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What is the Main Purpose of Business?

In my usual meanderings through the Internet I’ve recently come across work from Jeffrey Van Duzer, the business school dean at Seattle Pacific University and a former corporate attorney. He has some interesting things to say, including that maximising profit is not the top priority of business.

In today’s culture, that’s quite a statement! It seems that you really only have two choices when it comes to work and business: (1) Make a lot of money or, (2) If making money doesn’t appeal to you, do something else.

For many, many people, they are very good at what they do but they struggle to buy fully into the culture of the day, and for good reason! It seems, however, that sensible people who are sensible about business and money often feel as if maybe they’re called to something else, since they can’t “play the game” as the world plays it. This leads to us also viewing work and business in a negative light.

But Van Duzer doesn’t say this without offering a healthier alternative worth pondering:

“Probably the most controversial aspect of this view of business is that it relegates profit maximization or increasing shareholder wealth to a means and a constraint rather than a purpose. That doesn’t mean profit is not important. In the business school, we still teach how to run profitable businesses, but profitability is what you need in order to attract the capital that enables the business to do what it should be doing, which is to serve in the ways I mentioned.

“(These are: business… helps provide meaningful and creative work for people to do, which is part of how people express their God-given identity. Two, it produces goods and services that enable communities to flourish.)

“The dominant paradigm says the purpose of business is to maximize profit and increase shareholder value. This approach turns that upside down.

“Profit is like blood in a body. If blood isn’t pumping through your body, we don’t have to talk about your purpose, because you’re dead. Similarly, if profit isn’t flowing through a business, we don’t have to talk about the business’ purpose, because it’s bankrupt. Few of us get up in the morning and say, “Today I’m going to live to circulate blood.” Blood is important, but it’s not our purpose, and similarly for profit.

(Quoted from the website Faith and Leadership)

With my craft, ghostwriting, I’ve often wondered how I can run a profitable business when my heart is actually to just serve people; do stuff for people; use my talents for the community; and enjoy meaningful work. I’ve never been that excited about the bottom-line, about making the money, but more about all that other stuff. But yet I’ve known, somehow, that making money is something I should be interested in doing. Van Duzer’s putting this in a way that really makes sense to me.

It’s worth exploring this more, I think!

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Matthew and Money: Our Covetous Culture


Ever noticed how, in our culture, we’re basically taught and brought up to never be content? All our advertising, our schooling, the media, and the business culture, all tells us that we have to be ambitious for more. It’s all about competition and comparing ourselves with others, looking at what they have and wanting that for ourselves.

We grow up in a covetous culture.

This is the world’s endless and restless pursuit of money and power. I don’t say it’s necessarily wrong to be competitive (that might require some explanation) but what I am saying is that discontentment is never satisfied, no matter how much money or power you have.

Proverbs 23:4-7
Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it isgone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.
Do not eat the bread of a selfish man, or desire his delicacies; For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, “Eat and drink!” But
his heart is not with you.

I don’t know about you, but if I let just a little bit of this covetous, discontent culture seep into my thinking and my heart, I’m restless for days on end. You might not think you’re a very covetous person, and in fact neither did I, but I never understood why money was a constant problem in my life. Why it was I felt like I just was never doing well enough and providing well enough. The answer? I would look at what many others had and covet. Sure, I wouldn’t steal, but I would make it a life goal to get to the place where I could afford such things too. And that, in fact, means that money was very much my master.

In my last post we saw that the context of Matthew 6: 19 – 24 is, in fact, about the contrast between generosity and coveting (not so much a contrast between generosity and stinginess, although that’s definitely in there.) This context of coveting continues in verses 25 to 34, a set of famous verses which I think have often been taught outside of the correct context of coveting.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Now, what do we see here, given the context? The anxiety Jesus condemns is an anxiety around coveting, not about legitimate worry.

This makes sense of Jesus’ saying that “life is more than food” and the “body more than clothing.” It’s about what we’re pursuing. If someone I know gets to eat all the good food, drink all the good wine, and buy all the good clothes, my heart can very easily covet all that – I also want all that for myself and my family. I also want the nice house and the feeling of security that all that stuff brings.

