What the book of Job CAN do for us:
Today, we conclude our reflections on the book of Job.
What the book of Job CAN do for us:
1. It teaches us to be careful and compassionate in how we respond to people who are suffering. When people are suffering, they don’t need theological debates (“maybe this is an attack from the devil”), personal accusations (“maybe God is punishing you for sin in your life”) or advice for a ‘quick fix’ to their calamity (“if only you had more faith in God …”). They need our empathy, our support, and our friendship. In the end, Job’s friends became his enemies and ‘worthless physicians’ who crushed him with their words. Can we do better than Job’s friends?
2. It shows us that the world does not operate by justice. This world is broken and incomplete. It still needs attention. Injustice is still part of the system as it is. This means that suffering should not lead us to look back on our behavior in search for a cause; rarely is there any identifiable one-to-one connection. The world, though under the control of God, is fallen, and as it awaits redemption it is often more chaotic than ordered and coherent. Like humanity, God’s world is a work in progress. Alleviating a measure of suffering, when and where we can, is part of our mandate to 'subdue and rule' the earth. God will eventually align all of Creation with his attributes and establish absolute order in the new heavens and new earth. Until then, we should expect continued manifestations of disorder, which include pain and suffering.
3. It reminds us that God rules the world with a wisdom that is beyond our understanding. When we begin to blame him for our suffering or think that we could do a better job of running the world than him, we move into dangerous territory. God's wisdom is far beyond our ability to comprehend.
4. It raises the question of 'why' we place our faith in God. Is our choice to believe in God only for reward and blessing, either in this life (prosperity) or the next (to gain heaven and avoid hell)? Is it for self-interest, as the Challenger believed it was for Job? Is our faith sustained when our desires are not fulfilled, when healing does not come, when broken homes are not restored, when the goals we pursue remain beyond our reach? Is Christianity merely a 'benefits system' of incentives that results in us losing motivation when there is nothing in it for us? Job shows us that true righteousness should have its desired end in a relationship with God not in gaining reward from God. That is a huge challenge in our consumer driven world.
5. It teaches us to trust that God loves us even when we go through painful situations and we do not understand the reasons why. Like Job did, we can direct our confused questions and perplexing musings to him. During suffering, choose to trust God and believe that he is good and that he loves you ... even when you do not understand. Trust is the way through the struggles of life.
Pain and suffering enter every one of our lives from time to time. I have only lived 55 years and yet I can look back at the death of family members (my own mother died of a sudden heart attack in 1990 and Nicole’s mother died quite suddenly from cancer in 2007), car accidents, personal sickness, mental and emotional challenges, stress and burnout, disappointment, criticism, gossip, slander, conflict and many other challenges that have touched my life and our family. Of course, some other people suffer far worse and much more deeply.
I still don't understand ‘why’ all of these things have happened. Yes, I have grown and they have developed character in me, as well as empathy for the struggles that other people go through. But I don't fully understand the reasons behind them nor God’s purposes through their occurrence.
Like Job, I have many unanswered questions. Yet I choose to place my faith in God, regardless of my feelings or the perplexity in all this. It’s not easy but I truly believe that God is good, that he loves us and therefore I choose to trust him even when I do not understand. I feel just like the apostle Paul did …
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:12-13. NLT
May you too be encouraged in your faith - in the good times and the bad.
P.S. Read Part 1 if you missed it.
Today, we continue our reflections on the book of Job.
What the book of Job does NOT do for us:
1. It does not answer the question as to 'why' there is suffering in the world today. Theodicy (the search for the origin and nature of suffering and evil) remains an unsolved mystery. Suffering is not merely a theological or philosophical problem, it is a human problem that no one is immune to, though some people suffer more than others. Yes, God does intend our good (Romans 8:28) but that doesn't mean that we will always figure out how our experiences benefit us (Ecclesiastes 6:12) and our "good" cannot be always defined by our comfort or our success.
C.S. Lewis once said, "Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." True, suffering and pain can serve to draw our attention to God, to rely on him and perhaps to engage in self-evaluation. However, we should be cautious to suggest that suffering is always to be viewed as God's instrument for accomplishing any of those goals. We cannot know or assume that there are reasons for our suffering though God does have purposes, though we may never know them fully.
2. It does not validate the long-held ‘retribution principle’ which states that the righteous will always prosper and the wicked will always suffer. In Israelite theology, this principle was integral to the belief in God's justice. Since God is just, they believed that he would always uphold this principle. This also led to the belief that if a person prospered, they must be righteous (i.e. favored by God) and those who suffer must be wicked (i.e. experiencing the judgment of God). However, the retribution principle is too simplistic. Yes, it serves as the basis for general trends in human experience (as presented in the biblical books of Deuteronomy, Psalms and Proverbs) but there are no guarantees and there are always exceptions (Job being a prime example). A person’s sinfulness cannot be inferred when one is suffering nor can a person’s goodness be inferred when one is prospering.
Jesus confronted the retribution principle on two specific occasions. A man born blind was seen by the disciples as caused by sin (John 9:1-3). Jesus shifted their focus from causes (actions in the past) to purpose (God's ongoing plan), offering an expanded theology. As in the book of Job, no explanation for the suffering was given, possible or necessary. More important is the need to trust God's wisdom and to seek out his purpose.
In Luke 13:1-5, the issue concerns whether those who have died in recent tragedies should be considered to have deserved their death. Again, Jesus turns the attention away from the cause and even states that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between sin and punishment. As an alternative, Jesus tells his audience to view the incident as a warning. Once again, as in John 9, he refuses to engage the question of cause and concentrates instead on purpose.
3. Job is not a perfect model of how to respond to suffering. Yes, he never cursed God and he persevered through his trials (James 5:11). He also had a more accurate understanding of God than his friends but he did not have a totally clear perspective on his situation nor a full understanding of the nature of God and his ways, any more than we do today.
4. Although God is the central subject of this book (not Job, his friends or the Challenger), it does not fully explain how God is involved in his world. We have to continually maintain the tension of believing that God is not distant (as in deism) nor does he micromanage everything that occurs in our daily lives. There really is no language adequate enough to describe God’s involvement or lack of involvement and simplistic generalisations can lead to flawed theology. John Walton uses the example of gravity: it was created by God from the beginning through his wisdom but each expression of gravity is not necessarily 'caused' by God though it does not operate without him. In the same way, God’s activity is beyond our comprehension and powers of explanation.
Over the last few months, I have been slowly reading through the book of Job in The Message Bible translation, reflecting on it, and also reading John Walton's excellent commentary on Job in the NIV Application Commentary series, as well as Tremper Longman III's book on Job in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms.
The book of Job is a 'classic' in ancient literature and one of the most intriguing books in the Bible. It outlines the story of a man named Job who was one of the wealthiest people in the ancient Near East. Suddenly, a series of tragedies flood into his life, resulting in the loss of his herds and flocks, the death of all of his children, and finally a severe skin disease of some sort afflicts Job himself.
The prologue to the story (Job 1-2) shows us some behind the scenes dialogue between God and his divine council, one of whom is called 'the Satan', or better 'the Challenger' (though he does nothing evil in this particular story). God's policies for running the world are under debate and the Challenger states that Job only serves God because of the blessing he has experienced. God disagrees and so the challenge begins.
Job is unaware of any of this dialogue and responds to his tragedies with appropriate grief and mourning (Job 3, 29-31). Three of his friends soon gather and they mourn with him in silence for seven days. Finally, they begin to speak and so begins the dialogues and debates that make up most of the book (Job 4-27). Each of the friends draws upon a variety of sources, including reason (logic), life experience, tradition and spiritual experiences, to try to solve Job’s problem of suffering. After an intriguing poem or hymn about wisdom (Job 28), another friend, Elihu, appears and adds his two cents worth to the dialogue (Job 32-37). He is a raging, young man, directing his passionate speech towards Job because of his apparent self-righteous attitude and towards the friends for their philosophical incompetence. He defends God's justice and views himself as speaking on behalf of God.
Despite the suggestion from his friends that his suffering is a result of his sin and arrogance, Job continues to declare his innocence (not that he is sinless) and wants a response from God. As in a court of law, if Job is guilty, he expects God himself to show up and prove this.
Finally, God does show up (Job 38-41). Speaking from the midst of a storm, he rebukes the friends for their flawed thinking about God and how he runs his world. But he doesn't answer any of Job’s questions. Instead, he declares his power and the wisdom of his creation. Job's response to God's first speech is one of awed silence (Job 40:3-5). God speaks again, highlighting two unfathomable creatures - Behemoth and Leviathan. Job's response to God's second speech is one of humility and repentance (Job 42:1-6). He distinguishes between a second-hand experience of God ("my ears had heard") and first-hand experience ("now my eyes have seen"). As a result, he is ashamed of his presumption in challenging God's ways and he regrets his previous statements, his distorted characterization of God, his presumptuous belief in his own understanding, and his arrogant challenges.
The epilogue then details the repentance of Job’s friends (42:7-9) and the restoration of Job to a place of prosperity (Job 42:10-16).
We don't know the author of Job (literary works in the ancient world were often anonymous) or it's date of composition. Most likely it is from the patriarchal period, due to the absence of any reference to covenant or law (although this is understandable as Job was not an Israelite; he was from the land of Uz - 1:1). We also don't know whether the book is based on historical events (a real person named Job) or whether it is purely a literary construction - a 'thought experiment'. This does not affect our interpretation of the book, nor its authority and inspiration as sacred text. Most scholars believe that Job was a real historical person who was righteous and suffered greatly. The story of Job still speaks to us today in profound ways.
Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to read through the Song of Songs - an extraordinary love poem.
How can we apply the insights from this love poem to our own lives today?
- What efforts are you making to keep the romance of your love relationship alive? What things can you do to cultivate a greater desire for the one who you love?
- In what ways can you further affirm the value and dignity of the opposite sex/gender?
- Wisdom calls us to loving and exclusive commitment, not to a rampant promiscuity which turns sex into a mere commodity. Read Proverbs 5:15-19 and reflect on the impact of more readily available pornography on genuine love.
- In the beginning, men and women were made as equal partners in life and vocation, both being given involvement in the reproduction and dominion mandates (Genesis 1:26-28). What steps can you take to work against the embedded hierarchy and patriarchy that still dominates our culture, including within the Christian church?
- Society today often demeans sex from it's God given purpose while the church often suppresses open conversation about sexuality. How can we contribute to a more healthy openness about sex and love, in our families and communities?
The signs of Easter are all around us - cooler weather, school holidays, an upcoming long weekend, hot cross buns and extra church services to cater to people's faith which comes in all shapes and sizes. For many people, it is also a time to reflect on some important events that took place over 2,000 years ago - the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No doubt, this is the foundation of the Christian faith. If Christ did not die and rise again, then our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).
The Gospels all tell us WHAT happened during this Passion Week. Tragically, Jesus was betrayed, denied, falsely accused and eventually killed by the cruel death of crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. Thankfully, three days later he rose from the dead and was seen by numerous witnesses. We are then told that Jesus ascended into heaven from which he would one day return.
This was all done to fulfil what the prophets of long ago foretold. But what was going on with Jesus on that cross? What was God up to? WHY did Jesus die? Disciples of Jesus, critics of Christianity, and biblical scholars have been reflecting on, discussing and debating the answers to these vital questions for centuries now. More recently, the conversations have increased and some of the typical trite answers are being questioned as being inadequate.
One of my favourite thinkers and writers is N.T. Wright. As one of the world's leading Bible scholars, he has written numerous books about Jesus, the apostle Paul and the New Testament period. His most recent book is called The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus' Crucifixion. He argues that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough in transforming our understanding of its meaning. Wright argues that Jesus’ death on the cross was not only to forgivd us of our sins; it was actually the beginning of a revolution commissioning the Christian faithful to a new vocation — a royal priesthood responsible for restoring and reconciling all of God’s creation. Wright argues that Jesus’ crucifixion must be understood within the much larger story of God’s purposes to bring heaven and earth together. The Day the Revolution Began offers a grand picture of Jesus’ sacrifice and its full significance for the Christian faith, inspiring believers with a renewed sense of mission, purpose, and hope, and reminding them of the crucial role the Christian faith must play in protecting and shaping the future of the world.
Another thought-provoking recent publication is The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by pastor and author Gregory A. Boyd. Boyd proposes a revolutionary way to read the Bible in this epic but accessible study. A dramatic tension confronts every Christian believer and interpreter of Scripture: on the one hand, we encounter Old Testament stories of God commanding horrendous violence. On the other hand, we read the unequivocally nonviolent teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Reconciling these two has challenged Christians and theologians for two millennia. Throughout Christian history, various answers have been proposed, ranging from the long rejected explanation that these contrasting depictions are of two entirely different gods to recent social, cultural, and literary theories that attempt to dispel the conflict. The Crucifixion of the Warrior God takes up this dramatic tension and the range of proposed answers in an ambitious constructive investigation. Over two volumes, Gregory A. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the full range of Scripture as inspired, including its violent depictions of God. At the same time, he affirms the absolute centrality of the crucified and risen Christ as the supreme revelation of God. Developing a theological interpretation of Scripture that he labels a "cruciform hermeneutic", Boyd demonstrates how the Bible's violent images of God are reframed and their violence subverted when interpreted through the lens of the cross and resurrection. Indeed, when read in this way, Boyd argues that these violent depictions bear witness to the same self-sacrificial nature of God that was ultimately revealed on the cross.
Two books well worth reading, as we continue to seek to mine the depth of the significance of what took place that first Easter.
For my own personal reflections on some of the various answers to why Jesus died, see my previous BLOG post Why Did Jesus Die? based on a message I gave on Good Friday a few years back.
One thing we know is that Easter is a revelation of the love of God for all humanity.
The apostle John put it so eloquently:
John 3:16. For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. NLT
I pray many blessings on you and your family this Easter.
A few years ago, when I was on a week-long prayer and silent retreat, I had just finished dinner and I walked out to the retreat centre's garden area. A lot of it was over-grown and unkept but there were some beautiful spots. Great places to sit, meditate, reflect and pray.
I had this image of being invited into fellowship with the Trinity. I put 3 chairs in a semi-circle in front of where I was sitting - one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Spirit. It was quite impacting. I could feel their warmth and love. [See the photo below which I took]
I had a few reflections at the time:
- This is the centre of reality as it exists - one God living in a community of 3 persons.
- I am invited into this divine centre. Not alone, but with others too.
- It is a fellowship characterised by love. I too am loved, cherished and I have dignity and honour - because of who I am.
- My relationship with the Trinity is to be one of intimacy and closeness - I am a family member (not an employer) and a son (not a servant).
- I am to feel at “home” here, not a stranger or a visitor, who is somewhat awkward. I must admit, I didn’t feel as comfortable as I think I should have, which showed that I had not been living in the sense of intimacy and partnership that was available to me. Why the distance?
- Sometimes it felt like I was just sitting there alone and God was merely a figment of my imagination ... like the place was empty of life. At other times I sensed God's presence tangibly ... though quiet and peaceful. God was just there. Then occasionally, God would speak ... sweeping over my heart and mind with a rush of thoughts. I realised that I was more wired for God doing something and if not, I quickly headed back to what I was doing ... rather than being content to just be together.
- Thinking about my proximity with the Trinity. Am I content just to be still and present with God OR does something always need to be happening for me to remain attentive?
- When it says that God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, it must have been the Trinity, not a single God! I too can walk and talk with the Trinity wherever I am. Where are they? Behind me, alongside of me or ahead of me? Think spatially.
- What will dictate my direction today? The Spirit is like the wind. You aren’t sure which way it is coming from or where it is going. Jesus said, “Come and see”. He didn’t give his followers an answer or a plan but rather an invitation. It was an invitation into a relationship and a journey together that would unfold along the way.
- Trinity fellowship leads to amazing resources for life and ministry - love, power and wisdom, ALL I need or could ever want.
