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.

Posted in Bible Studies, My Journey

God Allows Suffering

Over the weekend, my friends and I participated in a lively discussion about God’s role in a person’s suffering. My friends were of the mindset that God does not allow suffering. Considering all that my son has gone through these past few months with his health, and the automobile accident my wife experienced, I was of a differing opinion.

I expressed that suffering for a Christian is necessary and even welcomed, as it is God’s way to build faith within a person. God did not promise we would not go through trials in this lifetime. On the contrary, he promised that we would (John 15:20). And they would be fiery trials, the kind that molds us into his image and binds us to his spirit (1 Pet. 4:12-13).

The scripture I brought up was that of Job. Now Job, he was a righteous man, and there was a day that the sons of God came before God to give a report of their doings. Among them was Satan. God asked, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8 ESV throughout).

God loved Job, but at the same time, he wanted to test Job to see if his righteousness was true and not self-serving. He could have chosen to do that any number of ways. In this case, God was going to use Satan to bring calamity upon Job.

That does not sound right, does it? How could God do that to someone he loves?

Yet Satan, not knowing it was God’s plan all along, said to God, “Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (v. 10-11).

And so God said, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand” (v. 12).

In other words, God allowed Satan to touch Job’s life, destroy his property and kill his family, but he could not physically touch Job himself. It was not until later in the book that we find out that God eventually allowed Satan to affect Job’s health also.

From what I see, God is in control not only of Job’s suffering, but also of Satan’s ability to hurt Job. Saying it another way, God allowed Job to suffer.

God has reasons people suffer. For Job, he had to see how self-righteous he was before God blessed him with double his possessions and family. However, the one person who suffered the most in this world, and whom God allowed that suffering to take place, was Christ Jesus. For a moment in time, God had to let events play out while Jesus suffered the humiliation of a criminal, whipped until his flesh hung from his bone, nailed to a tree until he gasped for every ounce of life, and died to the pleasure of the Romans who crucified him.

But, and this was God’s plan all along, Jesus rose from the dead, took his seat at the right hand of the father (Eph. 1:20), and through him, believing in him, Christians have salvation (Acts 4:11-12).

No one on this planet can convince me that God does not allow people to suffer. It is unbiblical and a lie. What is not a lie is that all the apostles except for John died awful deaths, persecuted for believing in Jesus, so that their faith in God may strengthen those who come after them.

We, Christians, are those who come after them.