We all do, don’t we? Many of us spend time on Pinterest pinning all this stuff that we want. Liking nice clothes is different to making the nice clothes our goal in life. It’s not just about the dangers of materialism, it’s about our sight – where we’re looking. What we look at is what we will go after. Remember the previous verses? Those with a bad eye are full of darkness. They’re always looking at wealth and what others have and having all that is their endless, restless goal in life. (Some are calling this affluenza.)

Now this thing of legitimate worry needs to be expounded. We’ll do that in the next post.

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Matthew and Money: Generosity is Always Right


Currently, in my series on what Jesus has to say about money – and how He lived it – I’m working through Matthew 6. You can see previous posts in this series here.

Matthew 6: 19 – 34 is a well known section of scripture that deals with this topic. But we’ll just look at verse 19 – 24 for now.

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Verse 19 and 21 I think are self explanatory. But the question is, how do we lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven? It’s interesting that material objects on earth – such as money – are able to gain us heavenly / spiritual reward from God. It’s all about how we use it – for generosity or for ourselves?

So is it a sin to spend money on ourselves? Of course not. But verse 22 & 23 put this in better context. And might I add, the context is important – I’ve heard these scriptures used to talk about why we shouldn’t look at pornography when the context has nothing to do with that sort of stuff!

In Hebrew culture a person with a ‘good eye’ was / is one who sees the needs of their neighbour and does something about it. In other words, a generous person. Now you might think that an ‘evil eye’ is then about the opposite – being stingy – turning a ‘blind eye’ – but in fact it’s about going even further – seeing your neighbour and coveting what they have.

Proverbs 28:22 is a good examples of this. It says: “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth And does not know that want will come upon him.” (NASB). So this scripture is talking about what we pursue. Are we pursuing the Kingdom and its kind of generosity? Or are we pursuing all those things everyone says we should have? If you’re generous your whole being will be full of light. But if you’re stingy and, worse, covetous, your whole being will be full of darkness.

Up to this point there has been no mention of our conventional wisdom that sounds something like: “I’m going to make lots of money so that I can be generous.” Many people, including Christians, pursue wealth with the apparent motive to be generous. It sounds all well and good but Jesus doesn’t exhort us to be generous when we’re finally wealthy. (If you keep saying “one day” I’ll give, I promise you, “one day” will never come – there will always be a reason to subscribe to “charity starts at home.”) Rather, we’re to be generous despite what we have. You’re not supposed to only have a ‘good eye’ when you have a good bank account. Having a good eye is meant to be a part of your character despite your bank account.

This leads me to believe that generosity is always right – even when it hurts. And it often does hurt. And it’s often very risky. We tend to think that generosity shouldn’t hurt because we think that the reward of moral living is easy living. In other words, the ‘right thing’ should never hurt; it’s supposed to make us feel better. So that’s why it’s popular to think that only when we have lots of money we can ‘afford’ to be generous.

I’m not saying that generosity always must hurt but only that we shouldn’t be surprised when it does. By definition, if all my generosity never actually costs me anything, how generous am I, really?’

Financial stability and coveting

Our culture’s ‘wisdom’ tends to preach that we need to accumulate until we have financial stability and freedom and then we’ll have the freedom to be charitable and generous. The reality is, however, if you aren’t generous from the beginning you’ll never be generous when your ship finally comes. If you don’t know how to manage your money with a good eye, and if all you know is how to feed your own stomach – and not be satisfied because you’re staring at everyone else’s food and wishing you were eating what they have (coveting) – all you’re ever going to have is an evil eye; and when you have plenty you will still demand more because you’re greedy, discontent and full of covetousness. Because your master is money, not God, and you are devoted to money.

But you cannot serve two masters.

Jesus now expounds on this context of an evil eye and coveting in the next piece of scripture, which we’ll look at next. And with this context in mind, this next piece of scripture says things I never realised before.

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Matthew and Money: Today is the day of provision


As per my previous posts (part one, part two) I’m doing a little study on the subject of money and the book of Matthew. I’m very interested in seeing not only what Jesus taught but also how he lived. And Matthew was a tax collector, so I have a suspicion he might have written a bit more on this subject than the other Gospel writers.