- Where is the Trinity inviting me to today? Where are they drawing me? What are they drawing me into? Will I follow? Or will I get busy doing things I want to do. Will I get distracted and preoccupied with trivial matters? The choice is mine. The river is there. The Spirit calls, “Come and drink” and “Come up here”. Will I hear and see what God is showing me today? Prophets look and listen. They feel the pathos of God and know his thoughts. Apostles hear instruction and receive revelation. They are commissioned and sent ones. Ambassadors, representing heaven’s throne room. Called, then sent. Come, then go.
- What am waiting for? What else could be worth my time and effort? How deceptive the enemy is in alluring me away from this water of life to other containers that contain no lasting life at all.
Trinity ... is it time for you to join the dance?
'End Times' Fever
One of the last questions Jesus’ disciples asked him was about the end of the world (see Matthew 24:1-3). After the resurrection and at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, he ascended up to heaven. As he did, two angels appeared and boldly proclaimed, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? 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 1:10-11).” The last recorded words of the ascended Jesus are in the book of Revelation. They were to the church and he said, “Yes, I am coming soon (Rev.22:7, 12, 20)!” Ever since that time people have looked for and anticipated the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world. This began with the New Testament believers and has continued right through history but has intensified in recent years. End times fever is alive and well! That’s why it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of the end times so that we are not swayed by various trends or world events.
Observations about the Second Coming of Jesus
1. Jesus will come again. The early church held strongly to the belief that Jesus would come again as he said he would. A common phrase among them was “Maranatha”, which means, “Come, O Lord! (1 Cor.16:22)” The second coming of Jesus Christ is mentioned 318 times in the 216 chapters of the NT. That’s 1 in every 25 verses. Some entire chapters are given to this subject (Mt.24. Mk.13. Lk.21. 1 Cor.15) and three New Testament writers wrote entire books about it (1 and 2 Thessalonians. Jude. Revelation). Jesus said he would come again. Peter, Paul, John, James and Jude all speak of his coming. Not one New Testament writer fails to mention it. There are more references to this subject that any other New Testament teaching. Every time we take communion or the “Lord’s supper” we proclaim the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Cor.11:26). Jesus will return to the earth literally, visibly (“every eye will see him”), physically and personally just like he came. It will be the “same Jesus”, not another. He will come personally to receive us to himself (Jn.14:3). Unlike his first coming, which was in great humility and lowliness, his second coming will be in great glory with his angelic hosts accompanying him (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 25:31).
2. No one knows exactly when. Jesus will return in the Father’s appointed time. No one knows the exact day or hour (Mt.24:36. Mk.13:32. Acts 1:7. 1 Thess.5:2. 2 Pet.3:10. Acts 3:19-21). People who try to set dates or times bring discredit to the Christian faith and cause people to mock (2 Pet.3:4). We can, however, know the “times and seasons”. If we study God’s Word and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we can be aware and ready for his coming. We don’t have to be caught “off guard” like the religious leaders were at Christ’s first coming. Dogmatism and intolerance on exact details is not wise. The Scribes and Pharisees missed the first coming of Christ because it did not happen just the way they thought it would. For those who are unprepared, his coming will be like a “thief in the night” – suddenly (Mk.13:36) and unexpectedly (Mt.24:36-51; 25:1-3. Mk.13:32-37. Rev.3:3; 16:15. 2 Pet.3:10. 1 Thess.5:1-11). Therefore, we need to be spiritual awake, watching and ready.
3. The second coming completes what Jesus began at his first coming. At the cross Jesus conquered Satan, sin, sickness and death. He said, “It is finished”! However, we live in the time of the end, which involves a tension between the “now and the not yet”.
- “Already” Satan is conquered (a defeated foe), but “not yet” has his final judgement taken place. In between, he continues to try to deceive the nations and must be resisted.
- “Already” sin has been atoned for and forgiveness is freely available, but “not yet” do we see sin totally eradicated.
- “Already” sickness has been defeated but “not yet” do we see sickness and disease totally removed from the earth.
- “Already” death is defeated but “not yet” do we see death destroyed. Our bodies are all ageing and unless Jesus returns beforehand, we will all die.
The contract has been signed and paid in full but we are living in this “in between time” before what has been legally accomplished becomes a complete reality.
- There is coming a day when Satan and his demonic forces will be judged and cast into a lake of fire for eternity.
- There is coming a day when sin will be cleansed from the earth and from our lives.
- There is coming a day where sickness and pain will be no more, where suffering ceases.
- There is coming a day when death, our last enemy, will finally be destroyed.
That “day” is the second coming of Jesus Christ. So the kingdom is both present (“already”) and future (“not yet”). Until then, we stand firm and continue to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” This prayer is a request for God to reign and to manifest his love, justice and mercy in the earth. Our hope is rooted in Christ’s work of redemption that began on the cross and will be completed at his second coming.
The Bible and the End Times
There are a number of books and passages in the Bible that deal specifically with the ‘time of the end’ and the second coming of Jesus. Obviously, the book of Revelation would be the primary source of information concerning the end times. It is a fascinating apocalyptic book with much prophetic symbolism in it that makes it somewhat difficult to interpret. Over the years there have been a variety of approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation (as well as the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24). There are three broad categories of how people have interpreted this book through the centuries:
1. The Preterist (‘past’) View – this view understands the events of Revelation as having been fulfilled in large parts in the first centuries of the Christian era. In effect the book was written to comfort Christians, who suffered persecution from Rome and also from Judaism. Revelation’s fulfilment is all in the past. We don’t need to be looking for anything happening today that corresponds to its prophecies.
This view has a lot of merit. The book of Revelation was written to real people and real churches in the first century and it had specific relevance to what they were going through. It meant something to them and they would have been able to gain understanding about the times they were living in and to draw comfort and hope from it. In fact, the arguments for a direct correlation between some of the prophetic pictures in revelation and to events in the first century are quite convincing. However, in addition to this, like all biblical books, I believe that Revelation also speaks to believers in all generations and times of history. We must not limit its meaning and application to the first century. In fact, like all prophecy, there are often layers of application to people in different times and circumstances without taking away the direct significance to the first hearers.
2. The Historicist View (‘literal’) – this view sees the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history. Another variation of this view it what is referred to as a ‘Futurist View’, which argues that the events spoken about in Revelation (particularly chapters 4-22) await the end times for their historical fulfilment.
This view has some good things going for it. The first coming of Jesus historically fulfilled a whole variety of prophecies from generations earlier, and with amazing accuracy. It seems sensible to acknowledge that the same thing will happen with his second coming too. Unfortunately, the task of trying to identify contemporary events with prophecies from Revelation is fraught with danger and must be done very carefully. Otherwise, believers can be caught up in a ‘conspiracy theory’ obsession that only leads to fear and speculation and doesn’t really help anyone.
3. The Idealist View (‘figurative’ or ‘spiritual’) – this view is reluctant to pinpoint the symbolism of revelation historically with any specific social or political events. Rather it sees Revelation as setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil that continues throughout the church age. The challenge is to be faithful to Christ and expectant of a victorious future not to seek any literal or chronological interpretation.
This view also has some real merit. There is a lot of prophetic symbolism in Revelation that paints pictures of spiritual activity in the heavens that can’t be fully understand in human or historical terms. However, to limit the entire book to only spiritual matters without any direct correspondence to events on earth would seem an inadequate approach.
As you can see, each one of these views has strengths and weaknesses. I believe that proper interpretation includes the best aspects of all three views.
An Order of End Time Events
We will now look at a possible order of end time events. It is important to mention that dogmatism and intolerance on exact ‘end time’ details are not wise. The Scribes and Pharisees missed the first coming of Christ because it did not happen just the way they thought it would. Every one of us is in danger of doing the same with the second coming. Here at CityLife, we have no official ‘party line’ when it comes to end time teaching. We allow for diversity on the details of these types of matters After all, we’ll probably all be a little right and a little wrong about how it’s all going to happen. I’m sure there will be a few surprises for everyone!
Let’s look at what will likely happen before, at and after the second coming of Jesus. Of course, I encourage you can do your own reading, study and research on this important topic.
Things to occur before the second coming of Jesus Christ
Negative things to occur:
1. Increasing spiritual darkness (Is.60:1-3). Jesus told us that the last days just prior to his coming will be similar to the days of Noah and the days of Lot (Lk.17:20-37). He said that there would be great deception (Mt.24. 1 Tim.4:1) with many false prophets and false “Christ’s” appearing (Mt.24:5, 11, 23-26. 2 Thess.2:1-12. Rev.13). We are told of a great “apostasy” or “falling away” of many who are struggling to hold on to their faith in Jesus Christ (2 Thess.2:1-3. Mt.24:12. Heb.6:3-8).
2. Great Tribulation (times of ‘pressure’). There will be a time of great tribulation (Mt.24) and “terrible times” (2 Tim.3:1-7). Wars, diseases and earthquakes will increase (Mt.24:6-7. Rev.6:1-17). There will be times of intense persecution of believers for their faith (Mt.24:9-10, 21).
3. The revelation of the Antichrist. The title ‘antichrist’ refers to someone who is ‘against Christ’ or who sets themselves up ‘instead of’ or in competition with Christ. Jesus himself predicted the appearance of “false Christ’s” (Mt.24:5). There is a ‘spirit of antichrist’ at work in the world (1 Jn.4:3). The apostle John tells that there will be ‘many antichrists’ in the last day (1 Jn.2:18). There also seems to be an indication that there will be one very strong individual Antichrist (‘the’ Antichrist) who will be revealed in the last days before Jesus returns (see 2 Thess.2:1-12). The Antichrist will be revealed and will set up his kingdom for a time (Dan.2, 7, 11. Rev.13; 19:11-21). Satan knows that his time is short and in the last days he will throw everything he can against God and his work on earth.
4. God’s judgements will be revealed (Rev.14:7; 16:7). These judgements are outlined under the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls of anger to be poured out on the earth (Rev.6-16), as people reap the consequences of their decisions and actions.
Positive things to occur:
1. A worldwide outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28-32. Acts 2:17-21. James 5:7-8). This began on the day of Pentecost and will be completed in the “last days”.
2. A great spiritual harvest. Many people will become followers of Jesus and there will be a great harvest of people brought into the kingdom of God. The gospel will be preached to every nation and people saved out of every nation or “people group”, before the end comes (Mt.24:14). Revelation tells us about a multitude of people worship around the throne from ‘every tribe, language, people and nation’ (Rev.5:9). We still have more work to do here.
3. A glorious church. The church of Jesus Christ will be united (Jn.17), glorious (Eph.5:25-27) and victorious (Mt.16). The “last day” church will be greater than the first church (Acts 3:19-21). We are not there yet.
4. The fulfilment of all true prophetic words. All words spoken by the prophets will be fulfilled (Acts 3:19-21). Not one word spoken by God through his prophets will be left undone. Everything will come to pass. In fact, one reason I don’t believe Jesus will come back tonight, is because there are a number of things yet to be accomplished before he returns.
Darkness and light (Prov.4:18-19. Is.60:1-3), the mystery of lawlessness and the mystery of godliness, the weeds (tares) and the wheat are growing together as the coming of Christ draws near. The evidence of many of these “signs” is all around us today and they will increase in intensity as the return of the Lord comes closer. We live in exciting yet challenging times.
Things to occur at the second coming
1. The appearance of Jesus in glory. Jesus’ return will be with “a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thess.4:13-18). He will return in great glory, the glory of his Father (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 25:31). The angelic hosts will accompany him. Every eye will see him (Rev.1:7). John gives us a vivid picture of Jesus riding on a white horse – eyes blazing with fire, a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, his robe dipped in blood and the armies of heaven riding with him (Rev.19:11-16).
2. The resurrection of the righteous. All believers who have died “in faith” will have their bodies resurrected and will live forever with a glorified body (1 Thess.4:13-18. 1 Cor.15:51-57. Heb.9:28. Phil.3:20-21). In that sense Jesus is coming ‘with’ his saints. This refers to all of the righteous believers who have died in faith since time began – their spirits are in heaven right now but they are waiting in expectation for the resurrection and glorification of their bodies.
3. The ‘rapture’ of remaining believers. Although the word ‘rapture’ in not mentioned in the Bible, the concept is. Jesus will return for (those who are “alive and remain” and escape death) and with his saints (those who “died in faith”). In this sense, Jesus is coming ‘for’ his saints – those who are alive and remain on the earth when he returns (1 Thess.4:16-17). There is a generation that will never die. Jesus will come in their generation while they are still alive and they will be "caught up" to meet him int he air. Many have hoped to be a part of that company and we do too.
What a day that will be! It will be more dramatic, more explosive and more exciting than any movie you have ever seen. The second coming is a great source of comfort and of hope for us as believers. There is coming a time when pain, crying and suffering will be gone. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died and gone to heaven.
Things to Occur After the Second Coming
1. Judgement and reward for believers. Believers will appear before the judgement seat of Christ, which is not about salvation but about reward for the good works we have done (2 Cor.5:10).
2. Judgement of the devil. The devil will be judged and cast into a lake of fire for eternity (Rev.20:10). This judgment has been a long time coming being prophesied about in Genesis 3:15 and initially enacted by the work of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent resurrection.
3. Eternity in either heaven or hell (based on our choices in life). There will be a judgment for unbelievers, the great white throne judgement where the book of life will be opened. Those who names are not in the book of life will be cast into a lake of fire (Rev.20:11-15) where the devil and his angels are.
The godly, those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, will live forever in heaven with the Lord (Rev.21:27). Heaven will be a place like nothing we have ever experienced – more wonderful than we could ever think or imagine. God’s heart is that no one perish but that all have an opportunity to receive forgiveness and eternal life (2 Pet.3:9). Hell was made for the devil not for people. God does not wish anyone to end up in hell, that’s why he sent his Son.
Another area of debate amongst end time theologians is when the ‘millennium’ spoken about in Rev.20:1-6 will be. The ‘millennium’ is a 1000-year period where believers will rule and reign with Christ on the earth as a reward for their faithfulness. Some people believe we are in the millennium now and therefore that the second coming occurs after it (post-millennialists). Some people believe that it does not refer to a literal period of time but rather is symbolic of the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ (a-millennialists). Still others believe the second coming will occur before it (pre-millennialists). The challenge for all interpreters is that Revelation 20 is the only explicit reference of the millennium in the Bible and there is no mention of the relation of the second coming to the millennium in the actual text (whether it is before or after). Personally, I don’t think we’re in it now (you call this rest?). I tend to think it will be after the second coming but even that view has some challenges. We should not be dogmatic because there are too many unknowns.
4. The creation of a new heavens and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3:1-13. Rev.21). The end of the biblical story (Revelation 21-22) return us to a new world without sin, suffering or death, just like God originally intended (Genesis 1-2).
How should we then live?
We should live ready for Christ to come at any moment (Lk.21:34-36) but working diligently as if he may not come back in our lifetime. We should avoid extremes (over-preoccupation with a sneaky rapture vs. trying to create heaven here on earth). As Tony Campolo once said, “Any theology that does not live with a sense of the immediate return of Christ is a theology that takes the edge off the urgency of faith. But any theology that does not cause us to live as though the world will be here for thousands of years is a theology that leads us into social irresponsibility.”
1. Live with full devotion to the Lord. Be prayerful and watchful. Love him with all your heart and develop a close relationship with him. Many nominal believers will be shocked on that day (Mt.7:21-23). Don’t be caught without “oil” (Mt.25:1-13). Be spiritually awake, refusing to allow lethargy or apathy into your heart (Mk.13:32-37. Rom.13:11-12. 1 Thess.5:1-10).
2. Live your life in light of eternity. What we do in time echoes through eternity. We have only one life to life. This is not a dress rehearsal or a practice run. This is the real thing so give it all you’ve got. Use your gifts, talents and abilities for the benefit of others (Mt.25:14-30. 2 Cor.5:10-11. 1 Cor.3:1-15). We will be rewarded for faithfulness with what we have been given, not because of the gifts we received or the positions we held.
