-out definition, I will make it simple: the prosperity gospel convinces Christians that God wants them to be wealthy, that he does not want his children to suffer, and that he wants them to enjoy every moment of this life, because he promised he would bless those who have faith enough to believe he would do just that.

In effect, the prosperity gospel does more than hurt Christian growth. The prosperity gospel attempts to deceive us into believing that with enough faith, we will inherit the blessings promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and by extension, the nation of Israel in this lifetime, which is simply not true.

What is worse is that Christian ministries throughout North America are now exporting this health and wealth gospel to poorer nations, such as Africa, and walking away with millions of dollars in donations for what in reality is a lie.

Problems with the prosperity gospel

Several inherent problems exist with the prosperity gospel that Christians ought to understand:

1. The prosperity gospel negates Christ’s sacrifice.

Jesus sacrificed his life in order to reconcile us with God (Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 10:14). Up until Christ’s death, there was a need for a blood offering as a means to approach God’s throne (Exodus 30:10). Without that sin offering, which typically came in the form of an animal sacrifice performed by a representative of the Levitical priesthood (Leviticus 4:1-7), no one could request an audience with God directly.

All that changed once Jesus died on the cross. No longer do we need to worry about our sins getting in the way of our relationship with God. Instead, we have Jesus, who bore the penalty of our sins, who now acts on our behalf as intercessor, drawing us nearer to God in a communion based on repentance and forgiveness (1 Timothy 2:5-6). In turn, God refers to us as sons, of whom the creation is eagerly waiting for the revealing of our inheritance (Romans 8:18-19).

The prosperity gospel throws that all aside for the temporary hope of gaining riches now. Christ’s shed blood is meaningless in the context of our desire to petition God to grant wishes, as if he were some kind of genie. God is only there to serve, and if he does not give us what we want, then we did not ask him with enough faith, which cheapens what Jesus did for us because there would be no need for redemption if all we are looking for is a comfortable life without sickness.

2. The prosperity gospel does not recognize Christian suffering.

When God began working with Job, one of the richest men of the Old Testament (Job 1:1-3, 8), he began doing so by allowing Job to lose everything (verses 13-19). God not only used Satan to permit Job’s suffering (verse 12), but he also used Job’s sense of loss to act as a contributing factor to bring about his repentance. Job came to realize just how awesome and wonderful God is, such that he accepted God’s greatness regardless if he understood, or not, why God did what he did (Job 42:1-6).

Contrast this example with how the prosperity gospel interprets scripture.

The prosperity gospel renders Job’s suffering as an example of the doubling-up principle detailed in Exodus, “If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double” (Exodus 22:7 ESV throughout). In Job’s case, the thief was Satan; and since Satan took all that Job had, Job’s compensation would be double his loss (Job 42:10).

Saying it another way, Job’s suffering had nothing to do with repentance, but had everything to do with claiming a reward from a long-forgotten civil statute enacted in ancient Israel to discourage thievery.

A couple of things are wrong with this thinking. First, when Job went through everything he did, the nation of Israel did not exist, therefore, the thievery statute, being part of the Law of Moses, did not exist. Second, and more importantly, it would be presumptuous to assume God’s intention when he allows people to suffer. It would be even a bigger mistake for others to deny that God allows suffering.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke many times about this life’s riches and the futility of trying to accumulate wealth (Luke 12:15-21). He even made it clear that the rich would have a hard time entering the kingdom of God, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). In all that Jesus said, he guaranteed one thing: his followers would suffer for his name’s sake (John 15:20) and his apostles confirmed this understanding (1 Peter 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:12). He did not promise material wealth, but actually encouraged followers to sell everything to give to the poor (Matthew 19:21).

3. The prosperity gospel blames poverty on a lack of faith.

People are poor because they want to be poor. In essence, that is the prosperity gospel message.

We do not have because we do not ask. If we asked, we would have and we would not have any reason to disbelieve God’s promises made to Abraham. Of course, this reasoning does not take into account what the apostle Paul said:

“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)

People become sick and stay sick because they lack faith in God to heal them. After all, did not Jesus say, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34)? Yet when someone dies of cancer, is it because of a lack of faith that he or she died, or was it that God allowed it to happen for a greater purpose?

The prosperity gospel answers this question by hinging its entire theology on faith. With enough faith, God will bless us Christians with health, wealth and happiness. If we hope for whatever we ask, we will receive it; and if we do not receive it, we did not hope for it enough.

The problem with this type of thinking is that we make what we hope for our goal instead of asking God what his will is for us (Matthew 6:33). In fact, God’s will soon takes a backseat to our desires, which could run contrary to what he wants (James 4:2-3). For this reason, many Christians wonder why God allows things to happen the way they do, rather than trusting God’s ability to resolve things according to his will.

There is nothing wrong with having faith, so long as we do not mistake it for materialistic faith, which leads nowhere other than against God’s plan.

4. The prosperity gospel guarantees a payback for anything Christians give.

Imagine investing $100 and receiving $10,000 back. That is what the prosperity gospel will have us believe. Whatever money we give will come back to us a hundredfold: “Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life'” (Mark 10:29-30).

Other than the apostle John, historical evidence suggests all the apostles died by the hands of persecutors. What happened to their reward? Whatever became of their hundreds of houses they owned?

The prosperity gospel twists the meaning of these verses to suit an invalid premise: if we Christians give, we will receive a hundredfold reward now in the form of money and property. But, that is not what it says. Jesus is talking about prosperity in relationships and families. Jesus explains this at the beginning of the book of Mark:

“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother’.” (Mark 3:31-35)

As regarding to the mention of houses and lands, these verses are referring to families, much like how other parts of scripture refer to families by a patriarch’s name; such as the House of David (1 Samuel 20:16; 2 Samuel 3:1), the House of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4; 1 Kings 12:21), and the House of Jacob and Israel (Jeremiah 3:18; Hebrews 8:10).

And should there be any confusion as to what Jesus was preaching, we need to read Mark 10:29-30 in context with the other verses surrounding the passage, starting from verse 17 all the way to verse 31. Jesus was saying that for the rich and wealthy, it would be difficult, almost impossible, for them to enter the kingdom of God, “And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” (verse 23). Before that, he made it even clearer to a rich, young man what his stance was regarding riches, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’” (verse 21).

Other proponents of the prosperity gospel camp turn to the Old Testament to convince Christians to give generously: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10).

Again, should what Malachi say apply to Christians today, it does not refer to blessings now, although we may receive blessings but it may have more to do with God’s spontaneous generosity than with the verses written in Malachi (Matthew 6:3-4).

God wants generous and cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7). He does not want Christians giving with the expectation of getting something back in return (Proverbs 11:7). He does not want to limit us to give only a tithe, or rather, 10% of our increase either. Everything is his (Psalm 24:1). He wants to see just how much of what he gives to us do we dare keep.

What is the true gospel?

Jesus came as God in the flesh (John 1:1-3, 14), lived, died, and rose from the dead. He sits at the right hand of the father (Romans 8:34), waiting for the time when he will return as a conquering king (Hebrews 10:12-13). During his time on earth, Jesus taught about loving God and loving others more than himself (Mark 12:28-31; John 15:13). He healed the sick (Mark 1:34), taught forgiveness (Matthew 6:14) and instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of his death and resurrection (Luke 22:17-20).

Jesus willingly gave his life on the cross (Matthew 26:39), to save from the penalty of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23), all those who believe in him (John 3:17-18).

Everyone who believes now has salvation through Christ’s sacrifice (John 3:16).

This is the true gospel.