I’m at Matthew 6, which starts with Jesus teaching on giving to the needy. The scripture is easy to follow: when we give to those in need, we’re not to announce it or glorify ourselves, announcing how wonderful we are to the whole world. We should not seek the reward of self-glorification but only seek the rewards that God gives.

Jesus then moves onto the Lord’s prayer and gives us an idea on how we should pray. In the Lord’s prayer he first establishes what’s important: that the Father is worshipped properly (“hallowed be your name”), that His Kingdom should come and His will be done, and then the line: “Give us today our daily bread”.

Note this: He doesn’t say give us our bread for life! Help us to stock up on bread! Give us the tools to make lots of money so we can have plenty of bread! He only says we ought to ask for bread for today.

My ESV Bible has a little note here and says it can be translated, “Give us our bread for tomorrow”. That doesn’t negate the point, though. If this is what Jesus meant, ‘tomorrow’ is still only one day. And we need to also look at what Jesus says later in chapter 6 (vs 34) – “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

This doesn’t mean one should not invest in a retirement fund or any of that kind of stuff. But when it comes to what we ask of God, we’re asking him to provide us our bread for today. In other words, we need to realise that we are, in fact, in a constant state of reliance on God.

This makes me think of Psalm 145: 5:

“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.”

You might recall my first post on this topic where the subject of seasons in provision first popped up.

We live in a fallen world and even our investments can fizzle and become nothing. War can break out. Economies can collapse. When these things happen, we often blame God and wonder why we weren’t protected from them (as if, following God means we’re protected from a fallen world). The promise from God, however, is that He will give us today our daily bread. We’re reliant on him ultimately, and we better keep that in mind, because if we rely on the systems of this world we are guaranteed to be disappointed.

God will provide, however the provision may only be manna from heaven, not milk and honey. The latter may come in its time, though. Or it may not come in our lifetime. But whatever the case, we ask God to provide us our bread for today.

I want to avoid becoming a fatalist, but there is a sense that if we don’t have the money today then it may be that God is telling us we actually don’t need it today. But as the rest of Psalm 145 goes:

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfils the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

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Matthew and Money: Follow Jesus and there will be enough


As you can see in my previous post, I’m doing a little study on Matthew in light of the subject of money. How did Jesus run his ministry from a financial point of view? What did he teach? But more importantly, how did he live?

I covered Matthew 4 and the temptation of Christ in the last post. We’ll continue with Matthew 4, in particular vs 18 – 22:

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

The immediacy of the disciples’ leaving what they were doing and following Jesus has always struck me as interesting. Now I’m aware that some of the other Gospel accounts tell the story in more detail and Matthew is looking to get past the details quickly. But, nevertheless, the reality is that the disciples were eager to leave their livelihood – their careers and the very thing that supported them and their family (Peter was married, see Matthew 8:14) and follow Jesus.

The application is obvious: there will come a time when God might ask us to do just this – leave our livelihoods for the sake of a ministry he is calling us to. Or, if not, the fact is that our livelihoods and / or careers ought to mean far less to us than our following Him. Our ministry should mean less too. Or, to put it another way, we need to see our jobs as a kind of ministry and see how we are to be fishers of men within the context of what we do.

But there is another application. None of the Gospel accounts have any of the disciples asking Jesus what they are going to get paid. It seems that this just wasn’t an issue. Was it because Jesus actually had a bit of money? Or that his ministry was visibly earning quite enough? Perhaps.

But this is the point: Jesus always seems to have enough. See, when we trust him in this area of our lives, we need to realise that he is able to provide. In his season, of course. Our responsibility is to follow Jesus, not to worry about the earning but leave the income to Him.

Easier said than done, of course, and I don’t negate the gift of many people who are good with money. That’s a gift God has given them that they can use to help others. But see, even in that, God is providing. We are not to worry about it, Jesus has enough, so we can drop our nets – our source of income, as it were – and follow Him. Our relationship with Him and the mission He has to make us ‘fishers of men’ is far, far more important. He’ll provide the rest. (Literally and metaphorically!)