3. Live with an evangelistic edge. Make heaven’s priority yours. Be stirred to a spirit of evangelism. Build relationships, take risks, look for opportunities, share your faith and invite people to church and to Christ. Join God in his mission in the world.
Life is short, live wisely! Know God’s will, seize every opportunity and invest your time in things that count for eternity (Eph.5:15-17).
There are a variety of views within the Christian church about all of these ‘end times’ matters. With so many unknowns, it is wise to hold our own views about the future cautiously and with an open mind. Here is some recommended reading for those who’d like to dig a little deeper.
- Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998).
- Three Views on the Rapture: Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Wrath, or Post-Tribulation, edited by Craig A. Blaising (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2010).
- Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, edited by Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999).
- Four Views on Hell (Second Edition), edited by Preston Sprinkle (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2016).
- Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, edited by Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996).
- Four Views on Eternal Security, edited by J. Matthew Pinson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002).
- Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, edited by Robert N. Wilkin (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2013).
Sample Reflection Questions
- What evidences do you see of ‘end times fever’ today?
- Have your ever read the book of Revelation? How did you find it? Did you understand it? Discuss the various ways people interpret this book. What do you think about them?
- When do you think that Jesus will return? Soon? In our life time? In another generation?
- What are some things happening today that may indicate that Jesus is coming soon?
- Do you ever think about the second coming of Jesus? What do you think that day will be like?
- Do you think the church, in general, focuses too much on ‘end times’ or not enough?
- Consider the things to occur before the second coming. Do you believe Jesus may come back tonight? If so, why? If not, why?
- Reflect on eternity – heaven and hell. What do you think they will be like?
- How does your belief in the second coming affect your daily life?
The topic of the ‘end of the world’ has been one of interest to humans since time began but it has intensified in recent years.
Here is a quick overview of what has taken place from the end of New Testament times up until today:
1. Many people have speculated about the time of the second coming and the end of the world as we know it.
- Even in 100 AD there were believers who thought it was immanent.
- In the early 200s, Hippolytus of Rome predicted that Christ would come in 496 AD, working out this date from studying the book of Daniel.
- Another Syrian church leader led his people out into the desert to await the second coming – only to be disappointed when it didn’t happen.
- Another leader from northern Asian Minor predicted that Christ would come in a year’s time. His people trusted him and when the year went by they were devastated.
2. Many people speculated about the great tribulation.
- In 303 AD great persecution broke out against the church and there was speculation that the dreaded tribulation may have arrived, with the Roman Emperor Diocletian as the first beast in Revelation 13 and his Caesar Galerius as the second beast.
- When persecution ceased under Emperor Constantine in 312 AD and the church entered into a period of favourable treatment, many thought that the Millennium (1,000 years reign with Christ spoken about in Revelation 20:1-6) had arrived and that Christ’s coming was near.
3. Then just before the year 1000 AD there is evidence of more millennium and end of the world fever.
4. When the bubonic plague swept across Europe in the 1300s killing 40% of the population many people thought the end of the world was near.
5. There were many radically apocalyptic movements in the Middle Ages.
6. Many people have speculated about the Antichrist.
- Frederick the Roman Emperor who died in 1250 AD.
- Luther believed that the Catholic Pope at that time was the Antichrist. Of course the Pope at that time, Hadrian VI, thought that Luther was the Antichrist because of his attacks on the Catholic Church at that time.
- Many other individuals in history have been given this label too – from Nero to Napoleon to Hitler, from Ronald Wilson Reagan to Henry Kissinger.
7. In the 1800s …
- Many American Protestants believed that they were living in special times and that current events were hastening the coming of God’s kingdom to earth. Through people such as Jonathan Edwards and a number of great religious awakenings there was a belief that the church would rule supreme throughout the world and all evil would be suppressed ... then Jesus would come.
- Great evangelistic preacher Charles Finney said that “if the church will do her duty, the Millennium may come in this country in three years.”
- The American Civil War was the first event to burst this balloon of optimism. Factors such as immigration, urbanisation and industrialisation created numerous problems for the nation and people began to realise that the world was simply not getting better.
- A church going farmer named William Miller was convinced upon studying the Scriptures (particularly the prophecies of Daniel) that that the world would end in 1844 (25 years from when he made this prediction). Optimism filled the air as did millennial dreams. Miller and his associates began travelling everywhere preaching at camp meetings and distributing all kinds of literature. Crowds of people gather in city after city to hear sermons such as, “Are you ready to meet the Saviour?” It is estimated that more than 50,000 people believed Miller with as many as a million others who were curious and expectant. When March 21, 1994 passed and nothing happened, Miller had to confess his error and acknowledge his disappointment. But one of his followers found a verse in the OT about a tarrying time of 7 months and 10 days (Hab.2:3. Lev.25:9) so a new date was set – Oct.22, 1844. When the second date came and went, just as the first one, most of Miller’s followers were completely disillusioned, Many became bitter and Miller died in 1849 a discredited and forgotten man.
- By the end of the 1800s, events such as political corruption, international conflicts such as World War I, earthquakes, changing weather patterns, polio and flu epidemics, the rise of cults, and the sinking of the Titanic signalled worse times – not better. These events seemed to be proof to many that the end of the age was rapidly approaching.
8. After World War II (the 1900s), there was further eschatological frenzy. The world definitely wasn’t becoming a better place – two world wars, a depression, Hitler, Mussolini, holocausts and environmental crises proved that. Atomic weapons with incredible destructive power now left no safe place on earth. The USA and the Soviet Union entered the Cold War. A host of prophetic and apocalyptic literature rolled off the evangelical presses in the 1960s through to the 1980s.
- One example is Hal Lindsay whose book, The Late Great Planet Earth, became one of the best selling non-fiction books of the 1970s, selling more than 35 million copies and was translated into 50 languages. The book focused on outlining all of the signs of the times – everything from the Antichrist to the battle of Armageddon. He predicted the return of Christ in 1988 and the rapture of the church 7 years earlier. Obviously, as that date came and went, Lindsay made some changes to his predictions.
- Christian rock singer, Larry Norman, wrote a song entitled, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. This song is played several times in the movie The Thief in the Night (1972), the first in a four-part film series. It focused on all the sings of the end – a one world government, a bar code ‘mark of the beast’ and an appeal to become a Christian now.
- In America, one minister released a book in the early 1980s entitled, “88 reasons why Jesus will come back in 1988”, selling many 1000s of copies to gullible Christians. Interestingly enough, he issued a sequel the following year, “89 reasons why Jesus will come back in 1989.” I assume the extra reason was because he didn’t come back in 1988! Anyway, we haven’t heard much from him since.
- Other people have predicted dates such as 1994 and 2000 as the end of the world. Anyone remember Y2K? Well, as you can see, we’re still here!
Contemporary Culture …
Many movies made in the last few decades today make us aware of an end times –movies such as Mad Max, The Terminator, Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Matrix and The Day After Tomorrow all have some sort of apocalyptic or ‘end of the world’ theme.
One of most popular set of Christian novels is the Left Behind series created by Tim LaHaye. TIME magazine named this as one of the best selling fiction books of our times (over 65 million copies have been sold) and acknowledged its contribution to the frequent conversations emerging about the end of the world. The twelfth book in the series, The Glorious Appearing, focuses on what happens with those who are left behind after the Rapture. Tim LaHaye passed away in July of the year and the area of 90 ... leaving us all behind.
Just this week, there was an news article saying that Nostradamus (the French seer from the 1500s who wrote down many prophetic sayings) predicted that Donald Trump would win the American Presidency and the end would come soon after. Others are saying that the occurrence of three super moons this year is a sign of the end.
Yes, end time fever is alive and well!
Well, how will it all end?
See my next BLOG post "Omega: How Will It All End?"
[Much of this information has been gleaned from the Christian History magazine (Issue 61), The End – A History of the Second Coming]
John 17 is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus and it reveals what was important to him. After praying for himself (vs.1-5) and his disciples (vs.6-19), he prayed for all who would believe in him – for the church yet to born (vs.20-26). Nearest to Jesus’ heart was his concern for the unity of his followers. So how are we doing at being “united”, as Jesus prayed? The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that there were 34,000 denominations in the year 2000 rising to 43,000 in 2012. These are all “Christian” denominations, not those of other faiths or beliefs systems. All declare Jesus as Lord yet each has a distinct approach to areas such as leadership, structure, or a certain doctrine or emphasis. Some see themselves as right and others as wrong.
A Worldview Shift
Back in 1995, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about seven “strategic shifts” that the church needs to make in our time [these are outlined fully in my book Transforming Your Church]. One of the shifts is a “worldview shift” which requires us to shift from a narrow local church focus to a much broader kingdom mentality. The “kingdom” refers to God’s work in the world. It is the domain where God rules. God rules everywhere but the expression of that rule is yet to be fully revealed. That is why we continue to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The “church” is a local expression of what the kingdom is like, made up of disciples of Jesus. It is local yet also global, made up of all true followers of Jesus. We are to preach the good news of the gospel and when people respond they are born into the kingdom of God then added to the church. God’s kingdom is much bigger than any expression of the local church. God’s work in the world is way beyond our small church community, as important as we may be.
How can we work towards helping Jesus prayer for the unity of his church become a reality?
1. Be Humble, not Proud. Each local church is special and unique and we should be proud of our church. It should be the best church - for us. However, we also need to value the uniqueness of others. No ministry or local church has it all or is God’s only instrument or the only one true church. We are a part of the body of Christ, which is made up of every Christian and every church that declares Jesus Christ as Lord. Humility demands that we have a sober or balanced view of ourselves. We all need each other. The Great Commission is too big for any one of us to fulfil. We need all churches and all Christian ministries working together to achieve God’s purposes. Praise God for the huge variety and diversity of ministries he is using today. After all, it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.
2. Be Inclusive, not Exclusive. God desires us to seek to include others rather than exclude them. Christian love is expressed by an open, warm, embracing attitude toward other people, ministries and churches. We should look for common ground and not focus only on our differences (Philippians 1:15-18). God wants us connected to others, not isolated from them. God has called us to build bridges, not walls. In the Old Testament, there was only one nation of Israel, but it was made up of 12 different tribes, which were further made up of many different households and families. So it is in the church today. There are many different denominations, associations, networks and groups of churches and ministries. Each is unique and has its own distinctives, but we are all a part of the one true church. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We must avoid prejudice against other churches and ministries and watch out that we don’t develop stereotypes of other ministries based on gossip and hearsay, rather than personal experience.
3. Discern, Don’t Judge. It is sad to see the amount of people today who spend their time throwing mud at or criticising other Christian ministries, claiming that so-and-so is a false prophet or spreading heresy. Jesus does call us to discern ministries (by their fruit) but to go beyond this and place a judgment on a person is something we are strongly commanded not do. The apostles tell us to test all things, to hold on to the good, and let the bad go (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22. 1 John 4:1-3). The test is what people say about Jesus - who he is and what he has done. We should, however, place final judgement on nothing before its time (1 Corinthians 4:5. James 4:10-12). God is the true judge, and each person will stand before him (not us) and give account for all they have done. Christian love requires us to avoid a critical attitude that is quick to pull down and point out flaws in other people and their ministries (Matthew 7:1-5). We see this gracious attitude portrayed so beautifully in the advice that Gamaliel gave to the Pharisees when they were considering persecuting the early church (Acts 5:33-39). He told them that if a ministry was not of God, it would die down and come to nothing. However, if it was of God, they should leave it alone lest they be seen as fighting against God. We would be wise to take his advice today as we observe other ministries and churches.
4. Love, Don’t Hate. God has commanded us to love all people but especially other Christians who also love Jesus. We are to pray for God’s blessing on other churches and ministries. We are to rejoice when they thrive and sorrow when they struggle. We are working together for the benefit of God’s kingdom. We are not in opposition or competition with each other. We’re all on the same team. God is actually angry when we fight and hurt each other. Jesus said, “By this will all people know you are my disciples … by your love for one another” (John 13:35). God’s desire is that we come to the “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) and eventually to a “unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). The world will know we are Christians by our love for one another, and that is demonstrated by how we relate to other churches and Christian ministries.
It’s a new day. God is breaking down the walls. He is bringing his body, the church, together as a mighty force in the earth. It will take the whole church, taking the whole gospel to the whole world, to complete the Great Commission. The last prayer of Jesus that we would all be one as he and the Father are one is one prayer that will be answered. Let’s work together for its fulfilment in our time.
Reflection Discussion Questions
- Reflect on your experience with the local church. What churches have you been involved in and what have you learned from this experience?
- Consider your experience with Christians from other churches. What have you learned and what do you appreciate about different parts of the body of Christ?
- Read Mark 9:38-40. In what ways can we be like the disciples today? What does Jesus response teach us?
- What are some ways we can avoid the isolation that comes by being totally consumed with only our own church and its activities, needs or concerns?
- “Church-hopping” is a major problem today. What are some key factors a person would be wise to consider before changing churches?
- In what ways is Christian unity a tremendous “apologetic” (witness, defence or explanation) for the good news of Jesus Christ?
John 14:1-7. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” NIV
Trusting God in Troubled Times (vs.1)
Difficult days lie ahead for the disciples, filled with uncertainty and confusion. Jesus senses their fear and their worry. He challenges them to not allow their hearts to be troubled but instead to place their trust in Him, just as they trust God. Jesus himself knew what it was to be troubled (see John 12:27; 13:21) yet he takes time to offer his disciples emotional and spiritual support, teaching them the importance of shifting their focus from the fear of intense circumstances to active faith and trust in God. After all, life is not ruled by luck, fate or chance. God is sovereign in the events of this world and Providence will rule the day.
Much of our world today is ruled by fear and this often causes troubled (worried and anxious) hearts. How apt are Jesus’ words for us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” You can choose to shift your focus from fear to faith.
An Eternal Home (vs.2-4)
Jesus is going away and his disciples are naturally anxious about where he is going and whether they will be able to follow him. So Jesus speaks of his “Father’s house” and hints of a new world - heaven and earth meeting together as God renews the whole world. At that time there will be room for everyone. Through this promise, Jesus is assuring his disciples that though he’s going away, it will be for their benefit; he won't forget them, he won’t abandon them. Jesus’ words reach out his first disciples and encourage us. These words are often used at funerals and we can understand why. We can’t see the way ahead and we need to know not only that there is indeed a way into the unknown future, but that we will be able to find it.
Heaven is a reality - another world, another place, where God lives. His home and our future home too. It is a place where God’s will is done and where there is no pain, no crying, and no sickness or death. Jesus’ emphasis is not the lavishness of the house or its rooms (“a mansion over the hilltop!”) but the fact that we will be with him – together, forever.
Jesus also promises to come back and take his followers to be with him (vs.3). His second coming will complete all that his first coming began. We know that there are various promises yet to be fulfilled before Jesus returns, then many things to happen at his return and also after his return. The challenge for us today is to live expectantly and ready should he return in our lifetime, yet with the wisdom and foresight that he may not return in our generation.
I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life (vs.5-7)
Thomas often had his doubts yet we can admire him for his desire for clarity from Jesus. He always wanted to be sure. He wanted the facts. Amazingly, his question (vs.5), “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” prompted one of Jesus’ greatest statements (vs.6): “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the way to God the Father. He is the truth about the Father, being the ultimate representation of what God is like – “the Word made flesh (in human form)” (John 1:14). He is also the life of God.
As the way, Jesus does not offer us a map or a set of instructions of how to get to God. He offers us himself, as our personal guide to the Father. Through him we can come to the Father and become children of God.
As the truth, Jesus is the clearest illustration of what God is like. It is so easy to develop distortions of what God is like based on religion and the opinions of others. We need to constantly have a fresh look at Jesus, as revealed in the Gospels, to see him as he is.
