Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sunday, October 25, 2009

“I Am Raising Up the Davids”

About 3-4 years before the tsunami hit Aceh in Dec 2004, God spoke in my heart that one day there would be a massive earthquake that would hit Aceh and Aceh would open up to help from the outside world. The tsunami hit on 26 December 2004. The next day on 27 December, I received a specific word from the Lord to read Isaiah 6. I was to read the whole chapter, and focus especially on the last verse of the chapter.

Many of us are familiar with the first part of Isa.6, of Isaiah seeing the Lord high and lifted up … and then the often quoted words of Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me.”

We quote that especially in mission conferences and we say, “Lord send me to the nations to bring Your love to them ..” However, not many people are aware of what God was sending Isaiah to. God did not send him to bring His love or good news. Instead, God sent Isaiah to bring them really bad news :

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

He said, "Go and tell this people:

"Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

Then I said, "For how long, O Lord?" And he answered: "Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land."

Because of the political situation in Aceh, and Aceh had been cut off from the rest of the world, even 3 days after the tsunami there was still no clear news report yet of the scale of the destruction. News began trickling in from the 4th day that a few thousand people had been killed. As the days went by, the numbers increased : “more than 10,000”, then "more than 30,000”, and so on. When I arrived in Aceh, I saw what was described in Isa.6 – more than 80% of Banda Aceh had been devastated. Whole villages along the Western coast of Aceh had been totally wiped out. The final figures reported more than 200,000 people in Aceh were killed or had gone missing. Clearly it fitted the description in Isa.6

But what was I to do about that? In verse 12, God said that the devastation in the land would be so bad that the land would be utterly forsaken, and even if a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. Did that mean that God would send another disaster that would totally destroy what remained, and wipe out the whole population of Aceh? Since God told Isaiah to tell them (the people of Israel), did it mean that God was sending me to tell the people of Aceh? I prayed, “Lord, is that what You want me to do, to go tell them another disaster is coming?” I was in fear and trembling. Me, a nobody, go and tell them? They will probably think I am mad. Or they might kill me. But the word was so clear and so strong, notwithstanding my fears, I was prepared to do that if indeed that was what the Lord wanted me to do.

There was however no answer from God. Just silence. I kept asking the Lord. Days passed. Still nothing. Just silence. As I helped various teams in Aceh, God showed me what to do, but He did not answer that one question that bothered me. Months passed, but I kept pondering over it and kept seeking understanding from the Lord. Eventually it became clear to me that God was talking to me not so much about Aceh, but He was giving me a prophetic or symbolic picture of a larger scale reality about the whole world, and also about the church. Just as the people in Aceh had hardened their hearts (see appendix), so the world, and the church, had hardened their hearts.

God was showing me that just like how He judged Israel, and in this case Aceh, that is also how He will judge the people of the world who have hardened their hearts against Him. What was more pertinent was that He was telling me that that is also how He has judged, and will judge the church who have hardened their hearts against Him. In the end, only a remnant will remain.

God Himself hardened the hearts of His people and blinded them and made them deaf so that they could not see, hear or understand the truth. Why? If we look at the history of Israel, it was because they had hardened their hearts against Him. Jesus quoted that to the Jews (Matt.13:11-15). Paul also quoted that to the Jews (Acts 28:25-27). The amazing thing is this, even after God judged them, they still did not wake up but continued to harden their hearts against Him.

I see today that that is the case of the church – church as we know it (to borrow a phrase from Wolfgang Simson). Churches today are not much different from the problem with the Pharisees. Churches are more concerned about doctrine and being right in their beliefs than about living and living right. I have spoken in churches about the poor, but hardly anything is ever done about it. No I am not looking for funds or support from them. That is not what I mean. I have never ever tried to raise any funds or support for any project whenever I have spoken about the poor, lest my message is diluted and people get the wrong idea that all they need to do to ease their conscience is to pull out some money from their pockets. When I say nothing happens, what I mean is that the church will do nothing about what they hear. Life and business will go on as usual. The church will not do a thing about the poor. A year passes and I ask the leaders what they have done about the poor and the answer I get is not much different from what it was before I spoke in their church.

I was once invited to give a message at a national church missions conference about crisis response. I spoke a little about crisis generally but focused instead on poverty and the challenge of poverty confronting us in missions. At the end of the message, an elderly gentleman asked a question. He said, “I have been an elder of the church for more than 38 years of my life. I have heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. Yet I have never ever heard the message you just gave, or anything about poverty. Why is that?” He had a very troubled look on his face. In reply I asked him, “Sir, first of all, I need to ask you, is there anything I have said that is not Biblical?” He thought about it for a moment and replied, “No, there is nothing you said that is not Biblical. In fact everything you said is so Biblical and so true … and so vital … Yet it is never preached in church … Why is that?”