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Matthew and Money: Jesus’ Provision

Desert night

I’m in the process of doing a little study on not only what Jesus had to say about money, but how he lived with regards to money, and how he ran his ministry in terms of money.

I’ll be publishing all my thoughts here in consecutive posts.

Why Matthew? Well, it gives a good overview of Jesus’ ministry and Matthew was a tax collector, so I figured he might have some more to say on the issue of money than others.

So let’s begin.

Living on bread alone

The first inference in Matthew I can see on this subject is in Matthew 4. Jesus has just been baptised by John and is led into the wilderness for 40 days to be tested. (There is a larger narrative here around Israel that’s very important but there are many things here that are good for personal application as well.)

Satan tempts Jesus around God’s provision (vs 3) and Jesus answers the well-known line, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, which puts the whole thing into greater context and is worth a read. If you look at both these scriptures there are a few points worth noting:

  • The Greek word for ‘word’ above (every word that comes from the mouth of God) is ‘rhema’, which refers to a ‘revelatory word’ – in other words, a word spoken directly and personally. It’s different to ‘logos’, another common word for ‘word’ in the scriptures, which has more to do with the actual, written scriptures. Note that ‘logos’ has a person element to it in Christian theology (see John 1 where Jesus is the “word” – Logos of God).
  • God tested the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness. They had not yet inherited a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’. They had not yet received the prosperity God promised.
  • Even during this time of testing, God provided manna from heaven and ensured their clothes would not wear out. He provided, but just not in the way many of the people liked (you can see this in the greater narrative).
  • The time of testing was for the purpose of humbling them. One might think it was a bit extreme, but God’s season of humbling was not without its provision (again, the manna). God warns the nation of Israel that they should not become proud when they get rich and forget him.
    • Vs 18 is key – “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant…”
  • Deuteronomy 8:5 says that the Lord disciplines his people as a man disciplines his son. He tested them to teach them that they live on His word – in a personal relationship with him – more than bread. He didn’t want to be the typical god where it’s about exchange – give me my sacrifices and I’ll bring you rain for your bread. No, he wanted relationship, that they should live on his personal and direct words to them.


  • If man lives on the personal and direct word of God and not on ‘bread alone’, then we need to hear from God, personally, around our finances. We need to hear from him about what season we’re in. We need to hear strategy from him as to what we should do, or rather what he is going to.
  • If it’s God that gives the ability to produce wealth, then it is he who provides strategy – personally and directly to us. So I don’t mean a general, common-sense strategy (ie., plant your crops) but I mean within that common-sense strategy, God provides personal strategy that may often be outside the box. However, we need to be available to listen and obey, because if we’re so busy trying this and that, we’ll tire ourselves out and probably not find God’s provision.
  • God works in seasons – a wilderness time and a time in the land of milk and honey. There may come a season of little (where we live on manna and miracles) and a season of plenty (where we live off the land). You don’t always live in the miraculous and you don’t always live on the natural order of things. You go through seasons and times where you may live off one more than the other.
  • It is our sole responsibility to listen to what God is saying and do that, not to make bread. God provides the bread while we listen. This obviously doesn’t mean we sit around and do nothing, but if we were listening to God we would know exactly what to do. There is a strong prophetic element, as it were, to God’s provision.
  • Gleaning principles from the Bible to create wealth is anti what’s going on here. We live on His revelatory Word to us personally. That may include some things we see in the Bible, but the point is to work on our personal relationship with God, not to use the Bible as some kind of textbook that guarantees wealth. The point is to show that God does not guarantee wealth. Rather, we shouldn’t be concerned with the bread, but our relationship with God. It’s only in that context of relationship that we’ll know what we should personally do in the season we’re in and our context.

Having a little or a lot has nothing to do with my status as a man and / or husband and father. The world links wealth and status together. God does not. The season is there for a reason. God does not always give abundance. He does not always discipline either. Each season will come and go, but how is my relationship with God? Do I live off his personal word to me? Or bread alone? This is the question.