As the life, Jesus is the purest example of life as God intended it to be lived. A life full of love, joy and peace. Earlier, Jesus had declared that he had come to give his followers life, and life to the full (John 10:10).
This statement by Jesus has been critiqued by some, because of its apparent exclusiveness – “No one can come to the Father but through me (vs.6).” After all, Jesus is not declaring himself as one god among many, but as the way to the true and living God. However, we must understand that Jesus did not come to exclude anyone but to include everyone. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” God is a hopeful universalist in that he desires everyone to be saved, not just a few (see also 1 Timothy 2:1-6. 2 Peter 3:8-9). However, people do have a free will, so their own choices in response to the grace of God will determine their future destiny. We have to believe that God is actively pursuing people with his love and that each person will be judged on the degree of knowledge or light they have received. In the end, God will do what is right with each person (Genesis 18:25). Our role is to pray and to reach out and join God in his mission towards each individual in the world.
- Consider the impact of fear in our culture today. What feeds fear and how does it affect us? What are the primary worries and concerns that you hear people talk about? How can we apply Jesus’ words and shift our focus from fear to faith (active trust in God)?
- Reflect on heaven. What do we know about it? How much should it fill our minds today? How can we avoid being “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good” yet also living with the realization that this world is not our ultimate home?
- Reflect on the second coming of Jesus Where is the balance between living with the readiness for Jesus to come at any moment yet also with the wisdom to keep preaching the Gospel and expanding his kingdom until that time?
- Consider the idea of the Christian life being a relationship with a Trinitarian God – Father, Son and Spirit – characterized by love. We come to the Father, through Jesus, by the Spirit.
- What are some distorted views or pictures of Jesus that we need to avoid today, that a reading of the Gospels provides a corrective for?
- Paul describes the fruit or evidence of the life of Christ in the believer as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal.5:22-25). Why are these qualities sometimes missing from the lives of Christians? What are some keys to living the life Jesus intended for us on a daily basis?
God will create a better future.
The future will be different than the past. Our ultimate hope lies in the future return of Christ and the promise that, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more mourning, crying and pain will be no more” (Revelation 21:4). Good will triumph over evil. Until then, like Job, we must persevere in the face of suffering, placing our hope in the goodness of God that promises us that, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).”
Jesus said he would return and that he would wipe all tears from our eyes. God will create a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more crying, pain or suffering (Revelation 20-21)
We need to believe in the sovereignty of God. God is in control of our lives and nothing happens to us by chance. Our lives are not subject to fate or accident. All aspects of our life, both the good and the bad, are in the hand of God, not the devil or circumstances.
We need to believe in the justice of God. If we walk in integrity, we can be sure that justice will ultimately be done in our life. Life may not be fair, but God sees everything and he is a just judge who will give to each one according to their works.
We need to teach about the goodness of God. In the midst of suffering and pain, God is at work in our lives. He is near, providing comfort, strength and hope in times of adversity.
Back to Jesus
Go back to that cross and read those words, “LIFE ISN’T FAIR … “ But wait, finish the sentence, “… BUT GOD IS GOOD!”
Amazingly, the seal was broken, the stone was rolled away and the body disappeared! Frightened disciples saw Jesus alive from the dead. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God made a way for us to be redeemed from sin and death, giving us the gift of eternal life based on repentance and faith (John 3:16. Acts 2:38. Ephesians 2:8-9).
Where is God?
He is right there with you!
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. NIV
God is a God of love.
Romans 8:35-39. Who then can ever keep Christ's love from us? When we have trouble or calamity, when we are hunted down or destroyed, is it because he doesn't love us anymore? And if we are hungry or penniless or in danger or threatened with death, has God deserted us? No, for the Scriptures tell us that for his sake we must be ready to face death at every moment of the day-we are like sheep awaiting slaughter; but despite all this, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ who loved us enough to die for us. For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels won't, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God's love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are-high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean-nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us. TLB
Every good thing comes from God. One bad thing happens and we blame God. We forget all the good things and think we deserve them. Stop blaming God. You push yourself away from the source of good and his blessings. Don’t run from him or curse him. Reach out to him and receive his care and strength.
Circumstances change (like shadows) but God doesn’t (he is light). Turn towards him and every step is in the light. Walk away and every step is in the shadows (fake, undependable and unreal). Jesus is the light (in him there is no darkness).
You may be very disappointed and very discouraged but don’t be defeated. Ask God to comfort and strengthen you during your time of difficulty. Then focus on what you do have and on what’s going well. Move from being a victim to be a victor over your circumstances. Believe in God, ask for his help, thank him for being there for you then allow God to use you to help others.
In your pain, God is there. Reach out and receive his love and strength today. He suffers with us. God suffered for you too. Jesus died so that you might have life – here and for eternity.
God can bring good out of our pain.
God can use it for a positive purpose. Adversity can bring out untapped depths of character and faith.
Beethoven was at his zenith, a well-known, respected, loved composer in Vienna. Then, tragedy of tragedies, his hearing began to go. A degenerative disease destroyed his hearing until he was totally deaf. He could not hear a sound. Unfair? Of course! Of all people to be denied hearing, Beethoven should have been the last. It was a loss for humanity. He left the music world of Vienna and it seemed as if he would never again be able to produce or create glorious music. He retreated to a monastery where he could be alone with his private pain.
But while he was there, God spoke to him. He gave him music that Beethoven alone could hear in is mind. The music was glorious. Writing furiously, Beethoven’s brilliant talent translated silent sounds to marks on paper that could be read and performed by musicians. The results were phenomenal. His Ninth Symphony finally emerged and he stood silently next to the conductor in the beautiful hall of Vienna with the audience seated behind him.
The audience leaped to its feet in thunderous applause. Because Beethoven could not hear the applause, the conductor turned him to face the adulation of the audience. It was a spectacular moment in music history. Even today we still sing, “Joyful, joyful …” Who would of thought that anyone was capable of creating his best music after losing his hearing?
Victor Frankl was a world renowned psychiatrist. He was living in Vienna when Hitler began his persecution of the Jews. He was a young doctor at the time. His parents – fearful and anguished – were thrilled to see their son received an invitation to go to America to work. This was his chance to escape the horror on the horizon.
“I was ecstatic,” Victor said. “I was already in danger. I was forced to wear the Jewish star exposed like a name tag on a chain- on my chest – for all to see at all times – that I was a Jew. And Jews could not leave the country unless they had a very good reason to emigrate. Armed with my American letter, I walked into the emigration office. As I approached the window, I held my briefcase over my chest – covering my stigmatic sign. I handed the letter to the official and walked out of there with official documents allowing me to leave the country for the freedom and safety of America.
“As I walked back to my office I began to have mixed feelings. Should I abandon my father and mother? Could I – should I – leave them behind? My heart prayed for guidance. When I reached my office, I sat, troubled, behind my desk. ‘What’s this?’ I said noticing a broken piece of marble someone had placed in the middle of my desk.
“Just then a colleague came in. ‘Look what I found, Dr. Frankl.’ He pointed to the marble in my hand. ‘I thought you’d like it’, he said, explaining, ‘I was past the bombed out synagogue and saw this piece. It’s the complete capital letter from one of the Ten Commandments! A sign of hope!
“I asked him which commandment it was from. I’ll never forget his reply. His answer was God’s answer to my prayer for guidance. He said, ‘Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12).’
“I knew then that whatever the cost, I would not go to America. I tore up my ticket to freedom. I would stay. Yes, I was captured and sent to a concentration camp. But there I found meaning! And I have survived and lived long!” He was approaching his eightieth birthday. Who knows what would have happened if he had gone to America.
Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to those who love God …”
Joseph said, “… You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).” His jealous brothers sold him as a slave into Egypt. But in Egypt, a prisoner in a foreign and hostile land, he the won the favour of the Pharoah and rose to the most powerful position in that nation. Years later his brothers came to Egypt from their famine-ridden country hopefully to buy grain from this unfriendly, but prosperous government. Imagine their shock when the person they had to deal with was their long-lost brother who they had tried to destroy!
Joseph looked into their eyes and said those powerful words, “You meant it for evil – But God meant it for good.” He was really saying, “I’ve leaned through all these years, Life’s not fair. My brothers didn’t treat me fairly, but God is good!”
Not all stories of pain and suffering have such a happy ending. Sometimes in this life, we never see the purpose. Sometimes death itself is a relief from pain.
God uses suffering for our good (Rom.8:28. Phil.1:29; 3:10. 1 Peter 2:21, Acts 14:22. 1 Peter 1:6-11; 4:12-13; 5:10. Hebrews 6:15, 12:2-3, James 5:10-11, Job 23:10-14, 42:5).
God is more interested in the “inner” person. He wants to transform us.
When we suffer, how will we respond?
- With fear and retreat, running from it?
- With despair and defeat?
- With hardness and unfeeling?
- With brave belief that somehow there will be some sense to it in time?
God is also just.
Belief in God’s sovereignty alone is not enough to get Job through his terrible suffering. Job also believes that God is just. God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.
This is the belief of double retribution, which according to Harley, declares that “the righteous are always blessed and the wicked experience untold hardship, leading to premature death”. However, daily experience is often not in harmony with this belief. The wicked may seem to prosper and the righteous may seem to be cursed. Job’s current situation is definitely a vivid example of this kind of contradiction. This is the cause of his lament.
Job struggles with the unfairness of his situation and the seeming lack of justice that life brings (Job 21:19-34; 24:1-12). Job acknowledges that God’s justice is enacted in His own good time (Job 24:1, 21-24), but he wishes it would be sooner for him. He believes that if he walks in integrity (Job 27:5-6; 31:6), ultimately, justice will be done and he will be vindicated. Life may not be fair and evil may seem to triumph momentarily, but in the long term, justice will prevail.
When life brings along contradictions or injustices, we can rely on the justice of God. God is just and he will vindicate the righteous and punish the wicked. Serving God and walking in integrity is not only right, it guarantees the ultimate blessing of God.
God cares about our pain.
God identifies with our pain, He delivers from pain and He strengthens us during pain. What we do know is that God has suffered with us and for us in Christ. He entered our world of sin and pain and in doing so, identified with us.
Suffering and pain continue to be part of this life and impact the very core of our being. However, God is active in our lives, providing comfort, strength and hope in our times of distress.
Isaiah 49:13. Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. NIV
2 Corinthians 1:3-7. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. NIV
Hebrews 4:14-16. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. NIV
We can call to him, knowing that he will sustain us through every valley experience (Ps 23:4). Like Job, if we put our faith in the sovereignty, justice and goodness of God, we will find that God’s grace is more than enough to carry us through (2 Cor.12:9).
God did not create the world “bad”.
God did not create the world the way it is today. When the world was created it was “good” (Gen.1-2). There was no pain or suffering. It was a paradise. But man rebelled against God’s commands and sin came into the world. We now live in a damaged, fallen and sinful world where things are not as they should be. Evil, injustice and wickedness are very much alive. This is a fact of life and not to be confused with the acts of God.
Can we blame God for all the evil in the world? Did He create it? Is He the cause of it? And if not, why does He allow it to happen? Why doesn’t He stop it? God created us with a free will – the ability to choose to do good or evil. Unfortunately, sometimes people do make bad choices and the result is unfair to us, but in spite of this unfairness, God is still good. Much pain and suffering is caused by the bad choices that people make.
Yes, God is sovereign and ultimately able to overrule anything. Job saw that ultimately it was God who had “taken away” (Job.1:21) and he simply placed his trust in God. He saw his human enemies and the forces of nature as secondary and subordinate to the sovereign God who was ultimately responsible.
Job believed that his life was under the sovereign rule of God and that nothing happened to him by accident, fate or chance. His controlled response exemplifies a strong faith in the midst of crisis.
Job’s surrender to God’s will is exemplary, especially considering he has done nothing wrong or at least bad enough to deserve what is happening to him. Instead of cursing God, Job praised Him! Job sees that God is to be blessed, not just for giving blessings, but for who He is as God. He praised God’s name in sorrow as well as blessing and looked to Him as the source of his help and strength. In all this, Job did not charge God with wrong – any unseemly or vengeful act; an action contrary to his holy name (Job 1:22).
Such a mature response requires a belief system that has allowed for the possibility of tragedy, well before it actually happened. Job lived a life of total surrender to the sovereignty of God, not in passive fatalism, but in active trust.
Job believes that it is equally right for God to send “good” or “evil”. The Hebrew meaning of the word “evil” is anything “bad”, not “wicked”. Job’s faith is strong enough to accept the good and the bad from the hand of God. He knows that he must express his trust in God, regardless of the circumstances he experiences.
Job’s response is not just some “passionless rationality”. Job made a decision to co-operate with God rather than just passively submit to what had happened. The verb “accept” describes a positive participation in what God decrees, not just passive reception. Anderson says, this is “active word, implying co-operation with Providence, not mere submission”. Job is totally submitted to God for good or bad.
There is no doubt that, through this entire series of events, Job sees what has happened to him as the sovereign work of God (Job 3:23; 6:4,8-9; 9:12-13; 10:2; 12:9-25; 16:11; 19:6, 21-22; 23:13-16; 27:2). Job’s beliefs, as in monotheism, see God as ultimately responsible for all that happens in life. The Old Testament confirms that both good and evil can come from the same hand of God (Isaiah 45:7; 41:23. Zephaniah 1:12. Jeremiah 18:7-10).
Job realizes that at times the wicked prosper and the righteous are not blessed (Job 21:7-34). Unlike Job, his friends have no theology for bad things happening to good people. They have a simple formula of sowing and immediate reaping, with no allowance for delay or momentary contradictions.
From the story of Job, we learn that trouble and punishment are not merely punishment for sin; for God’s people they may serve as a trial or as a discipline that culminates in spiritual gain (Job 5:17; Deuteronomy 8:5; 2 Sam7:14; Ps 94:12; Proverbs 3:11-12. 1 Corinthians 11:32. Hebrews 12:5-11).
Ultimately, God is in control of our lives. Nothing happens to us by accident or chance. Nothing happens to us without God being aware of it and allowing it to happen. Our lives are not subject to fate but are in the hand of God and His design for our lives, whether that includes things good or bad. A strong belief in God’s sovereignty helps us endure during times of calamity.
There are many examples of suffering and pain:
- Moral evil relates to choices that people make that end up hurting others. This includes things such as violence, abuse and war – all which cause much pain – and the slaughter of innocent people, such as occurred in the Holocaust. At the office, it could be that you've been working hard but your friend gets a promotion and you get laid off. In the family, it could be a divorce, abuse, conflict or a painful argument.
- Natural evil are catastrophes and includes things such as injury and suffering caused by disease, accidents, earthquakes, fires and floods. Also, famine, tornadoes, tidal waves, natural disasters or freaks of nature (referred to as “acts of God” in most insurance policies). Isn't it interesting how we tend to ascribe the good things in life to ourselves (we deserve it or we’ve worked hard or we’re smart) but when bad things happen we tend to blame God.
In every area of life, there is unfairness.
Think of what goes on in an obstetrician doctor’s office: there are women who don't want to be pregnant but are, women desperately wanting children but struggling with fertility problems, and women who miscarry (life is gone and hope is dashed). Ask the doctor and they’ll tell you, “It’s not fair!”
Where is God?
- Where is God when children die of hunger in a world of abundance?
- Where is God when a young mother suffers a slow, very painful death from cancer.
- Where is God when an earthquake kills thousands of people?
- Where is God when millions of people are killed by a dictator?
Life is not fair. Each person has their own story - things that have happened to us, that have caused pain and hurt. It doesn’t seem fair.