In reply I said, “Actually the one who should answer this question is you; not me. When you started becoming an elder of the church, I was still a kid running around in my shorts.” For a moment he was quiet. Then he had another question, “Tell me, have you spoken this message in other churches and what happened after you spoke?” In reply I said, “Thank you for that question. Yes I have spoken in many churches and meetings. Each time after I spoke, what happened was what will happen after this meeting. Some of you will come to me and tell me what a good speaker I am and what a challenging message it was, and you will thank me for the message, and next week you will look forward to another good speaker and good message. That’s all. In other words, nothing happened.” There was silence. The chairman of the meeting came forward looking quite embarrassed and promptly ended the meeting. Guess what happened after that? Exactly what I said!

What has become of the church? Our hearts are so hardened and we are so blind and deaf that we don’t realize how far we have fallen from what God intends for us. Even when we talk about revival, what is that today? As Joe Ozawa has pointed out, when the Holy Spirit fell on the early church they sold all and gave to the poor. But what is “revival” today? It is people falling down and getting goose bumps and then going home, back to life and business as usual.

In 2000, I was invited to speak in a gathering of more than 400 leaders from across Indonesia. They had gathered to ask why from 1998 – 2000, more than 3500 church buildings had been attacked and burned by muslim extremist and what was needed to transform the church and transform the nation. I spoke my heart out. At the end of my message, the one chairing the meeting took the microphone and said, “If we had not built all those church buildings and instead we had used the money to feed the poor, perhaps they would not have been so angry with us, and there would have been no church buildings to burn down.”

Has the church in Indonesia learned? I am sad to say, no it has not. Even bigger church buildings have come up since then, some rivaling Singapore’s indoor stadium, but hardly any churches are doing anything to reach out to the poor that surrounds them. Nearly half the population of Indonesia is living below the world bank’s poverty line, but the church is unmoved. That is the same I see in India, Pakistan, Myanmar, etc. Matt.25 on the sheep and goats has been there for the last 2000 years, yet no one seems to take any heed to it. Even when it is pointed out to them! How hardened our hearts have become!

The cry I hear on the heart of God today over His church is the same as what we read in Hosea. God told Hosea to go and marry a prostitute because He wanted Hosea to feel what was on His heart and He was going to get Hosea to deliver a heart breaking devastating message to Israel. Just as Gomer would again and again leave Hosea to go back to her adulteries, God wanted Hosea to tell Israel that that is what they kept doing to God. So God’s message to Hosea was that He is going to forsake Israel and judge her “for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.” Hos.2:2. Then He asked Hosea to take Gomer back as a prophetic act that would symbolize how He would bring Israel back to Himself :

“The LORD said to me, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes." Hos.3:1

The message of Hosea is heart breaking. God would judge Israel for their unfaithfulness but He would also be so grieved with having to do that, that in His mercy He would yet again show love to Israel and get for Himself a remnant that would return to Him and love Him :

“The more I called Israel, the further they went from me.” Hos.11:2 But …

"How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is churned within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man--the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Assyria. I will settle them in their homes," declares the LORD. Hos.3:8-11.

What are we to make of this and how would this “pan out” as the Americans would say, in the end times? I could be wrong, but what I see is that God has already judged the church – with spiritual blindness and deafness, and he has hardened the hearts of His people so that they cannot hear, and cannot see and cannot understand. How does that happen? Every time the word of God comes to us, something happens in our heart. Either we listen and respond in obedience or we make excuses why we will not obey it and harden our hearts against what we just heard. Each time the word of God is delivered, it also comes with a judgment. Jesus said, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.” Jn.12:35. When we do not make a decision and act upon the word that comes to us, darkness will overtake us. We will become blind. And deaf. And the word of God will no longer have any effect on us.

When this came to me, I asked the Lord, “So what am I to do? If the church is so hardened that it cannot hear You, then what is the point of me speaking to a wall?” In response, the Lord reminded me to look at the last verse of Isa.6. Whether He is going to bring another disaster on Aceh, or whether He is going to bring disaster on the church is not the point. What He wanted me to know was that He was not interested in reforming the church. He has given up on trying to do that. The church is so hardened that even if He would bring disaster to His people, they would not listen. A case in point was what happened in Nias (see below). Instead, God brought my attention to 1 Chron.12:23. Just as God turned the kingdom of Israel from Saul over to David, He is doing the same today. Saul represents the current top-down ecclesiastical structure of church leadership. In God’s book, that is over. Just as Saul was defeated by his enemies and killed himself in the end, church as we know it will die a natural death. What happened with the church in Europe, is happening in the US, and will happen elsewhere around the world.

God is doing a new thing. He is raising up the Davids – those who have been through the fire of testing but remain true to Him; those who truly love Him. This is the “stump in the land” – the holy seed that remains. Just like what He said to Samuel, the Lord said to me, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul (church as we know it)? I am sending you to find the Davids. Go and teach them and help them to know My heart and My ways. I will show you who they are.”