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My Heart is Smiling


I’ve had such joy in my heart the last few days – of the real kind – during the NCMI Equip South Africa 2013 time in Johannesburg. Some of you reading this blog won’t know what Equip is, so I best let you know. Basically, it’s a gathering of churches from around South Africa that partner with New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) in strengthening and planting churches and myriads of other things relating to the mission Christians have on this planet.

If you don’t know what I mean by the ‘mission Christians have’ then you can send me an email and we can reserve that for another discussion 🙂 For now, let’s get to why I’ve had such joy.


A key scripture for me during this time has been Ezekiel 46: 9 (this came up in our worship time together yesterday morning).

When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, he who enters by the north gate to worship shall go out by the south gate, and he who enters by the south gate shall go out by the north gate: no one shall return by way of the gate by which he entered, but each shall go out straight ahead.”

When people come in to worship God, who can really be known by us personally (an amazing truth), they should never be the same when they leave. This is what God does, little by little, every day – he changes us and conforms us to become like Jesus Christ. If you’re not a Christian and you’re reading that, I can understand you might not be sure of what I mean. Basically, part of what God wants to do in us is he wants to transform us into new people. The Scriptures put this so strongly that in 2 Corinthians 5:7 it says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

This is both a one-time event (when you put your faith in Jesus, God changes your heart) and its an ongoing event, as we become more like Jesus in our hearts, which affects our thoughts, which affects our actions.

This is how I’m feeling this week. Sometimes this transformation is a slow process – a slog can be an apt word. Then there are these moments, very many times in events like these where so many Christians get together, when there’s a fast-track of the process. When you leave, you really aren’t the same.

This year’s change

The amazing thing about these EQUIP times is they’re often like this for me (they happen every year). Last year I felt God had finally done a transforming work in my heart around my ambitions. One of the upshots of that transformation has been a certain discernment where I can start easily picking up when I’m going down that road again, and I can do what I need to do to not go down there. This was a big deal for me. My ambitious nature makes me incredibly restless. And restless is not what God wants for us.

After God’s dealing with my heart on that issue, it seems at EQUIP this year he’s reminding me of many of the things He has spoken in the past to me about that I should be involved in. The brilliant thing is, this time I’m seeing them without the cloud of ambition and restlessness, but in clarity and joy. The first night of EQUIP was a ‘fresh commissioning’. This is for us as a group of partnering churches and partnering people. But I’m feeling this for my own life, and this is how God works – both corporately and personally. It’s one of the most amazing things about Christianity – God works with His church as one body; but he also works with us and speaks to us so personally.

The colour and vibrancy of the Christian life is starting to become a reality for me again. I feel very much like I did in my 20’s. Full of faith. But I was also full of idealism in those days. This time, however, this faith is coupled with my real-world experience of suffering and the knowledge in my heart that the Christian life is also filled with hardship and hard work.

I have the joy without the idealism. I have the commissioning without the ambition. Now this is gold.

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Music is “Creation” Too

A photo of the tree on Sunday :)

This last Sunday I was commissioned to lead the music and singing for Cornerstone Church South Side and I arrived somewhat early – which was all fair and well for me as it gave me some time to reflect and enjoy the wonderful Autumn morning. I sat by a tree (pictured above) and enjoyed its yellow-orange leaves shower over me, while the sun warmed me up and the chirping of the many birds all around were my soundtrack.

This is the kind of guy I am. I love nature. Creation. Sunrises and falling leaves and blossoms and mysterious, starlit evenings. It’s moments like this when my heart lights up in gratitude and worship. When my restless body finally gets what it needs to settle down – beautiful views, sounds and smells. When my voice shuts up and a greater voice speaks.

I thought to myself, “Now, if only I could bring this creation – all this beauty – into our morning worship.”

Then it hit me. Well, music is also a part of God’s own creation! I’m doing just that!

It seems to me that I’m often distracted by the sheer business of music. Most of my music ‘career’ has been about cool bands and cool hair. Thankfully I grew out of that several years ago. But even still, getting the music right for a Sunday morning; choosing the right songs; working on the dynamics of those songs; keeping up with trends; making sure I get all the cues right… all this business of music makes me forget the beauty of music in itself, its very nature, the fact that God created this stuff. I didn’t invent this. Playing music is, indeed, God-glorifying – it works toward this end just like all of creation works toward this end.