The Bible also contains many examples of innocent suffering: Abel was killed by his brother Cain, Joseph sold as a slave by his brothers, innocent babies were killed and Moses was rescued, Job who was a good man who lost almost everything in a graphic example of innocent suffering, and Jesus who lived a perfect life loving and serving people but ended up being crucified as a common criminal – between two authentic criminals. It was horrible and humiliating, from the time they drove the nails through his hands until he breathed his last breath seven agonizing hours later. People jeered him, “He saved others but he can’t save himself (Mt.27:42)!” They jabbed him. A soldier plunged a sword into his side. He was a good man. He didn’t deserve this. Write this on his cross in big bold letters: LIFE ISN’T FAIR!
Yes, Life is not Fair .... This is a fact of life. But don’t confuse life with God.
God is good!
Can this really be true? If life is not fair, then how can God be good? If God is “all-powerful” and “loving”, why do such terrible things still happen? Why doesn’t he do something about this?
This is what helped Job through his terrible time of suffering. He believed in the goodness of God and that even the negative things would work out for ultimate good. He believed, from his experience with God, that God is personal, approachable and for him.
Job grappled intensely with this belief about God’s goodness and, in the face of such terrible disaster, found it hard to explain the contradiction between his belief and his life experience. At times, Job questioned the goodness of God because he felt God had become his enemy who seemed to be very angry with him (Job 19:6-7). Yet beneath it all, there was a conviction that God’s anger would pass and good would be done to him. This gave him the hope to persevere and to continue to call out to God to act in mercy on his behalf.
Job saw God as the creator who looks after and cares for his creation. Job believed that God will help him overcome life’s adversities. Out of the depths of despair, Job often rose in faith to declare with confidence his belief in God’s goodness. He believed that his present experience with God’s anger was transitory and that in the end he would encounter God’s justice, goodness and mercy. This was the foundation of his ongoing hope and trust in God.
Although Job experienced extreme mood swings and intense negative emotions which at times stretched him to the limit, his fundamental beliefs about the nature and character of God helped him to persevere. The apostle James commends Job for patient endurance during his times of intense pain and suffering.
James 5:11. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. NIV
In times of tragedy and suffering, we too, can depend on the goodness of God (Exodus 33:19. Psalm 33:5. Romans 2:4). When we love him, we can be assured that he will work all things together for our ultimate good, even the negative experiences of life (Romans 8:28).
Don’t believe that when life is unfair, God is bad.
The question of pain and suffering is one of the most difficult issues to address of any area of human life. At some point in our life journey, we ask, “If God is good, then why does he allow such terrible suffering and pain to exist?”
Despite many attempts throughout the centuries, there are no adequate answers to this question. Evil continues to exist in our world and “all our reflections on providence and evil remain broken and incomplete (Migliore).”
There is also a real danger of merely giving trite or simplistic answers, but the truth is that there are no simple answers. However, we can find some light to guide us in our journey.
Life is not fair!
This poem explains it well ...
I went to a party Mum, I remember what you said,
You told me not to drink Mum, so I drank soda instead.
I really felt proud inside Mum, the way you said I would,
I didn’t drink and drive Mum, even though the others said I should.
I know I did the right thing Mum, I know you are always right,
Now the party is finally ending Mum, as everyone is driving out of sight.
As I got into my car Mum, I knew I’d get home in one piece,
Because of the way you raised me, so responsible and sweet.
I started to drive away Mum, but as I pulled out into the road,
The other car didn’t see me Mum, and hit me like a load.
As I laid there on the pavement Mum, I hear police say,
The other guy is drunk Mum, and now I’m the one who will pay.
I’m lying here dying Mum, I wish you’d get here soon,
How can this happen to me Mum, my life just burst like a balloon.
There’s blood all around me Mum, and most of it is mine,
I hear the medics say Mum, I’ll die in a short time.
I just wanted to tell you Mum, I swear I didn’t drink,
It was the others Mum, the others didn’t think.
He was probably at the same party as I, the only difference is he drank and I will die.
Why do people drink Mum, it can ruin your whole life,
I’m feeling sharp pains now, pains just like a knife.
The guy who hit me is walking Mum, and I don’t think its fair,
I am lying here dying and all he could do is stare.
Tell my brother not to cry Mum, tell Daddy to be brave and when I go to heaven Mum, put flowers on my grave.
Someone should have told him Mum, not to drink and drive,
If only they had told him Mum, I would still be alive.
My breath is getting shorter Mum, I’m becoming very scared
Please do not cry for me Mum, when I needed you, you were always there
I have one last question Mum, before I say goodbye,
I didn’t drink and drive, so why am I the one to die?
[Source: Sermon by Lawrence Khong from Singapore]
Life is not fair!
Everyone has said, “It’s just not fair!” True. Injustices abound. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. We live in a world of much pain, suffering and evil. Innocent people often suffer (“suffering” = affliction, trial, testing, distress, pain, injury, loss, misfortune, calamity, evil). Into every life some rain will fall – it rains on the good and the bad.
Let's reflect on the mystery of healing today.
There is a close connection between love, forgiveness, healing and peace.
God revives the humble and contrite … leading them to comfort.
Only five of Jesus' healing events in the Gospels involve people dying. The main stories are for the blind, deaf, dumb, paralysed and possessed.
In many ways, these can be metaphors for common experiences of life - spiritual blindness, deafness, dumbness, paralysis, and deadness.
- Blind > can't see; darkness; no vision.
- Deaf > can't hear; silence; no revelation.
- Dumb > can't speak; muted; muzzled; no voice.
- Paralysed > can't move; frozen; stuck in a moment.
Do you need God's healing today?
God doesn't change past events but he can heal the memory of them. Don't submerge yourself in the past event, becoming trapped in continual replay. Instead, detach yourself from it and talk to Jesus about your feelings, then and now. Open up to his healing touch.
Scriptures to Meditate On
Exodus 15:26. I am the Lord who heals you.
Psalm 103:1-5. Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 147:3. The Lord heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.
Luke 4:18-19. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord ’s favor has come.
See also Healing Today
Most followers of Christ understand the need to pursue truth and avoid error. Some take it upon themselves to find error and point it out to others. Most churches I know have a statement of faith and their teaching teams speak from this foundation. They believe that the Bible is inspired by God and is authoritative in matters of belief and practice.
From time to time, I noticed that one of our teaching team may quote someone in a message and it raises questions from a listener or congregation member. This can lead to some interesting conversations. In one such recent dialogue, I raised three questions:
1. "If a person quotes someone else, does that mean that they endorse everything else that person has said?"
2. "If you disagree with a person in one area, does that mean that everything else they say is invalid or not worth listening to?”
3. “Are you comfortable being in a church where diversity of belief around various debatable theological matters is okay?”
A few brief comments about these questions:
Question 1 - "If a person quotes someone else, does that mean that they endorse everything else that person has said?"
The logical answer is ‘no’. The apostle Paul quoted Cretan poets in his letter to Titus (Titus 1:12) and Greek philosophers in his speech at Athens (Acts 17:28). By doing so, he was not endorsing everything else they said or believed. In addition, he did not feel the need to pause and say, "By the way, let me tell you everything about this person that I disagree with." He used these quotes because they were true and because he believed that they would assist him in connecting with his audience and building his message, which was always aimed at lifting up Jesus and promoting the good news he had come to bring.
For some people, however, it seems that the answer to this question is ‘yes’. They go down rabbit holes to discover everything the person quoted believes or has said and then by abstraction declare that the speaker has promoted error. It’s actually not a logical argument.
Paradoxically, in a recent conversation with a person, they quoted a statement by John MacArthur to me. I paused and then asked them whether they knew that MacArthur ran a conference last year called "Strange Fire" in which he stated that the charismatic movement was demonic. I asked the person whether by quoting MacArthur they were supporting this anti-Pentecostal sentiment. Silence. No answer.
Question 2 - "If you disagree with a person in one area, does that mean that everything else they say is invalid or not worth listening to?”
The logical answer is ‘no’. For example, the best selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is one of the best life management books ever written. Yet some people have told me we shouldn't read it because the author, Stephen Covey, was a Mormon. If your math teacher wasn't a Christian, could you not learn something from them? Another example: People such as Billy Graham and Bill Hybels are not Pentecostal like I am, but I have gleaned so much from them as followers of Christ. In fact, when I chaired the Willow Creek Association here in Australia for 5 years, I was always amazed at how few Pentecostal church leaders would come and hear from Bill Hybels. He has one of the most outstanding leadership and evangelistic gifts in our generation.
Unfortunately, some people believe that if they disagree with someone in one area, his or her entire life/teaching is not worth engaging with. I find this very sad.
An analogy I have used for years is that listening to sermons or lectures or reading a book is a bit like eating fish. You eat the fish but spit out the bones in the process. Very few things you hear are pure fillet. Just don't throw out the entire fish!
Question 3 - “Are you comfortable being in a church where diversity of belief around various debatable theological matters is okay?”
For me, the answer is ‘yes’. We have a clear set of beliefs but we allow diversity around a whole range of issues, mostly matters of biblical interpretation. However, for some people, this is not something they are comfortable with. They are looking for clear 'black and white' answers and strong promotion from the pulpit on a whole range of theological issues.
For instance, in our ORIGINS series a few years ago, we talked about creation. The author of Genesis clearly tells us 'who' created the world and 'why'. They do not tell us 'when' or 'how' the world was created. That was not their intent. When it comes to these last two questions, there are a variety of views in the Christian church today, including young earth creationism, old earth creationism and theistic evolution (see my BLOG post on Creation). I believe that God created the world but we don't have an official stance on how old the earth is. We are comfortable with this diversity and see it as a strength.
When it came to disputable matters, such as eating meat, Paul did not seek to create 'meat-eating churches' and 'non-meat eating churches'. He urged people to form their own convictions then learn to live peacefully and respectfully with others who differ. We seek to do the same. Obviously, not everyone finds that comfortable.
Let me pull this post together with a final example. There are different views of the meaning of the 'atonement' and the work that Jesus did on the cross (see my BLOG post on Why Did Jesus Die?). 'Substitutionary atonement' is one such common view. It suggests that God is angry because of the world's sin but he chose to take his anger out on his Son, killing him instead of us. No doubt, there is truth in this but this view, pushed to an extreme, can make God out to be some sort of 'cosmic child abuser', which is not a true representation of the heart and character of God. A variety of theologians are thinking and writing about this, so in my recommended reading list, I suggested a few books. Firstly, The Nature of Atonement: Four Views by editors James Beilby and Paul Eddy, and then A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight. I also included the book Stricken by God: Non-Violent Identification and the Victory of Christ edited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin. This latter book is a compilation of articles by a wide range of authors speaking into this important debate. By doing so, I am not promoting everything every author included in this book has ever said or believes. For instance, Marcus Borg, who died recently, was a liberal theologian who did not believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus. I do believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus and therefore I would disagree with him on that issue. Hopefully, most people would know this because we talk about the resurrection of Jesus regularly in our messages. So, I am not, by some sort of abstraction, promoting disbelief in the resurrection by including this book on the reading list. However, I am saying that if you want to have a good think about the different views of the atonement, taking these perspectives into consideration is part of a robust process of study and reflection. That's all. Every serious theological student would understand the need for this.
Yes, let's be like the people of Berea who checked out what Paul was saying with the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). But let's avoid moving from discernment to judgment (see my BLOG posts on Heretic Hunting and Discern Don't Judge). Let's not become 'theological police' or 'heretic hunters'! Remember, we all "know in part" (see my BLOG post on The Joy of Not Knowing it All). None of us knows everything, so we need to always have an attitude of humility that is open to learn, even from our critics and/or those who see things differently than we do. Our teaching team welcomes feedback and are always happy to answer any questions or clarify any misunderstandings. We want to continue to grow in our ability to communicate God's truth in a way that changes lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
My dad used to say, "We can be right in our doctrine and wrong in our attitude and we are wrong." Love, how we treat people, is of utmost importance (1 Corinthians 13).
P.S. For further reading, check out Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology where author Gregory Boyd shows the range of Christian beliefs (each believing they have the correct interpretation!) on matters such as: inspiration, providence, foreknowledge, creation, the divine image, atonement, salvation, sanctification, eternal security, the destiny of the un-evangelised, the Lord's Supper, baptism, charismatic gifts, women in ministry, the millennium and hell.
Matthew tells us the story like this:
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. Dont be afraid! he said. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isnt here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you. [Matthew 28:1-7. NLT]
The Christian story is founded on an empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the tomb was not empty, then the Christian movement would have been snuffed out just by someone going and getting the body of Jesus.
There are four main theories to explain how the tomb became empty.
1. Firstly, maybe the Jewish or Roman authorities stole Jesus’ body, and the disciples mistakenly assumed he had been raised, inventing stories of appearances afterwards. The reason that this is so clearly wrong is that the authorities were trying to stop the Christian movement from growing, and if they had stolen his body they would simply have produced it.
2. Secondly, maybe Jesus did not really die, but fell into some sort of unconscious state, then revived in the tomb, and moved the stone himself. This is even more ridiculous, if you know anything about Roman crucifixion. Soldiers executed hundreds of people a year, they knew exactly what they were doing, and one could survive it, far less roll away a two-ton stone and then take out two guards.
3. Thirdly, maybe the disciples stole the body and then imagined or pretended they had seen him alive afterwards. But consider the high improbability of multiple near-identical hallucinations that would have been needed and the fact that many of the witnesses were tortured and killed for their proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection, which you would be unlikely to undergo if you had made it up.
4. This only leaves option four – that God really did raise Jesus from the dead.
From the earliest days until now, the resurrection has been central to Christian belief and practice. In fact, it is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and its strongest evidence (1 Cor.15:14).
Let's worship the risen Christ today - Jesus, Lord of all and soon coming King.
P.S. For some excellent detailed evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I recommend these two books:
* The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright
Christmas is barely over and now it’s time to talk about Easter. No wonder little children get confused. Did you hear about the little boy who said to his mother, “Jesus has just been born and now you’re telling me He’s died!"
Over this Easter weekend, millions of Christians will reflect on what Jesus Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection over 2,000 years ago. These are believed to be 3 days that changed the world.
Good Friday – a day reflecting on the cruel death Jesus went through.
Resurrection Sunday – a day of joy and hope because Jesus is alive.
Saturday – a day between the suffering and the joy … waiting.
Different Christian traditions and individual Christians tend to lean towards one of these days. Yet, ALL three of these days are part of the Christian story … and of the journey that is our lives.
Today let’s reflect on the death of Jesus and look at the important question: “Why did Jesus die?” The death of Jesus Christ (“Christ crucified”) is part of the eternal purposes of God. It is central to our faith. No cross - no Christianity. We will never exhaust the many ways of articulating its meaning for our salvation.
The Power and Limits of a Metaphor
In answering a question or describing something or someone, we often use metaphors (or images or example). We say, “It’s like …” or “He is like …” I have been married to Nicole now for 29 years this coming June. What is she like? How would I describe her? I would say she is fun (never a dull moment in our family), an animal lover (any animal), and a very authentic person (she can be refreshingly or disarmingly honest!). Each of these illustrations is true, but none of them are adequate and even all of them together don’t tell the full story of who Nicole really is. There is so much more. Also, each of them can be pushed too far and become a distortion. She is fun but can also be serious. She is authentic, but more so when she is in an environment where she feels safe.
In a similar way, there are many models and metaphors for answering the important question, "Why did Jesus die?" Some scholars list as many as 10 different images and metaphors – all sharing a way in which humans beings can experience the saving power of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. No interpretation of the atonement is the only authentic one because no one metaphor can exhaust the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion. Even the New Testament presents multiple images to explain its meaning. As we are going to see, there was a lot going on the day Jesus died on that cross. It was much more than a physical death. Things of eternal consequence were taking place. There is a depth and richness to the meaning of Jesus’ death.
Let’s look at a number of ways Christians throughout the centuries answered this question.
1. Sacrifice. Jesus described his own pending death as a "sacrifice" (Mark 14:22-25). We have all sinned and disobeyed God's law. The penalty of sin is death and as a holy God, He must uphold justice. Yet God is also loving and so sends His Son to pay our debt. Jesus took our place as our substitute. His death was the final sacrifice for sin and now God offers us forgiveness, righteousness, and reconciliation as a free gift (see Rom.5:6-10; 8:32. Eph.5:2).