As I understand it, those between 25 – 35 years old now are going to be the leaders of the church of the future. Shape them now and you will shape the church of the future. They will lead the younger ones in the ways of the Lord. When someone heard me say this, he immediately said, “Not the future, but right now! They are the church right now!” Amen. I agree. The kingdom of God will be made up of servant leaders who will not be concerned about denomination, or money, or position, or image. All they will be concerned about are others whom God puts on their hearts, to see them succeed. (See my other post "Servant Leaders"). To them will come “all those .. in distress, in debt or discontented” (1 Sam22:2). These servant leaders will disciple others in the ways of the Lord. They will reproduce themselves. It is through this spiritual birthing and multiplication that Jesus will get His end-time bride.

Where are the Davids right now? Not in leadership in church as we know it. They will not fit in. Like David and what the Lord took him through, I believe many are in their caves, running from one thing to another, restless, feeling in the dark most of the time, not quite settled on anything that they feel is truly God’s kingdom, dissatisfied with church as we know it, looking for what their hearts tell them - church as it ought to be, but not finding it anywhere, going through multiple testing, possibly stretched to their limits physically, financially, emotionally …

Through the crucible of testing, the Lord has reserved to Himself those who have not bowed their knees to Baal. God knows those who are His. The devil can do his worst on them, but it will only train and prepare them to be even more in love with the Lord and zealous for His kingdom.

* Aceh - After the tsunami, some reporters went around asking the people why God had allowed the tsunami to hit them so badly. The people of Aceh are super religious, possibly the most religious people in all of Indonesia. It was the birthplace of Islam for Indonesia. Islam was brought to Aceh by Indian muslim traders who sailed from India and landed in Aceh. The Acehnese say that Aceh is "the Porch of Islam". From Aceh, Islam spread throughout Indonesia.

It was amazing what responses the reporters got from the Acehnese. Everyone acknowledged that it was an act of God, but everyone blamed it on someone else - either on the sins of the central government of Indonesia, or the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, or the immoral practices of the Indonesian military which they hated, or on the west. Not a single person said, "God judged us because we are guilty." Amazing! It never occured to them that if it was the sins of others, why didn't they, for example the Indonesian government headquartered in Jakarta, get hit with the tsunami instead?

* Nias – is an island off the west coast of Sumatra. On 28th March 2005, an 8.7 earthquake rocked the island. More than 1750 church buildings collapsed, but the main mosque survived with just a few cracks. More than 85% of the islanders claim to be Christians, but I am told that about half of them are steeped in the occult. Even pastors I am told are involved in the occult. When I went with a team in response to the earthquake, many pastors approached me to help them with funds to rebuild their church building. I asked them, “Why did God not save your church building? Why did God save the mosque instead? If God did not save your church building, can you give me a good reason why I should help you with funds to rebuild it?” They just didn’t get it. They kept wanting my contact details.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Further Reflections on Suffering – Being Made into His Likeness

I have already alluded to the purpose of suffering in my other posts “Making Sense of it All”, and “Rom.8:28 – the Most Misunderstood Verse in the Bible”. Here are further reflections on suffering. (Not easy, but I am trying to make each post more “bite size”!)

I believe God has allowed suffering to be central to why He created us in the first place. It may not be apparent immediately, but if we step back and get a “big picture” of the scriptures from Genesis to Revelations, it is sufficiently clear that God’s ultimate purpose in creating us is that He would ultimately have people who would be like Him, in order that they may be one with Him and enjoy love and communion with Him.

How does God go about to accomplish this?

Let’s start with Genesis. In Genesis we are told that God made us in His image or likeness. Does that mean that we were created to be exactly like Him? I don’t think so. I believe it means that we were made with a potential to be like Him. We are obviously so very, very far from the likeness of God. But God has a plan for how He will mold and shape us to be like Him and in the end He will accomplish His original purpose of making us into His likeness. The Bible refers to that process by different terms : “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb.2:10), “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom.8:29), “purify for Himself a people that are His very own” (Titus 2:14).

It has often been thought that God’s original plan to have a sinless utopia was ruined by Adam and Eve falling for Satan’s temptation and deception, and then God had to go into a rescue plan to get back what was lost. But that is a total misunderstanding and incorrect interpretation of scripture. On the contrary, the apostle Paul was clear especially from Romans chapters 8 – 11, that God’s plan from the very beginning was that He Himself subjected us to sin so that He would show His mercy and love for us. Not only that, but central to His purpose for creation is that God also subjected the whole of creation to frustration with the purpose that through all the sin and decay of this world we would be put through a process of purging, refining and molding and through it we would become overcomers of sin and death and be like Jesus :

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Rom.8:17-21

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Rom.8:29

“ .. to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory” Rom.9:23

“For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” Rom.11:32

“Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” Dan.11:3

So God uses trials, difficulties and suffering to purge, refine and mold our character. The writer of Hebrews calls it God’s discipline. God’s ultimate aim in molding our character is so that we may share in His holiness : Heb.12:10. Sharing in His holiness, I believe, means being set apart to be His – to be like Him and enjoy communion with Him. It is through trials and suffering that the Adamic self–nature within us is slowly whittled away from us. It is as we get less and less, and we learn to know His heart and character more and more that He becomes “formed” in us and we become like Him to enjoy communion with Him.