As the heavens tell of the glory of God (Psalm 19:1) so music tells of the glory of God. That’s if we’d let it. If we would get the business of it out of the way – the preferences of style, taste, and skill.

I do believe that sometimes we rely too much on music in church to make ‘things happen’ (whatever that may mean). I do believe that the lyrical content of much of our modern church music is pretty lame and sometimes even damaging to people’s relationship with God. But I have to admit, when sounds and notes go together, the very nature of that… the very nature of music… tells the glory of God. And that makes music joyful for me again, because when eternity comes, we’re really not going to care at all about the business of music. And that’s why we fill our church meeting places with these notes and the sounds of voices that echo the many facets and many stories of a relationship with the same person, Jesus Christ.

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Open Theism Part One: 2 Kings 20

In my last post, I introduced this new series on a book I’ve read / am re-reading called God of the Possible, written by Greg Boyd. The book is about Open Theism, a theological system that teaches that the future is partly open and, as a result, God does not know every aspect of the future exhaustively, but rather infinite possibilities. (Some aspects of the future are determined, others are not.)

Let’s dive into the preface of the book, which revolves around 2 Kings 20:

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” And Isaiah said, “Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover.”

We have quite in interesting interaction here between God, the prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah. As you can see, it seems God changed His mind and added fifteen extra years to Hezekiah’s life. Now what are we to make of this?

1. If God knew that Hezekiah would actually live (divine foreknowledge), it seems strange for God to declare that he would “not recover” as that simply wasn’t true. Did God effectively lie about the future (strong way of putting it, I know)? For what reason? To get Hezekiah to humble himself? To get Hezekiah to pray? But then God would have known what Hezekiah’s response was going to be, so the initial statement was not true. It seems strange to me that God would ever declare something untrue.

2. If God had sovereignly determined, ahead of time, that Hezekiah would live for another fifteen years (predestination) before he actually declared he would in the story above, it seems odd that God would declare differently at first. In other words, if it was God’s plan to add fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life right from the beginning, Hezekiah’s prayer didn’t actually mean anything or change anything. And besides, God would have determined that prayer ahead of time anyway, making Hezekiah’s prayer mean even less (this would be the view of a strong determinist) and giving further confusion to what it is God is actually doing here in this story.

Unless, God had sovereignly predestined that He would add fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life based on His exhaustive foreknowledge that Hezekiah would pray for healing. Fair enough, except then it takes us back to point (1) as God’s predestination was based upon divine foreknowledge, rather than the other way around. He acted in response to foreknowledge. Now you’re once again stuck with the problem that God declared an untruth to Hezekiah – saying he wouldn’t recover when God knew full-well that He would heal him, since the beginning of time.

You’re also stuck with another problem. If God acted in response to foreknowledge, that means God might have acted differently in response to the same foreknowledge. See, the language gives it away – if the future is settled, what exactly is God responding to? What is He acting on? There’s nothing to respond to – if I know exhaustively that the glass will fall off my desk in the next second – because the future is settled – that means I cannot respond to it. The second I am able to respond to such knowledge, it means that I have the power to change the outcome. That then means that the future is not exhaustively settled.

The conundrum is that a settled future not only limits our freedom but limits God’s freedom. He cannot respond to foreknowledge – the minute He responds He changes the way things might have gone. All His actions in history are therefore either meaningless (God had no choice as he had to go with what was an already settled future) or determined by God (God writes the story).

The problem is, the latter choice puts God responsible for evil in the world.

As per Boyd:

“How could God have truly changed his mind in response to a prayer if the prayer he was responding to was forever in his mind? How could Scripture say God added fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life if it was certain to God that Hezekiah was going to live those ‘extra’ fifteen years all along?”

These are difficult questions and trying to work them out are as difficult as trying to understand time travel in the Terminator movies. But that may only be, I submit, because of how we view time to work.