2. Ransom. Jesus also described the giving of his life as a "ransom" (Mark 10:45). Through sin, Adam and Eve turned the dominion of this world over to Satan and his forces of darkness. Jesus' death was the price paid to redeem the world from the enemy's power, from captivity to sin, and from the kingdom of darkness. Jesus is the victor over sin, death and the devil (see also Col.2:14-15. Heb.2:14-15. 1 John 3:8). His kingdom is now being established on earth. [C.S. Lewis built his Chronicles of Narnia story around this concept with Aslan's death being a ransom given in order to defeat the wicked witch and her spell over Narnia]
3. Example. Jesus' called his followers to "take up your cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34-35). His death was also an example of self-sacrificing love, showing us how to live. Jesus did not respond to violence with violence but chose not to retaliate. It was a non-violent protest against evil. His way of living is an inspiration to us and an example for us to follow (see Phil.2:3-11).
These are three of the many available "atonement theories" (atonement being a 12th century Middle English word meaning to bring at one that which was separated). Pushing the Example metaphor (sometimes called the Moral Influence theory) too far fails to deal seriously with sin and can lead to salvation through self-effort. Pushing the Ransom metaphor (sometimes called the Christus Victor theory) too far can result in glorifying Satan and giving him too much power, as one who God needs to appease. Pushing the Sacrifice metaphor (often called the Penal Substitution Theory) too far can result in a barbaric view of God as a cosmic child abuser - an angry Father being appeased by a loving Son. The truth is that God is both holy and loving, and the Son was God in human form willing offering his life for us.
An adjective or a metaphor is not the thing. It is just an image, a window or a lens to help us look at the thing. It takes us there but it is not there. No atonement theory can ever exhaust the depths and richness of what God was doing the day Jesus died.
Most importantly, how will we respond? Many people saw Jesus die that day - the disciples, the crowds, the religious leaders and the Roman officials. One unnamed man, a Roman centurion, was right there. Mark tells us this: "When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, This man truly was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39)
As a centurion, he would have seen many people die, having possibly put to death dozens, maybe hundreds, of people himself. These officials were known to be hard and brutal. He had seen others die - maybe cursing or screaming, or pouring out venom. Then he saw Jesus die. Something was different here. This was no ordinary man. He became the first person after the death of Jesus to declare, "This man (not Caesar!) truly was the Son of God!" Remarkable!
How will you respond? As you see Jesus as a sacrifice for sin, may you respond by declaring Him your Saviour. As you see Jesus as a ransom and victor over all, may you respond by declaring Him as your Lord. As you see Jesus as our example, may He become the Teacher who you follow. Jesus' death is God reaching out to us. May you reach back to him in faith and trust today.
To read more about various atonement theories, check out:
* The Nature of Atonement: Four Views. Edited by James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy
* A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight
* Stricken by God? Non-Violent Identification and the Victory of Christ. Edited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin
Easter is here again and with it a holiday weekend, chocolate eggs and enough shopping sales to tempt any credit-card carrying buyer. What’s it really all about? All around the world, around two billion Christians will take time this weekend to reflect on and give thanks for the work that Jesus Christ accomplished through his death, burial and resurrection. That’s the real meaning of Easter. Followers of Christ believe that Jesus is ALIVE!
The Living Jesus
In his excellent book The Living Jesus, New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson notes that whether a person is dead or alive really matters – not only to the person but also to other people relating to that person. If someone is dead, you can still learn about them and their influence may continue to live on but their life is complete. There are no new actions being done or new words being spoken, only echoes from the past. We can talk about who they “were” but no longer who they “are”. However, when someone is alive, the situation is completely different. New data is coming in. We can have a conversation with them and as a result our knowledge of them grows and changes.
The most important question concerning Jesus is this: “Do you think he is dead or alive?”
If Jesus is dead, then there are a number of ways we can relate to his life and accomplishments. We can study the “historical Jesus” and learn about him but we cannot learn from him anymore. If Jesus is alive, however, everything changes. We are not just relating to a memory but to a living person who we can continue to learn from.
There is no middle ground between dead and alive. If Jesus is dead, his story is completed. If he is alive, then his story continues. To be a Christian means to assert that Jesus is alive. Christian faith begins with the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:14). To pray to Jesus is to address a real, living person who is capable of answering us and manifesting his presence. To declare “Jesus is Lord” is not only a statement of belief in a certain reality but a declaration of how we live our lives in relation to the living Jesus (Romans 10:9).
Evidence for the Resurrection
Critics of Christianity try to explain away the resurrection of Jesus as mere myth. Some say Jesus never really died, suggested he merely fainted then later revived in the tomb (the swoon theory). This is highly unlikely, as nobody survived death by crucifixion and the Roman soldiers declared Jesus dead. Even if he did, imagine the condition Jesus would have been in – one that would have attracted pity from his disciples not faith to launch a worldwide movement.
Evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is found in the empty tomb (Jesus’ enemies would have loved to have produced a body if they could) and the numerous post-resurrection appearances to his disciples (to over 500 people who were still alive at the time of their testimony – see 1 Corinthians 15:1-3). Sir Lionel Luckhoo, the most successful attorney of all time, said this after investigating the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ: "I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt."
The best explanation of the rapidly growing Christian movement is the resurrection of Jesus. How else could a small group of marginal people grow with such power and impact as to eventually overcome the might of the Roman Empire without something supernatural bringing about transformation to their personal lives? A living Jesus is the most sensible explanation.
Experiencing Jesus Today
Where can Jesus be known and experienced today? There are a number of ways:
- The Scriptures, especially the New Testament writings, speak to us about the person of Jesus, revealing his values, priorities and mission. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The written Word reveals the Living Word to us.
- The Holy Spirit can choose to reveal Jesus to any person seeking Him. No one can say that “Jesus is Lord” without the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Ask the Holy Spirit to show Jesus to you.
- Jesus himself said that he would be uniquely present amongst the community of believers (Matthew 18:20). The church is the body of the risen Jesus. As we gather, Jesus is there in unique and profound ways. Jesus is manifest in the church at worship, in prayer, and through the sacraments of communion and baptism.
- We can see and encounter Jesus in the lives of those who have been changed by His presence and power. Followers of Jesus become his “letter”, to be read by all people (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). There is no greater witness to the reality of Jesus than a transformed life.
- When we minister to the “little ones” (Mark 9:36-37), the poor, the needy (Mark 9:41) and the outcast in Jesus’ name, He says we are ministering to Him (Matthew 25:40, 42). We can find and experience Jesus in the ones we serve in love.
One of Jesus’ last promises was that he would be “with us” until the end when he returns (Matthew 28:20). Jesus is Emmanuel = “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). We don’t lack his presence. What we need is a greater awareness of his presence. Right here, right now, whether we feel like it or not, Jesus is present. He is alive – the Living One – who was and is and is to come!
- Think about the first time you heard about Jesus. What were your thoughts, feelings or impressions about him?
- Compare your relationships with two family members OR two influential people in your life – one who has passed away and one who is still alive. How are these relationships different?
- When did Jesus first seem real or alive to you?
- The apostle Paul tells us that we are all “called to be saints” (Romans 1:7. 1Corinthians 1:2), which means to be transformed into the image or likeness of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). In doing so, we become examples for other people to imitate and we literally can show Jesus to them. Think about some people in your life who you saw Jesus in. In other words, their life was a display of the living Jesus at work.
- Saul learned that in persecuting followers of Christ he was persecuting Jesus (read Acts 9:3-6). Jesus tells us that in serving those in need, we are serving him. Consider the reality of the fact that we encounter the living Jesus in other people.
- Read Matthew 28:20 slowly. In what ways can we live our lives with a greater awareness and faith in the living Jesus? How can we do life with him each day?
Yesterday was Remembrance Day here in Australia and we took time to remember those who have given their lives at war for our freedom. Ultimately, Jesus is the greatest hero as he gave his life willingly not only for our freedom but also for our salvation. That's why we take time regularly in church communities all over the world to remember his death and his sacrifice.
The Lord's Supper, or "communion" is one of the sacraments given by Jesus to his followers (another being water baptism). A "sacrament", in the Christian Church, is a ceremony regarded as imparting spiritual grace. A rite believed to be the means of, or visible form of, grace.
It's more than just an empty form or ritual. Pentecostal theologians Duffield and Van Cleave write: The elements, when received by faith, mediate to the believer the spiritual benefits of Christ’s death. The elements in themselves are only tokens, but when received by faith, real communion with the Lord is experienced and the benefits of that communion may be mediated.
Richard Rohr writes: The [Lord’s Supper] is telling us that God is the food and we have to provide the hunger. Somehow we have to make sure that each day we are hungry, that there’s room inside of us for another Presence. If you are filled with your own opinions, ideas, righteousness, superiority, or sufficiency, you are a world unto yourself and there is no room for “another.” Despite all our attempts to define who is worthy and who is not worthy to receive communion, our only ticket or prerequisite for coming to [The Lord’s Supper] is hunger. And most often sinners are much hungrier than the so-called saints.”
The Lord's Supper is an inclusive table, welcoming all who love Jesus and see their need for forgiveness. It is not for the "worthy" or those who have it all together. It is for all of us. The apostle Paul does talk about not partaking in an unworthy manner, but this relates to our attitudes to other people in the body of Christ, not about being perfect in order to partake.
Gordon Fee writes: This paragraph has an unfortunate history of misunderstanding in the church. The very Table that is God’s reminder, and therefore his repeated gift, the Table where we affirm again who and whose we are, has been allowed to become a table of condemnation for the very people who most truly need the assurance of acceptance that this table affords—the sinful, the weak, the weary. One does not have to “get rid of the sin in one’s life” in order to partake. Here by faith one may once again receive the assurance that “Christ receiveth sinners.” This is not a call for deep personal introspection to determine whether one is worthy of the Table. Paul is stating that before they participate in the meal, they should examine themselves in terms of their attitudes toward others in the body, how they are treating others, since the meal itself is a place of proclaiming the gospel.
N.T. Wright says: Eating together was a sign of the breaking down of boundaries between Christians of different groups: Jew and Greek (Galatians 2), rich and poor (1 Corinthians 11), and so on. This was a sign of God’s saving justice going out into all the world. When this caused difficulties, Paul was adamant, in the name of the Jesus, who had included everyone at his table, unity at [the Lord’s supper] was not negotiable. “We, who are many, are one bread’ (1 Corinthians 10:17)”
May we always remember what Christ has done for us and may the celebration of the Lord's Supper be a place of exchange where God's grace is mediated to us through this sacrament.
Genesis 1 is a simple and majestic opening to the Bible. It introduces the two main subjects of Scripture, God the Creator and humans as his creatures, and sets the scene for their long relationship. Clearly the interests of the author are focused primarily on the patriarchs, given the amount of material allocated to their story (Gen.12-50), but the background is that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is no mere localised or tribal deity, but is the sovereign Lord of the whole earth (Gen.1-11).
There were a number of creation and flood myths in existence in ancient Mesopotamia that the author would have most likely have been aware of. One of the major goals of the Genesis creation story is to counter these mythical accounts of creation with an alternative worldview about God, the world and humankind. This story shows God as having no peer or competitor. It denies that the various forces of nature are gods or that man was created as an afterthought to serve the gods. Humans are presented as the climax of creation. God cares for and provides for them. He also empowers them to be His delegated representatives on the earth. This creation story is a triumphant affirmation of the power and wisdom of God and the wonder of His creation.
The first creation story (Gen.1:1–2.4a) looks at the story from a heavenly and divine perspective, while the second creation account (Gen.2:4b-25) looks at the story from an earthly and human perspective. The order of creation is also different. These are two versions of the same story. In the six days of creation there is a pattern, the first three days are occupied with forming while the second three days are about filling what has been formed.
When it comes to the creation of the cosmos, Genesis tells us who created the world and why. The author does not tell us when (timing) or how (method). Over the years, a variety of views have developed among people of faith concerning God’s creation of the world, the three primary ones being (“Intelligent Design” is not really a separate view – www.discovery.org/csc):
1. Young Earth Creationism (see www.answersingenesis.org and www.creation.com). This group believes that God created the world in six literal 24-hour days and that the earth is only 6,000-10,000 years old. God created the earth as already appearing ‘old’ and this was enhanced by the effects of a global flood.
2. Old Earth Creationism (see www.reasons.org). This group believes in an old earth (possibly 13.8 billions years old) and that the days of creation were extended periods of time or at least that there were periods of time between each day.
3. Theistic Evolution (see www.biologos.org). This group also believes in an old earth and that God initiated the ‘big bang’ and created the world through the process of evolution. They view Genesis 1-2 as inspired Scripture but as poetic literature rather than as a literal description of what took place in the beginning.
Many people in each group are convinced that their view is the correct one and that the others are wrong or even heretical. However, each view has its strengths and weaknesses. The author of Genesis was not seeking to answer many of the questions we have today in the modern world. They are more interested in us know the Creator of the world and His purposes for us. Science and faith don't need to be opposed to each other. Science simply explains how things work while faith is the foundation of our relationship with God and provides us with a sense of meaning and purpose, something science cannot provide.
Reflections from Creation
1. God is sovereign over creation. Our God rules over the world and the entire universe that he created. He has no rivals and everything is under his control. He is working – in history and even in nature. Of course, we understand that sin has affected our world and everything is not as it was when God created it. It is broken and damaged yet God is working towards restoring everything to its original purpose. God will once again bring order out of chaos. Ultimately, good will triumph over evil.
2. Creation is dependent on God. There was a beginning to the universe. It is not infinite in time. God created everything and therefore everything owes its ongoing existence to Him. God also cares for His creation and the welfare of humans in particular. God actively sustains the universe (Acts 17:28. Col.1:15-17).
3. We were created for a purpose. Genesis clearly shows us that we are here (Gen.1:26-28):
a. For Relationship – God created us to have a relationship with us and for us to be in relationship with each other. God is seen as close not distant, like pagan deities. God wants us to know Him. He makes covenant with his people and promises to bless them.
b. To Reflect God – humans were created in the image of God and given dignity beyond the animals and the rest of creation. All people, regardless of race, gender or social status are equal in value and are to be treated with respect and honour. We have the capacity to mirror our Creator.
c. To be Fruitful – God commands us to be fruitful and multiply (Gen.1:28). He wants a large family and wants us to fill the earth with loving community, something God later judged the people at Babel for not doing (Gen.11:1-9).
d. To Steward the Earth - Since we are God’s representatives, ruling over His world, we must treat the world as his, not ours. We are stewards of his planet, a responsibility that requires us to neither worship the earth nor ruin and destroy it. We are living in Someone else’s house and need to treat is as such. Creation care is important.
4. The Sabbath is sacred time. The creation story finishes with the establishment of the Sabbath – holiness in time rather than a holy space. God models for humans the need to rest and enjoy the beauty of God’s world. Sabbath is about ceasing from work and giving worship and honour to God.
Sample Reflection Questions
1. What impacts you most about the Genesis creation story?
2. Consider the three creation theories. What is your personal opinion and why? Do you see this is a core issue of faith in Christ or a secondary issue?
3. Why do you think there is such a battle between faith (or religion) and science today?
4. What does the creation story tell us about God? What is he like?
5. Reflect on the four-fold purpose for humans mentioned above. How can followers of Christ outwork their God-given purpose more effectively in the contemporary world?
6. Read Galatians 3:26-29. How does the work of Christ seek to bring us back to God’s purposes in creation, a world free of racism, gender wars, and the divide between rich and poor?
7. How important is the principle of the Sabbath today? What should this look like for the follower of Christ?
The book of Genesis opens simply ... "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The author boldly presents God as Creator then as Redeemer of humanity. Life is not an accident. God has a purpose and he is working to fulfill it throughout history. Men and women are made in the image of God. As partners together, their God-given mandate is to fill the earth with loving community and to give responsible leadership to the planet.