Understood in this light, contrary to what may seem to be God’s inattention or failure to intervene and save us, suffering is instead evidence of His love for us as His children and possibly the best thing that God can do for us :

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons :

"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Heb.12:4-12

A Job Test for Each of Us

Just like the Job story, I believe Satan has a wager/bet with God over each of us, and it goes something like this : “You can save them, but can You make them Your sons? Can You turn them into Your likeness?” This, I believe, is the ultimate destiny for us, and the end-goal for God. He does not just create us, and save us, but He also molds us to become like Him.

I believe the story of Job is prophetic for the end times when the whole world, including the church will be severely tested. Just as the Father did not deliver His Son, the question that God will ask of each of us is, “Will you still love Me if I don’t deliver you?”

Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." Job 1:8-11

God is glorified in the eyes of the angels and demons when through the persevering patient suffering of His people He shows that He can accomplish and complete what He set out to do – to make us into His likeness – to develop us to the point where we will truly love Him for who He is, and not what He can do for us, so that like Jesus, who in love laid down His life for us, we too would in love lay down our lives for others :

“This is how we know what love is : Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 Jn.3:16.

"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed!" Rom.8:19

My brothers and sisters, I have no doubt about it, that if we are the last generation, then we will go through the tribulation. If not all of it, at least some part of it!

This question was put by Satan to God, “Will Job fear (serve) you for nothing?”

That same question ought to be asked of ourselves : Will we serve God for nothing?

• Will you serve God if there is no money, no salary or any other reward in it?
• Will you serve God if you had to put out your own money to do so?
• Will you serve God if no one will know about it?
• Will you serve God if no one will remember you for it?
• Will you serve God if you are the only one left to do the job and everyone else has gone on to something else?
• Will you serve God if you had to do it without any position or recognition?
• Will you serve God if you will be misunderstood for what you are doing?
• Will you serve God if you will be falsely accused of personal gain?
• Will you serve God if you will be ridiculed for the kind of work involved?
• Will you serve God if you will be humiliated by doing so?
• Will you serve God if the work involved is unimportant or “too little”?
• Will you serve God if you have to take orders from someone else?
• Will you serve God if you have to take orders from someone else who is less knowledgeable, less qualified, less experienced or younger than you?
• Will you serve God if the task is too demeaning to you?
• Will you serve God if it will cost you your health?
• Will you still serve God if God will not heal you?
• Will you serve God if he does not bless you in return for it?
• Will you serve God if you have to lose your possessions and everything else precious to you in doing so?
• Will you still serve God if He does not restore your possessions or that which is precious to you?
• Will you serve God if you have to give up your life in doing so?
• Will you still serve God if He does not rescue you?
• Will you serve God if He tells you there is no reward even in heaven for the job?
• Will you serve God for nothing?

Job said, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. Isa.48:10

Paul says it is through the church that God will reveal God’s plan of the ages :

Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me : to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, Eph.3:8-10

There is therefore a far greater cosmic reason and heavenly battle that is being waged, when God allows suffering in our lives, than we might be aware of.

It is only through suffering that we can learn to love, and it is through suffering that our love for Jesus is tested and perfected

It is easy to love when everything is fine. It is easy to give when we have plenty. But true love must involve sacrifice. It is when we have little, and when things are difficult, and our knowledge is partial, that our love is really tested : 1 Cor.13. It is only through suffering that we can really learn to love. There is no other way.

It is also through suffering that Jesus will get His bride – those who would love Him for Who He is, not what He can give them.

Jesus came as the Son of Man to suffer and show us the way to glory

There is no other way to glory than through suffering. Jesus Himself was glorified through testing and suffering. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I send you.” Jn.20:21. In the same way, God will take us through testing and suffering before we are brought to glory :

“ .. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”Lk.24:26

“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Heb.2:10-11

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Heb.5:8-9

The glory that awaits us will be worth far more than all the suffering we experience

Even when we are aware of all this, it is only human to avoid and recoil from suffering as far we might be able to. Jesus Himself agonized over the crucifixion and the separation from His father that awaited Him. However, knowing that no matter how bad it gets, it will ultimately pass, we are encouraged to endure it for the sake of the higher eternal glory that awaits us.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Rom.8:18