Boyd’s basic premise here, and for his book, is that the Scripture actually means what it says:  God changed His mind. Instead of things going one way they went another. (Note, the healing wasn’t instant! Also note, Isaiah still uses some kind of medicine!)

Many theologians answer this one by claiming it as an anthropomorphism (in other words, it gives God a human attribute, or it’s simply relating the story from the way it was perceived by us humans – God didn’t change His mind, it just looked that way). Carm is one example:

“From the eternal perspective, God does not change His mind since He knew from all eternity what the ultimate decision would be.  From the temporal perspective (relative to us), God changes His mind in response to the prayers and pleading of His people.”

This seems odd to me in this case. Isaiah was pretty strong about it being God’s Word from the beginning. Since the Scriptures make no mention of Isaiah making a mistake or going rogue, it simply can’t be that Isaiah got it all wrong. God was the one who declared Hezekiah would not recover and God was the one who declared otherwise afterwards.There’s not much space (if any) for it to ‘look’ as if He changed His mind.

Secondly, God specifically says, “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears,” implying strongly that this was the reason why He was adding fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life. There is also the hint at Hezekiah having begun a work and wanting to see it finished and God honouring that. Michael Eaton says that this is more than likely what the king alludes to in verse 3 – not that he seeks favour because of being a good person, but because God had given him a calling that still needed to be completed.

Eaton doesn’t address what we’re talking about in his commentary on 2 Kings 20 directly. What he does say is that Hezekiah ‘pushed judgement into the future’. Hezekiah achieved his calling: protecting Jerusalem. I find Eaton’s language here rather interesting, that Hezekiah actually changed the course of time, and changed what God had planned to do; although I know Eaton’s views on Open Theism aren’t favourable.

The anthropomorphic principle puts us back into problem (1) above or into our conundrum around the fact that the minute God can respond to foreknowledge, it means the future isn’t settled.

When looking at the Scripture as plainly as I can, I have to say that taking this scripture literally (God really did change His mind) appears to me to be both more reasonable and true to the text. Plus, the genre of the book appears to me to point towards less metaphor. When I first read this Preface in Boyd’s book I had already known about the scripture and, to be honest, scriptures like this one are partly what made Open Theism intriguing to me from the beginning.

Of course, this doesn’t seal the issue, not in light of scriptures like 1 Sam 15:29 which specifically state that God does not change His mind. We’ll have to get to that in another post as we go through the book.

Blogs (Faith), Life-Ecstatic (Faith)

EQUIP SA 2012 Session 3 – Bruce Benge

This is a ‘live-blog’ of the third session at EQUIP South Africa 2012. Again, it’s not a word-for-word transcribe but just my rough notes.

Session 3 – Bruce Benge – humility.


William Temple: Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gift – humility is not thinking about yourself one way or the other at all.


Leading a local church in some way reformed for 25 years, I’ve seen really good people rise and fall. I’ve seen some great gifts but only to be revealed of double standards later.


It’s a joy and responsibility most of the time.


Hebrews 13. In the same breath of making it a joy for those that lead you, there’s also a hey we’re responsible for God.


1 Peter 5: 1 – 11.


The Word is the Light and life of man. This book is life and is full of life; it’s full of God’s story.


We see instructions coming through here – elders towards the flock, young men towards the others. Some key points we need to note:


  1. God opposes pride in people. When pride begins to well up in our heart God opposes that. It’s also good news, as God’s approach towards us is for redemption. He still leads us to our own decisions.


  1. I’m going to give grace to humble people – God. Great news.
  2. God will use His mighty hand to exalt the humble in due time. In the process of life, He is going to exalt you in due time; elevate you; grow you; mature you; bring you into the fulness of everything that I planned and purposed for you.
  3. He will use his mighty hand to care for the hunble in the interim. He is going to open the opportunities of life for us. In the meantime, He is going to continue to care for us.


Let’s look at Peter’s story, Luke 22: 31 – 32. The request.


What’s the lead up to this? Verse 21 and 24. The last supper, here Jesus has just told His disciples that someone’s going to betray Him. Verse 21 – 24. The lead in.