All Christians believe in creation but there are a variety of opinions as to exactly how God created the earth and over what period of time. We have a lot of questions today that the Bible doesn't directly answer (for instance the theory of evolution wasn't even in existence when Genesis was written). After all, the Bible is primarily the story of God's work of redemption. It was not written to be a science textbook, although it does contribute significantly to the study of science.
In the book Three Views on Creation and Evolution, three views on creation are presented [General Editors J.P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds]:
1. Young Earth Creationism (presented by Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds). This view sees the earth being created in six twenty-four hour days about ten thousand years ago. For information on this view, check out www.answersingenesis.org and www.creation.com
2. Old Earth or 'Progressive' Creationism (presented by Robert C. Newman). This view sees the earth being created over an extended period of time many billions years ago. [An intermediate position between views #1 and #2 is referred to as the "Gap Theory", which sees God's original creation in Genesis 1:1, followed by the destruction of the earth's habitat in Genesis 1:2, perhaps due to Satan's rebellion. The rest of the Genesis account then describes the restoration of the earth just a few thousand years ago in six literal days.] For more informaiton on this view, check out www.reasons.org.
3. Theistic Evolution (presented by Howard K. Van Till). This view is the belief that God created the world through the process of evolution, and that Genesis 1-2 are to be taken figuratively, not literally. World renown scientist, Francis S. Collins is an example of a believer who holds this view. His recent book The Language of God endeavours to show the compatibility of modern science and faith (Collins prefers to refer to this view as BioLogos). For more information on this view, check out www.biologos.org
The most important thing is to embrace the truth of creation and of a God who is the designer of all that exists. As we discover his fingerprints in the universe, we can come to know Him better, find and fulfill our purpose in life, and live to please Him.
Additional recommended reading:
* Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Origins of Everything by Gerard Rau.
* The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel (author of the best-selling book The Case for Christ), which looks at scientific evidence that points towards God.
* Seven Days that Divide the World (2011) by John Lennox.
* The Evolution Controversy: A Survey of Competing Theories by Thomas B. Fowler and Daniel Kuebler.
* "Intelligent Design” is not really a separate view – www.discovery.org/csc
I enjoy hearing different perspectives on any issue and then taking time to reflect on them. It always enlarges and enriches your own perspective.
P.S. Check out these upcoming special events related to ORIGINS.
Jesus ministry had three major components (Luke 4:14-5:26): Teaching, healing and setting people free from spiritual bondage. Jesus confronted demonic powers and freed people from their influence (Luke 4:31-37, 41). The early church carried on the ministry of Jesus as the apostles focused on these same three areas of ministry (Acts 5:12-16). We should do the same – go about doing good, teaching, healing, and helping people find freedom from the work of the enemy. The result will be many people being set free and added to the kingdom of God.
Christians cannot be “demon possessed”, as God owns us. However, demons can influence Christians both in the form of various attacks (oppression, affliction, torment, etc) and if we give them a “foothold” through various access points (see Eph.4:26-27). Paul tells us not to give place to the devil, which means it’s obviously possible. If we give place to the devil, we can give demonic spirits the opportunity to have a negative influence on aspects of our lives. At times people have to be loosed or set free from this kind of demonic involvement.
Four Possible “Access Points” for Demonic Influence:
1. Lack of Forgiveness - Hurts are unhealed wounds from the past that may come from things such as abuse, rejection and unresolved conflicts. Unless we forgive those who have hurt us, we can open ourselves up to spiritual “torment” (Mt.18:34-35. Eph.4:27).
2. Involvement in the Occult - Involvement in things such as the occult and false religion can open us up to the influence of the evil one and therefore need to be renounced (Deut.18:9-14. Acts 19:18-20).
3. Negative Generational Influences - The affect of sins from previous generations can influence us if they are not renounced (Ex.20:5-6. Neh.1:6. John 9:2. 2 Cor.5:17). This does not take away personal responsibility and we can begin a new godly generation through appropriating the work of Jesus on the cross.
4. Unrepentant Sin - Unless we confess and turn from our sin (“repent”), it can give the enemy an opportunity to take advantage of us (Eph.2:1-2. Prov.28:13. Luke 22:3. Acts 5:1-6. 1 John 1:9-10).
Thankfully, full victory over every work of the enemy is available to us in Christ (Jas.4:7. Rom.16:20. 1 Pet.5:8-9. 1 John 4:4). Jesus Christ came to set us free from every chain and bondage (Luke 4:16-21. John 3:32, 36. 2Cor.3:17. Acts 10:38).
1. Do you think there is too much or too little emphasis on the demonic by churches today?
2. Do you know of anyone that has been influenced by demons?
3. Paul warns us not to give the devil a “foothold” (Eph.4:27). Consider the four possible “access points” to the enemy shared in this message and consider any others .
4. In many ways, demons are like flies in that they’re attracted to wounds and garbage. Instead of just swatting at the flies and causing quite a commotion, it is wiser and more effective to help bring healing to the wound and to remove any garbage that may be attracting them. Dealing with symptoms without getting to the root cause will not be helpful. Spend some time reflecting on this “word picture” and the balanced approach it implies in this area of ministry. Prayer ministry is not as an isolated or stand-alone ministry that is the cure-all for everything, but part of a wider approach to ministering wholeness to people’s lives.
5. Below are the prayers that we said publicly as a congregation. Read them out loud them and maybe have some time praying over them again and applying personally as appropriate. The objective is to deal with anything in our lives that may be hindering our walk with God and thereby give no opportunity for the devil to negatively influence us (John 10:10). Obviously, this must be an ongoing action and not just a one-off event (read Eph.6:10-18. 2Cor.2:11).
Prayers of Freedom
Salvation – “Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me so much that you sent Jesus to die for my sin. Please forgive me for everything I have done wrong. Fill me with your Spirit, Make me your child. I will live for you. I will serve you all the days of my life. And when my life is over, I know I will spend eternity with you. Amen.”
Forgiveness – “Father God, I admit that other people have hurt me through their words and actions. Today I choose to let go of all anger, bitterness and resentment. Thank you for forgiving me. By an act of my will, I now choose to forgive those who have hurt or offended me and I let go of any desire to hurt them back. Help me to show them the love and mercy you have shown me. Amen.”
The Occult – “Heavenly Father, I renounce all involvement in the occult, in various cults or in false religion. I renounce any group, practice or belief that does not glorify Jesus. I confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I claim the release and freedom promised by Jesus Christ. The past is dealt with. My future is assured. Today, I will enjoy the abundant life that is available to me in Christ. Thank you for your righteousness, your peace and your joy. Amen.”
Negative Generational Influences – “Father God, I confess and renounce every sin that my parents or my ancestors may have committed which has influenced my life, and I ask for forgiveness and cleansing. In the name of Jesus I break every curse or sinful tendency that may have been passed on to me from my family or previous generations. I am now ‘in Christ’ and I have begun a new generation. I thank you that Jesus took every curse for me on the cross of Calvary. He died and then rose again so that I might be completely set free. Amen.”
Unrepentant Sin – “Heavenly Father, I repent of every sin, wrong action or attitude. Thank you that every sin is completely forgiven and thoroughly cleansed by the blood of Jesus. I now choose to forgive myself for the things you have forgiven me for. I turn from my sin. Give me discernment to recognise temptation when it comes and the strength to resist it. I now declare that Satan has no foothold in my life. I am free in Christ! Help me to live in that freedom. Amen.”
May we walk in the freedom Jesus won for us two thousand years ago!
The Gospel of John records many of Jesus’ last words spoken not long before his and crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. During this time, Jesus spoke frequently about the fact that he would be leaving his disciples but that another One just like him, the Holy Spirit, would come in his place (see John 14:15-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7). Instead of simply being with them, the Holy Spirit would live within them, filling them and empowering them to live as disciples of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is a person, not just a force, power or influence. God has revealed himself as one God existing in three persons - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - equal as persons yet different in their role and ministry. We need to know each person of the Godhead in an intimate way so that the fullness of God can touch our lives.
Jesus called the Holy Spirit the parakletos, a Greek word that is very rich and complex. It essentially means “one who is called to stand alongside in order to help or assist”. In English, this name is translated into words such as Advocate, Comforter, Helper or Friend. We can’t live the Christian life by ourselves. We need the help of the Holy Spirit. We are “born again” through the Spirit (John 3:5-8). But this is just the beginning. There is now a new life to be lived “in the Spirit”. We are to be filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. We are to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit - His nature and character. We are to be empowered by the Spirit both to overcome the enemy and be witnesses to the life that is in Jesus Christ. So there is much to learn as we begin to grow from “babies” to become mature “sons and daughters of God”.
The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
Later on, the apostle Paul further defined the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When writing to Timothy he said, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:6-7. NIV).” Here we see that the Holy Spirit comes into our lives to do four things for us:
1. Break the power of FEAR in our life. Fear will limit us and hinder us from fulfilling our God-given destiny. That’s why whenever God shows up his first words are often “Fear not!” Fear, timidity, insecurity and inferiority have to be broken. God wants to put a confidence, an assurance and a faith inside of us. Believe that you are who God says you are and you can do what He says you can do.
2. Give us the POWER and ability to do the will of God. The Greek word for “power” is dunamis and it means supernatural ability or strength. It is a power that equips us to do the works of God – to make our service effective; a power that provides grace and strength in difficult times; a power that releases gifts to help us minister to others; and a power that imparts passion, fervency and enthusiasm into our spirits.
This weekend at CityLife, we spoke on the subject of healing and then took time to pray for people. We were encouraged by the many testimonies of healing that took place in each of our church gatherings and we pray for God to continue to work in the lives of everyone needing healing.
When it comes to healing, we must begin with an accurate understanding of God’s character and nature. The Bible teaches us that, when it comes to our need, God knows (Prov.15:11. Ps.139:1-10), God cares (Ex.34:6-7. 1 Pet.5:7), God is able to help (Jer.32:17, 27. Mt.19:26) and God is willing to help (Mt.8:2). In response to this, there are three different camps in the Christian community: (1) “God knows, cares and is able but is not willing. This is not the time or the age;” (2) “God knows, cares and is able and always willing to heal you. If you’re sick and you’re not well, if you have a physical need and you’re not healed it’s because you lack faith. It’s always God’s will to heal and so there is something wrong with you if you aren’t;” (3) “God knows, cares and is able and is willing unless he has a higher purpose.”
The first camp (called “Cessationists”) are strongly Biblical, but keep God in a box, in that they don’t believe that God still heals or does miracles today. The second camp (extreme “faith” teaching) has the strength of faith but the weakness of always putting God in a box to move a certain way without exception. The third camp has the strength of “balance” but must avoid a fatalistic attitude of “whatever will be, will be”. Our responsibility is to pray and ask God to heal and help us (Jas.5:13-16), then to trust God with the outcome.
I love the authenticity of the biblical authors who not only tell us the inspiring stories of miracles and healing, but also of others who experienced extended times of sickness and who were not healed instantly or at all, despite being people of faith and obedience to God's commands (see Job 2:7-8. 2 Kings 13:14. Gal.4:13-14. Phil.2:25-27. 1 Tim.5:23. 2 Tim.4:20. Heb.11:32-40). I love the attitude of the three Hebrew children who when faced with the fiery furnace declared that God was able to deliver them, that he would deliver them, but even if not, they would not bow down to an idol (Dan.3:17-18). In the same way, I believe we should declare that God is able to heal, that he will heal, but even if not, we will still trust him. Without an "if not" in our theology, we seek to put God in a human-made box, eliminating the paradox and mystery that life is made up of, and we can easily take inappropriate discouragement or guilt upon ourselves OR project it on others, as Job's friends did.
The Bible teaches that God’s will for our life, generally speaking, is “health” (See Ex.15:26; 23:25. Ps.103:1-3; 107:17-20. Prov.4:20-22. Is.53:4-5. Mt.8:16-17. 1 Pet.2:24). God’s provision is complete. He has done all that we need for life and godliness. He has made provision for our wholeness – spirit, soul and body. God desires health and wholeness for each one of us, as we walk in obedience to Him, so we can fulfil our life purpose.
However, like salvation, good health is not automatic. There are things we need to do to position ourselves to have the greatest possibility of good health. We need to have faith in God as our healer (Hos.4:6. Jn.8:32. Heb.11:6), obey his commands (Dt.28:58-60), maintain a healthy diet (Ex.16. 1Tim.4:4-5. Lev.11. Dt.14), exercise, rest and relax regularly (1Tim.4:8. Mt.11:28-30) and deal quickly with negative emotions (Eph.4:27-31. 1Cor.11:28-31. Mt.5:23-24).
There is no set pattern or formula in the Bible for healing. For instance, blind Bartemaus called out to Jesus and Jesus simply spoke to him and he was healed (Mk.10:46-52). Another blind man was not instantly healed. Jesus took mud and saliva, mixed it together and put it on his eye. As he went his way and did what he was told (“go and wash in the pool of Siloam”), he was healed. God’s healing power and anointing fell on a natural substance and flowed through it (Jn.9:1-12).
We can conclude that, “The pathway of healing that God has for you may be different from the one he has for someone else though you may have similar health problems.” Also, “At times God’s healing is spontaneous and instantaneous. Other times healing is a process and requires patience and perseverance as our healing is gradually manifested.” It could be an instant answer to prayer, a radical change of diet, a change of lifestyle or even a medical operation. If you are sick, pray for God’s direction, believe God’s promises to you from His Word, have others pray for you and talk to a reputable doctor.
Praying for Healing
All believers are called to pray for the sick. Here are some principles (not formulas) for praying for the sick.
1. Ask questions about the person’s need. Ask, “Where does it hurt?” or “What do you want me to pray for?” This is not a medical interview in which we probe for medical history or technical details. It simply helps us to know what the need is and how we should pray. Even Jesus never made assumptions about what a person wanted from him. To a blind man he said, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk.10:46-52). Other questions might include “Are you in pain right now?”, “How long have you had this?” or “Have you seen a doctor or specialist and if so, what did they say?”
2. Try to discern any root cause of the sickness. This next step is to clarify the root of the person’s problem. It asks, “Why does this person have this condition?” This determines the type of prayer needed to bring healing. We must also look beyond the natural surface reasons and be open to God giving us revelation through the word of wisdom, word of knowledge or the discerning of spirits. Symptoms in one area of our lives may be caused by problems in other areas. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading and insights. Of course, don’t go overboard and try to probe to deep unnecessarily.
3. Choose an appropriate prayer. This step answers the question, “What kind of prayer is needed to help this person?” We must seek to know God’s specific will in the situation. This is the source of our confidence (1 Jn. 5:14-15). There are two basic types of prayer:
a. Prayer directed toward God (intercession). Intercessory prayer involves you going between them and God out of deep concern for the person. We stand before God and ask for the person’s healing. Prayers should be simple and straightforward - “Lord, I ask you to heal John of this condition.” In some cases, you may want to get the person to pray for themselves. This is especially important in areas of unforgiveness and bitterness.
b. Prayer directed to a condition or sickness based on words from God (command). Jesus often used the authoritative word when healing people (Mk.9:25). We have been given power to break bondages and release God’s blessing (Matt. 16:19). We can declare or announce the truth of God’s Word. For example, you might pray, “I break the power of this condition in the name of Jesus.” Prayers like this are usually very short yet effective.
4. Pray in faith. Pray in faith, believing that something is going to happen when you pray for them – physically (immediately or gradually), emotionally (strength, comfort, joy) and spiritually (close to God, trust). Have an attitude of faith, hope and love. Lay hands on them (don’t push or lay your hands heavily on anyone), pray and possibly anoint them with oil (James 5:14 and Mk.6:13). Be sensitive to the person and the Holy Spirit. Be aware of your hand motions, tone of voice and volume of speech. Don’t do anything that would distract the person being prayed for or others nearby.