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor.4:16-18

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Pet.1:6-7

If you are reading this and you are going through your valley of pain and grief, I pray that these words would have brought you some comfort. God knows what you are going through and He feels your pain more than you can comprehend. My encouragement to you is to go to Him and immerse yourself in His embrace.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize 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.” Heb.4:15-16

Through my darkest times, this has been a poem that has faithfully spoken to me each time :

Until I learned to trust, I did not learn to pray
And I did not learn to fully trust, till sorrows came my way

Until I felt my weakness, His strength I never knew
Nor dreamed till I was stricken, that He would see me through

Who deepest drinks of sorrow, drinks deepest too of grace
He sends the storm so he Himself, can be our Hiding Place

- Horatius Bonar

I have written a longer article on the subject of suffering – too long to post in this blog. If you would like to have a copy, do email me : acts1322@gmail.com

Rom.8:28 - the Most Misunderstood Verse in the Bible

I think that most Christians have grown up with a wrong picture of God and life that has been nurtured through Sunday school and church. The picture is a God who is absolutely loving and in absolute control, and because He loves us He will make sure nothing wrong will happen to us. If ever something does go wrong, it could be because we weren’t obedient or we were living in sin, but if we repent then somehow God will correct whatever went wrong and put everything right and it’ll all work out somehow. And we just need to try and bury our past and move on.

A favorite verse in the Bible among Christians that lends to this picture is Rom.8:28 :

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose”.

The “good” in this verse is usually understood from the human perspective; not God’s perspective. We think that God will somehow work everything out in our favor and everything will be alright. But Paul is actually saying the very opposite. The “all things” Paul is referring to, is suffering, and the “good” and "purpose" is explained in verse 29 – that we would through the suffering be molded to become like Jesus – God’s highest purpose for us. Rom.8:28 must be read in its context which begins from verses 16 – 39.

Begin reading from verse 16 and follow through Paul's thought until the end of the chapter and you will see why from verses 31–39 Paul says that no matter how bad it gets, no matter how condemned and abandoned we feel, and even though God does not deliver us, he is nevertheless convinced that God’s love for us is not diminished one bit. Instead, it is through the suffering that we are molded to become overcomers and conquerors :

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In other words, one of the best things that God can do for us, to mold us to become more like Him, is to send us suffering or to allow suffering to come into our lives. Quite shattering when we think about it! But let's face it. The problem with most Christians’ rosy, benevolent and benign picture of God is not only that it does not square up to scripture, but that it flies in the face of the harsh realities of life. It is far easier and more realistic for us to accept that God is not our servant to answer every prayer the way we would like it, nor is He always there to get a parking spot for us and cater to our comfort, but that He has far higher purposes for us than to make sissies out of us.

Rest in the Security of His Sovereign Love

How then are we to interpret all the trials and difficulties of life in general? Are all suffering therefore ordained by God with this purpose in mind? Is God sitting up there just waiting to strike us at our next turn? I don’t think so. Although there are times when God either directly sends or indirectly allows suffering for a purpose - when God judges sin or when He wants to discipline us, and He does it with His utmost love (see my other post “Further Reflections on Suffering”), I believe there may be times when suffering has nothing to do with punishment or discipline nor is it due to any fault on our part. Jesus was clear that when bad things happen to someone it may have nothing to do with sin or fault : Lk.13:1-5, Jn.9:2-3.

We live in a fallen world where accidents happen and we may become victims to bad weather and natural disasters or to sin and wickedness in the world. Even so, we may take comfort in this – that whatever it may be, it is still in the sovereign control and purposes of God. God has His purpose in everything that happens to us (Eph.1:11). No matter how bad it gets, for us, as God’s people, the simplest and most profound prayer that we can pray is to say to God, “You are God and I am not”, and rest in the security of His sovereign love :

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isa.55:8-9

God is Sovereign

Scripture is clear that God is always in sovereign control and nothing can happen without His will. Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them can fall to the ground without the will of My Father” : Matt.10:29. This means that whatever it may be, and wherever the source of the suffering may be, and difficult as it may be, God is still in control. There are also numerous places in the Bible where God’s sovereignty extends to using the enemy for His purposes (email me for the references if you need them). We therefore need not fear what the devil can do because he can do only what God allows him to do and no more.

I have to put a caution here that there is a lot more that needs to be said on this subject. Please do not run away with what is said in this post as the "be all and end all" about suffering. I have written a longer article on the subject of suffering that is too long to post in this blog. If you would like to have a copy, email me for it. This is my email address : acts1322@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Shaking

This is something I wrote in October 2008 :

I was in an email conversation with someone in the US. He said it appears that people in politics who were against the bailout seemed to be taking that stand more out of consideration for their political career than anything else.

In reply, I agreed with him that self preservation / fear of death is what keeps all of us under bondage : Heb.2:15.

How are we to look at the global economic crisis? (Not only that, but also global terrorism, global outbreak of virus attacks, and so many other things that is happening?)

I believe it is all part of God's end time scenario. People think it is man's ingenuity and capability that we have been able to build up a system that keeps this world going. The truth is, it is God who has been sustaining everything. Were it not for God's mercy, everything would have collapsed long ago. But it is also His mercy, and the time has come, for Him to remove His hand and let things run their natural course … towards chaos .. in the hope that man would wake up and return to Him. I believe Rom.8:20-21 is coming into its final stages.

“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

But the end is not yet. There is more to come. Now people have woken up just a little – they now realize we can't trust financial institutions. But governments are bailing financial institutions out and it looks like there is still some hope left in the system. We can still save ourselves somehow. But soon people will discover they can't trust governments either. Eventually everything is going to crash.

This might sound terribly cold and unkind, but I am not praying for things to settle and for security, sanity and stability to return. Instead I am praying and I think we should pray for more shaking. We should pray, "Let Your kingdom come. Come and shake what needs to be shaken so that only what cannot be shaken will remain. Come Lord Jesus."


How much do we want God's kingdom to come? How much are we attached to the kingdoms of this world?

In September-October of 2007 I had a very strong feeling that the world's economy was soon going to collapse. I shared it with two friends. One of them is my jogging buddy. The other an agent for unit trust investments. I said, "I don't know. Maybe I am wrong, but I think God is telling me this. But maybe it’s just my own imagination. But then again I can't seem to shake it off. I am pretty sure it is God." She did not accept what I said. She said the market had never been better. And in January 2008 the market was even more bullish. Many stock markets around the world hit all time highs. Hmmm …

Two years before the December 2004 tsunami, I had a very strong feeling that one day a massive EQ will strike Aceh and that God would open the door to Aceh through that EQ. I also had a very strong feeling that not just Aceh but the whole of Indonesia was about to experience a lot of disasters, and disasters would multiply around the world. I tried to get the church to get ready. No one seemed interested.

The tsunami came and went .. some churches are now a little more interested. Just a little. Like how the world has woken up .. just a little.

Massive disasters are coming. I can feel it in my bones. If I say I feel it in my spirit, you might think I am trying to sound spiritual! So I won’t say that .. but really, that’s what I intend to say :) Not just disasters, but all sorts of crises are coming. Will people ever wake up? Will the church ever wake up?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making Sense of it All

How can we make sense of the suffering in this world? Why does God not intervene or intervene more? Where are we now in history and what are we heading to? How should we respond to all that is happening around us?

Scott Peck begins his book “The Road Less Traveled” with the statement “Life is difficult”.

If we start with the premise that life is meant to be all fine and well, and God is there to make everything right, then we will always be expecting things to work in our favor and we will be upset, distressed and disappointed when it doesn’t. But if we begin from the premise that life is meant to be difficult, then we will be thankful for every grace, every little blessing, and we will be appreciative and have so much to be thankful for, all the time.

This reminds me of a particular time when I was distinctly thankful for what would otherwise have been a “take for granted” norm of everyday life. I had just returned from a whole month in Bangladesh. I made myself a cup of tea, took a sip, put it on the table behind me, sat at the computer and proceeded to type out an email telling of my experience in Bangladesh. After typing out a paragraph, I turned around to take another sip and I remember I was so thankful I did not see 10 flies sitting on the rim of my tea cup! It had been a daily experience for a whole month in Bangladesh of keeping those pesky flies off my tea cup. Most of the time we are so ignorant of what the people in Bangladesh, and other such nations trapped in the depths of poverty suffer every day. I need to remind myself ever so often how thankful I need to be every day, and the need for me to go and share what I have with them.

Those who are devout animists go the other extreme when they believe that life is meant to be suffering, and everything has already been fated or determined, and so their belief keeps them from working to improve anything, or seeing and appreciating the little joys in life. Most nations whose predominant culture is animistic remain in poverty, trapped in their worldview, unable to see the resources they have, and are ever dependent upon aid from more developed nations.

So how do we make sense of it all?

This side of heaven, I don’t think we will ever have a complete or accurate picture. In 1 Cor.13, Paul said we know in part, so we have to make the best of it and learn to live with the incomplete. But I believe a more accurate picture than what most Christians have is possible and necessary. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings : Prov.25:2. I believe that God purposely hides Himself and conceals things to give us the joy of discovering Him and discovering the “hidden” things.

I look back and realize that 10 years ago I did not know, see or understand life as I do now. That tells me that 10 years from now it is very possible that I may again look back and realize that what I know, see and understand today could be quite far from the truth – assuming I am progressively getting a more accurate picture as the years accumulate!  So I could be very wrong in how I understand it now, but currently this is the picture I have :

I believe God meant life to be difficult. I believe God purposely subjected the whole of creation to frustration (Rom.8:20-21) for several reasons. First, it is in the hope that through the trials we go through, we would be desperate enough to seek Him and return to Him. He put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of eden knowing full well that man would take the fruit, with all the terrible consequences of that choice for all of mankind and for all time. Nevertheless it was a crucial part of His plan. If he had kept man from having a free choice, all He would have had would be automatons who would not know love.