5. Check for any improvement or change. As you’re praying, watch to see what is happening in the person. Ask further questions to see what God is doing and if there has been any change. Ask them how they are feeling or if anything has happened. Pray again if necessary. Some people get completely better, others show considerable improvement, others some improvement and others none at all. Not all healing is instantaneous (see Mark 8:22-26; 5:8). Even Jesus prayed twice for a blind man to be healed. Jesus’ promise to believers is that the sick will get well or “recover” (Mk.16:19). At times this may be gradually. When people are not healed, reassure them that God loves them and encourage them to seek more prayer. Divine healing is sometimes a process.
Through God’s love and wisdom, we can be used to bring tremendous blessing to people’s lives.
Sample Reflection Questions:
1. Consider the different Christian “camps” that exist in this area of healing. Do you know someone in each camp? Describe them and how they approach the area of sickness. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each position? Which perspective seems to be the most biblical? How we should relate to others who see differently than us?
2. Read through the Scriptures above on healing. Have any of these been a source of strength or encouragement to you during times of sickness?
3. Reflect on the concept of seeking God to discover your “pathway to healing”.
4. What has been your experience of being prayed for healing by someone else (positive or negative)?What about you praying for someone else who was sick (positive or negative)?
5. What are some of the fears we may have in praying for sick people? How can we overcome these? How should we respond when healing is prayed for and nothing happens?
6. Pray for anyone you know who is sick, that they would experience God's healing.
I was reading the apostle's Paul's first letter to the Corinthians last week and came to chapter 13, the great love chapter, a chapter I have read hundreds of times. The following statement jumped off the page at me:
1Cor.13:12. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. NLT
Here is the leading theologian of the Christian faith, who met the risen Christ personally, who visited the third heaven to receive direct revelation from God, and who knows more than most of us will learn about the ways and purposes of God in a lifetime ... and he has the courage to say that he does not see things perfectly (or as the NKJV says, "we see in a mirror, dimly") and that all that he knows is "partial and incomplete".
Paul knows he doesn't know it all ... and he doesn't need to either. I am sure he would have liked to have known but he was content to leave the full knowing to God. Here is a faith that is willing to live with mystery ... and one that includes paradox, ambiguity and even contradictions. Paul doesn't have to figure everything out or control everything in order to believe ... and to fully trust in God.
Here is a man with unbelievable humility! What a contrast to the pride and arrogance that is too common in Christianity today, with so many individuals and groups thinking they have a corner on the truth and that those who don't see things their way are heretics.
This is not a commendation of ignorance nor a denial of the importance of truth. It's a reminder that truth is found in a Person (Jesus) and none of us know it all, which means we need to walk in humility and be willing to learn from each other. It requires that we trust God in areas where we don't understand. That's what faith is all about. There are certain things that reason cannot explain or comprehend.
Oh, and did I mention that Paul earlier (vs.2) elevates LOVE above everything else - including having the gift of prophecy, understanding all of God's secret plans and possessing all knowledge (something that he goes on to say none of us do)?
Ah, the joy of not knowing it all ... and not having to. I can rest and put my trust ... in Christ alone. Paul - may your tribe increase!
In a previous post, we talked about God as a worker and the sacredness of work, as well as God’s purpose for our work or business. Today we want to share a few reflections on the integration of our work and our faith as followers of Christ.
How You Work Matters
It's one thing to have a job and know God’s purpose for our work. It’s another thing to consider how we go about our work. God desires that we work with diligence, honesty and an excellent attitude. This attracts God’s favour and makes the Gospel attractive to a watching world. We are to serve people with love, as to the Lord.
1. Be diligent. Whatever your job is, develop your skill and be excellent at what you do. Then go about your work with all your heart, doing your very best, as to the Lord (Col.3:23). Diligence outworks itself in practical ways such as: showing up in time, respecting your boss or supervisor, exceeding expectations, doing your best, taking responsibility for mistakes, sharing the credit, being a good team player, resolving conflicts quickly, improving yourself, and volunteering for extra assignments. Diligence attracts the blessing of God and the favour of people (Prov.12:24; 13:4). You gain credibility by adding value to your workplace, resulting in growing personal influence.
2. Be a person of integrity. Integrity means there is integration between who we say we are and who we really are. Honesty pleases God and can be a powerful witness to others (Prov.20:23). Be wise in your relationships. Work hard, and not just when the boss is looking (Eph.6:5-9. Col.3:22-25). Employers, do what is just and fair when dealing with your employees (Col.4:1).
3. Be loving. God calls us to serve others in love (Gal.5:13). Love, or how we serve and treat people, is to be our priority as followers of Christ (John 13:34-35. 1 Cor.13), and this includes our workplace. Daniel Goleman’s landmark studies about people who are successful in the workplace reveal that “emotional intelligence” (our ability to control our own moods and to get along with a wide range of people) is twice as important as IQ (intelligence) and technical skill.
4. Be a witness for Jesus Christ. Our work provides us with an opportunity to mix with those who are not yet believers. Live in a way that is attractive to them, then look for opportunities to share a meal, to share your story, to share your faith, and to share about the good news of Jesus Christ (Col.4:5-6. 1Pet.3:15).
There's More to Life than Work
As important as our work is, there is more to life than work. First of all, you are not your job. It is interesting to note that when we meet other people, one of our first questions (especially for men) often is, “What do you do for a living?” It is easy to become what we do. In contrast, God desires our identity to be in who we are not what we do. What we do is to be an expression of who we are. God does not want our work to become an “idol” that becomes the primary source of our identity, security and significance, leading to greed and workaholism. It is helpful to reflect on why we do what we do and to inject some fresh meaning and purpose into our work, beyond just making a living, climbing the corporate ladder, and/or being “successful.” God is far more interested in who we are becoming than what we are doing for Him.
Secondly, you need to rest. The Sabbath principle is as important today as it was when it was first given and it was made for our benefit (Mark 2:23-28). On the seventh day, God “rested” from his work of creation and declared the day “blessed” and “holy” (Gen.2:1-3). This principle was then reinforced as the fourth commandment (Ex.20:8-11) which forbids being “lazy” (you must work if you are able) or becoming a “workaholic” (someone who never stops or slows down). Both work and rest are ordained and blessed by God.
Sabbath was a day of rest for the Israelites and violating it was a serious offence (Ex.31:14. Num.15:32-36). It was a joyous holy day, a day of spiritual refreshment, community worship, prayer, contemplation and community worship. Today we no longer need to keep the literal Sabbath Day as Israel did (Rom. 14:5; Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16). However, we can glean some very important lessons from the principle of the Sabbath Day for our lives. We can and should reclaim Jesus’ liberating view of the Sabbath as a “gift from God” for our benefit and a time for “doing good”. This includes making church gatherings a priority in our schedule (Acts 2:42-47. Heb.10:24-25), spending time reading and meditating on God’s Word (Jos.1:8. Ps.1:1-2. 2Tim.3:16-17), creating special times for family and friends, ensuring we get adequate time for rest and relaxation, and taking time for reflection and contemplation (Lk.5:15-16. Mk.1:32-39; 6:45-46). Rested workers are the most productive. Managing our energy as well as our time is a key to effectiveness. This requires creating an appropriate rhythm between work and rest, and between activity and recovery.
[Quick Check: "Are you a Workaholic?"]
Finally, you need to balance work with the others aspects of your life. Work takes a significant portion of our time and can fill as much of our life as we allow it too. Family, friends and our church are also vital aspects of our life. In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul spoke about the importance of managing time (Eph.5:15-16), then went on to speak about the priority of family life, calling husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph.5:21 – 6:4). Andy Stanley, in his book When Work and Family Collide, notes that there is more work to do than we have time, so someone will be “cheated”. Don't allow work to cause you to cheat God and your family. Create boundaries. Draw lines. Determine when enough is enough. There is great power in being content with the current level of provision God has given us and then living within our means, rather than continually striving for more (Phil.4:10-13. 1Tim.6:6-10).
1. If you were (or are) an employer, what qualities would you look for in hiring an employee?
2. What are the affects of a Christian employee who under-performs in the workplace?
3. The Bible tells us that Daniel was ten times better than all the other advisors to the king in Babylon (Dan.1:17-21; 6:3). What are some steps to developing excellence in our work?
4. Reflect on some workplace challenges, such as dishonesty, gossip and sexual temptation.
5. What are some key principles for sharing our faith in the workplace?
6. How can we avoid work becoming an “idol” (the source of identity, security and significance)?
7. Think about the impact of the pace of life in a mega-city such as Melbourne, with seven day a week trading, continually accessibility due to technology, and continual entertainment access.
8. What are the consequences of neglecting the Sabbath principle?
9. What specific practices can help us to embrace the Sabbath principle?
10. How much work is too much? What are some practical steps we can take to ensure that work doesn’t lead to us “cheating” God or our family?
11. You are offered a higher profile job with significantly more money in another city. What other important factors should you consider before deciding whether to take the offer or not?
12. Consider the quality of contentment and how it relates to our work (read Phil.4:10-13 and 1Tim.6:6-10).
He was an unknown carpenter who wasn’t doing “big” things for God.
He worked alongside his dad, using his hands to shape, shave and tack together pieces of wood. He quietly studied the scriptures, and grew in stature with God and men.
He didn’t have a public ministry.
He didn’t write any books, go on a conference tour, adopt an orphan, give away 75 percent of his income, or go on multiple missions trips. He loved the Lord with all his heart, honored his mother and father, and quietly went about his work.
Was Jesus wasting his life? Absolutely not.
He was doing exactly what God had called him to do. As his hands ran over rough planks of wood, he was quietly earning our salvation. Jesus, the lowly carpenter, the furniture maker, was as radical as they come.
And for 30 years he was quiet.
You don’t have to leave home to be crazy on fire for the Lord.
Jesus spent his first 30 years simply working and obeying. This tells me that it’s possible to be radical while changing diapers, or creating spreadsheets, or plowing snow, or doing whatever mundane task you are called to.
For the Christian, there is no such thing as insignificant work.
Being radical for Jesus means obeying Jesus, loving Jesus and proclaiming Jesus wherever we are, whether that’s in the mission fields of Cambodia or behind the counter at a coffee shop.
For more about work, check out Your Work, God's Work.
Did you know that the average person spends about a third of their life working, a third of their life sleeping, and the other third with family or friends (when they are not working or sleeping … or on the internet!). That mean’s that over half of our waking hours are spent in the workplace. Have you ever asked yourself what God's purpose for your work is? And how we can find more meaning and fulfillment in our work? These are some of the questions we’ll be discussing in this series.
God as Worker
In the beginning, God worked. Genesis shows us that the creation of the world is God’s “work” (Gen.2:1-3), undertaken within a regular workweek of seven days. Not only does God work, he finds delight and joy in his work. God then commissioned humans to carry on his work in paradise (Gen.1:26-28; 2:15). God works for us and we work for him, and he works through us (Ps.127:1).
In his book Every Good Endeavour, Tim Keller says, “Work did not come in after a golden age of leisure. It was part of God’s perfect design for human life, because we are made in God’s image, and part of his glory and happiness is that he works, as does the Son of God, who said, ‘My Father is always at work to this very day, and I too am working’ (John 5:17).” He does on to say, “Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer and sexuality … without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness ... we need work to thrive.”
Of course, sin has dramatically affected our world and our work. The curse of “thorns and thistles” (Gen.3:17-19) translates into relational problems as well as regular experiences of frustration, fruitlessness, lack of fulfilment and even meaninglessness. Work is not itself a curse, but it has been affected by the curse of sin.
Work as Sacred
God is interested in our work life. Unfortunately, many people have created a division between the “sacred” and the “secular”. This dualism is a product of Greek philosophy that has so influenced our Western worldview. Life is often seen as a series of boxes – one for family, one for work, one for friends, one for recreation, and one for religion (God or our “spiritual life”). As long as we prioritise correctly and make appropriate contributions to each box, life will work out for us. This results in compartmental thinking. In contrast, in the Hebrew mind, and from a Christian perspective, life should be viewed as one large circle with God in the centre. Everything else is to find its meaning and perspective from that centre. God wants to be involved in every area of our life – not just our spiritual life. All of life is sacred and God is interested in every dimension of our lives.
Brother Lawrence is well known for writing a little booklet that has touched millions of people’s lives. It’s called Practising the Presence of God. It’s about living with a greater realisation each moment of every day that God is with us and interested in doing life (including work) together with us. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col.3:17).” Doing something in Jesus’ name means to do it in his character. It means doing it as Jesus himself would do it if he were in your place. Paul is saying that our entire lives – from the moment we wake up until the time we lay down to sleep – are to be lived out ‘in the name of Jesus’. That is what discipleship is all about.
[Read about Jesus and the routine of daily work]
The Purpose of Work
1. To Glorify God
For us as followers of Christ, the entire purpose of our life is to bring glory to God – to display his nature and character to the world (1Cor.10:31). We are God’s representatives in every sector of our world and we need to represent him in such as way that we bring him praise and honour (Deut.4:5-8). The way we live, as well as the way we work and do business should attract people to God and give us opportunities to point people to Him. Who we are, how we work should please God and bring glory to him (Matt.5:13-16). There are many ways to do this, including (from Micah 6:8) acting justly (doing what is right, fair and equitable), loving mercy (being kind in the way we treat people) and walking humbly (avoiding pride and arrogance). Everything about us is part of God’s message through us to the world. How we treat others – our customers, our competitors and our community – speaks volumes to people (Col.4:5-6).
2. To Serve People
Every business, and therefore every job, exists to add value to people – to provide a service or a product that enhances people’s quality of life. The business or the industry you work in does not exist just as a way to make a living but as part of God’s plan for meeting the needs of people and making the world a better place. Your organisation exists for its customers not just its owners or shareholders. Great service creates not just customers, but raving fans who are so excited about the way they were treated that they brag about the organisation and its service. Think about Jesus who attracted crowds of people without all of our modern day marketing methods because he knew and met real needs and people kept spreading the word until he had more customers than he could handle (Matt.20:28). God wants us to do the same (Gal.5:13). When we make a delicious meal, clean a house, construct a building or create something of artistic beauty, we are doing kingdom business.
3. To Provide an Opportunity for Meaningful Contribution
God created us with the need for meaningful work. Part of our sense of significance comes from our ability to make a contribution to our world. It is part of God’s purpose for our lives. Your work has the potential to enhance your sense of dignity and contribution (2Thess.3:6-13), as well as providing an outlet for your skills and creative energies.
4. To Generate Wealth
In exchange for service or a product we receive payment of some sort. This is the principle of “fair exchange”. It’s okay to make a profit. Making a profit simply enables you to do business for another day. With the profit we make we can reward our ourselves, providing for our own family’s needs, as well as having resources to contribute towards God’s work in the earth (Deut.8:18).
1. Think about your work – what do you enjoy about your job and what is frustrating about it?
2. What does the fact that God is a worker tell us about his nature and character?
3. Although, God gives dignity and purpose to our work, we know that sin has affected everything. Reflect on the challenges and potential frustrations of work in a fallen and broken world (read Gen.3:16-19 and Ecc.2:17-20).
4. Consider the common divide between “sacred” and “secular.” What are some practical ways we can include, and be more aware of, God in the daily routines of our lives?
5. What does it look like to do our daily work “in Jesus’ name?”
6. How can our work bring glory to God (read and reflect on Deut.4:5-8. Matt.5:13-16. Micah 6:8. 1Cor.10:31 and Col.4:5-6 for some ideas)?
7. What are some criteria to consider when contemplating a potential job or career choice?
8. How can retirees continue to make a contribution - without retiring from life?
Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work to God's Plan for the World by Timothy Keller
Business through the Eyes of Faith by Richard C. Chewning
Redeeming the Routines: Bringing Theology to Life by Robert Banks