God is love, and He desires a love relationship with us. Love cannot be programmed. Love cannot be compelled. Love is not love if it does not come freely from one’s heart. So He had to give us free choice and He had to let that free choice be tested. He had to let man go, for it is only when we return to Him that He can say, “Now you are truly mine.” (See my other post "Why God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of eden"). God longs for us to be passionately and madly in love with Him, just as He is passionately and madly in love with us. (See my other post : “Who was this Woman?”)

Second, He intended the whole of life to be a test. Our lives are very temporary, indeed a very short testing and training ground for what is to come. It is in the crucible now that we are tested. I believe God hides, silently watching to see what choices we make. What we do with what we’ve got, how we respond to the experiences of life, both good and bad, will determine how close we get to Him, how much He will reveal of Himself to us, what position we will occupy, and how we will relate to Him when He comes again in the fullness of His kingdom on earth. I have seen unknown, nameless, faceless nobodies do, "little things in great ways" (in the words of Mother Theresa) that God sees (like the widow with her two mites) that I am sure God will honor in time to come.

This short life is not all there is to it. There is much, much more to come. We were made for eternity, not just time. Nevertheless what choices we make and what lessons we learn in this short difficult life are significant. Notwithstanding that life would be difficult, life is meant to be appreciated and enjoyed. We are to make the most of what He has given to us – time, relationships, abilities, talents, opportunities, etc. Some have been given more, some less. Some have a better start in life, some a worse start, some have it very much better, and some really bad. What will we do with what He has given us?

Third, in the midst of the uncertainties, the trials and difficulties, and the limited knowledge we have, we have been given the opportunity and indeed privilege to learn to love and to learn to be overcomers, for how else can love be learnt and experienced? And how else would we learn to be overcomers? Each situation we encounter is therefore not only a test but also an opportunity to learn.

Fourth, I believe that trials, difficulties and suffering serves God's highest and ultimate agenda for each of us - to be molded and changed to become more like Jesus. I always say that Rom.8:28 is probably the most misunderstood verse in the Bible. Most Christians think that it means when bad things happen to us, we don't need to worry, we just need to pray and trust God and He will work and straighten everything out for our good, and everything will be OK. But that's not what the verse says. In fact quite the opposite. We make the mistake of understanding the "good" from our perspective of what's good. However, the "good" and the "purpose" that Paul is talking about in verse 28 is actually the suffering that God will use to change us to become like Jesus (verse 29). Verse 28 has to be read in its whole context beginning from verse 16 to verse 39. So one of the best things that God can do for us to to allow suffering to come into our lives. Not to straighten things out, but straighten us out! God desires to complete what He started out in Genesis - to make us into His image and likeness. (See my other post "Reflections on Suffering")

I see that at times God intervenes, but most of the time He does not. In His mercy and grace He somehow holds back the full consequences of our folly, for otherwise we would have destroyed ourselves long ago. So it is His grace that the world has lasted so long. Somehow, by His grace, there’s more sanity ruling in the minds of men than insanity, and His mercy and grace has saved us from an earlier self-annihilation. Most of the time however, He lets nature, from the time of the fall, run its course. He will intervene only if we pray, for prayer opens the door for Him to intervene (see my other post "Why Pray"). Otherwise He stays out of our world.

But even when we pray, He does not necessarily intervene in the way we want Him to, or expect Him to. Though God has a servant’s heart, God is not our bell boy nor servant. He does what He pleases and no one can question Him or hold Him to accountability for anything. He however delights to intervene when we truly call on Him with a sincere heart. So He waits for us to go to Him, and to come into union with Him for what is on His heart. When we discover His heart and become one with Him for His will to be done, then it would be not just His will but also our will and God can have His way into our world and we can together change and transform things from what is to what can be. Being made in His image, that is the glory He has destined for us – to be creative and to take dominion and reign and rule with Him over all that He created. (See my other post "Why pray?")

What about the positive choices that we make that are aligned to His will? Will we be able to bring complete transformation to this world? I don’t believe we will. The best we can do, even with and through His strength and power, will be limited. There is a time frame for this imperfect world. Everyone who got healed eventually died. We will only see the fullness of His kingdom when He comes again. Nevertheless, we are to work with Him at change and transformation and for His kingdom to come. It is not so much what is accomplished and what is achieved that counts, but how we ran the race.

As the time nears for this time of testing to end, for this world to end, God will withdraw His hand of mercy and grace and allow us the full consequences of our choices, and He will mete out His judgment for the choices we make. I believe we are near the end and we are already beginning to see that happening. We will see increasingly the breakdown and collapse of everything that God did not build. Every man-made system and institution will collapse. Every kingdom will fall. Everything will be exposed for what it is. God will remove His hand that has been holding things together and shake everything that can be shaken so that only what cannot be shaken – what He made and what He built will remain. (See my other post "Costly But Not Precious"). In the end, only His kingdom will remain. Rev.11:15

It is also through the shaking that our hearts will be tested. In His mercy He will push man up against the wall and confront him with what Watchman Nee calls “the most basic question in the whole universe” – Who’s in charge? In other words, every man will be confronted with this question from God, “Am I, or am I not God?” because until every person, including Christians, answer that question, we are doomed. God has no future for anyone who refuses to become part of His kingdom where only He rules and reigns. Every other little kingdom has to fall and will fall.

Where are we now on God's calendar?

I'm not sure. I could be very wrong, but this is what I see :

The current global economic crisis is testing us. Another test has been happening over the last 30 – 40 years with the exponential increase in disasters and explosion in poverty. Have a look at the graph in


and you will be shocked. Click on "Natural Disasters", then click on "World 1900 - 2008", then click on "Number of Disasters".

Jesus called the end-time crises the beginning of birth pangs. By that, we know that before the "birth" of the fullness of His kingdom on earth, there will be a tremendous increase in the number and intensity of crises. These are the "contractions" before the baby is born. I could be wrong but I believe we are already at the doorstep of Matt 24 and in the next few years we will see a massive outbreak of disease, ethnic conflicts, religious persecution, wars and natural disasters.

But the main point I would like to make here is not on the issue of timing or urgency but this - It is significant that Matt 25 on the sheep and goats comes immediately after Matt 24 on the crises that will hit the world with its resulting increase in humanitarian needs. How have we been responding to the needs of people in crisis? How will we respond to the poor and needy? I am still talking about tests. As I mentioned in another post, the poor are a test for the rich.

With the terribly poor record of how Christians have responded to the needs of the poor (see statistics in "Awakening to a World of Need"), it is no wonder that one day, many will say to Jesus, “When did we see you hungry, and thirsty, naked, sick and homeless and in prison?”

That is currently my “big picture”.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Who is qualified?

Some people have questioned what qualifies me to say some of the things I have been saying. They are right. I am not qualified.

But is anyone qualified?

I don’t know about others, but I believe I would be in self deception if I ever think or feel I am qualified to say, teach, be or do anything. Truth needs to be spoken and heard, and it would be no less truth whether it comes from a donkey (Balaam’s donkey) or from a murderer (Moses, David, Paul).

I could be mistaken, but I think it could have been Michael Green who said that the right way to understand evangelism is to see it as one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. We are not trying to tell unbelievers that we are right and they are wrong, are we? I believe the same should be said of anything else in serving God. I’m hungry and I think I’ve discovered where to find bread and I’m just sharing it with those who are also hungry. Can any of us lord it over others? Do any of us have the answers because we have “arrived”? Is it not by God’s grace alone that we are just instruments and channels of what He deposits in us?

The more closely Paul walked with the Lord, the more he realized how far short he was of God’s righteousness and of God’s calling on his life. He first saw himself as the least of the apostles, then less than the least of all God’s people, and at the end of his life, he saw himself as the chief of sinners. Rick Joyner alluded to this, about how deceived people are, when they thought themselves as having qualified themselves to be anything in the service of God’s kingdom. And Paul also taught this in his epistles, and he went on to add that even if his conscience was clear, that did not mean he was thereby justified in God’s eyes.

Sadly, this is another one of the things in the institutional church that has disempowered people from serving the Lord, or discovering and realizing their God-given potential to do so. There is such a false sense in the church that you have to be more “holy”, more “spiritual”, more this or more that, before you are qualified to serve the Lord. As a result, many feel unqualified and stay away from ministry.

This false belief also breeds false expectations from church members of those who are in ministry. So those who are in ministry are put on a pedestal and they are pressured to put on a front. Many leaders’ personal lives and their families are a wreck but they are putting on a false front. I feel for them, but I am also sad that unwittingly they are breeding and reinforcing this culture in the church. Why keep putting up that front?

It is amazing how the world can see through all that, but the church itself remains blind to it. I have friends who have withdrawn from the church because they told me that the church was the place where they found the most hypocrisy and the least grace, the least forgiveness and least understanding. They felt they could breathe more freely when they were among “lesser mortals”.

So my friends, I am terribly unqualified. In fact, totally disqualified. The more I realize these things that I write about, the more they judge me, and the more I realize how far I fall short of these things. I tremble at the thought that one day what I really am inside, which is probably far, far worse and darker than I realize, will in the light of God’s judgment be shamefully exposed for all to see. But there is a stirring in my heart which I believe is from the Lord to share these things, because it is in acknowledging our hunger and need, that we also experience grace and find the Bread of life. So if some of these things help someone, I would be encouraged. :)