Then the disciples’ discussion jumps to a whole new tone – then they began to argue about who would be the greatest among them. In the midst of a crisis of a friend, first of all they’re saying “It’s not me” then the tone changes and chests start to be poked out. Accusations start flying. Self-promotion starts coming into the context. Then that leads up to verse 31.


Isaiah 14 is a prophetic picture of Lucifer, prior to the creation of mankind, as one of the three arch-angels. He was the charismatic one. Then you read he had aspired to make himself greater than God – pride came in. That pride led to His expulsion from heaven and he was persuasive, taking the third of the angels with him. And he fell.


So Satan is listening in the conversation of Jesus and his friends and He hears something going on and recognises it – aha, they’re just like me, they like their own greatness. He knew that pride comes before a fall. And he heard this and then requested that they be put on. In the lion, witch, wardrobe when the queen rides into the camp and demands the blood of the young Edmund. She demanded it because she had a right, a law had been broken and on the basis of that she could make an appeal.


Satan heard stuff going on in the hearts of these leaders and knew there was grounds. So he requests to sift them as wheat.


Let’s take a weight of Peter’s shoulders. Verse 31 – Satan has asked to sift each of them. Not Just Peter.


We know Peter goes on to deny Jesus three times as per the prophecy. It wasn’t that he was a wimp. Something had gone into him. He wasn’t a wimp – he cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. He got out the boat and walked on the water. He was no wimp. But pride began to unstabalize the state of grace. And in the moment when He should have risen up, he failed.


I love Terry’s picture of dad in the prodigal son. I love the song we sang about worthy is the lamb and he was slain before the foundation of the earth.


A standard greeting in NZ is they go ‘tanakwe’ – it means, “I see you”. God saw us before the foundation of the earth. And isn’t it great that we have a need to see us (came out last night).


There’s a redemption process, you see in John 21, Jesus was risen from the dead. But where was he? Back on the beach looking for his boys. Our saviour, redeemer and king. The boys on the road to Emmaus and in their conversation there’s a sense of earnest longing and Jesus couldn’t hold himself back but had to come reveal himself to them. He doesn’t leave us lost and broken.


You see in John 23, Jesus speaks to Peter. Jesus had prophecied life over Peter before. Acts 3:12. Peter defers any sense of responsibility on himself but gives glory to God. He was no longer pushing for greatness but acknowledging the greatness of God. 2 Peter 5. He says God’s given us everything we need to live a godly life. You see this parrellel between the fruits and gifts of the spirit living in people. Then Peter says if you can grow and develop this stuff and press into the life of who God is and do life with Him… that’s the whole thing about the Gospel, it’s not about serving in ministry, it’s about doing life with Him. God invites us to join Him, not the other way around. So how do we do that? By participating. And by participating you escape corruption in this evil world.


So there’s a process. So what’s the point? Jesus was dislodging elements in these leaders’ lives that prohibit the devil having grounds. As leaders we begin to lead and gather people, and then we fall, it’s just about us, God constantly challenges us – it’s about our city, community, others. There are always people waiting on the other side of our responses.


Peter writes that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, belonging to God, that we may display the splendour of Him who has called us out of darkness. Why, because he had to acknowledge elements of darkness out of his own life (referring to Peter).


Remember we’re at spiritual war. Jesus came to kick hell out of our nations. The cross cancelled out sin and death and it brought victory. But we are in an age where evil and darkness still have some dominance over the nations because they get access to the human heart.


Story of guy who sexually assaulted his daughter and went to jail and it was a process.


The true secret of success is to be successful in a secret life. That’s been said before. Where does Satan live? He lives in darkness.


While I haven’t kept a sin habit I’m still challenged to live in the grace of God. There are plenty of opportunities for me during every day. I’m still a sinner getting saved.


Luke 11: 34 – 35.


If you deal with the corners of your room the rest of the room will take care of of itself. Jesus is saying, deal to the corners of your life, don’t hide, let the light penetrate into those corners. I get on the plane and go home tonight but this (the bible) doesn’t. The spotlight comes on. Then with no dark corners your life will radiate as if it were flooded with life.


Remember Jesus also talks about being salt to the earth and a city on a hill.


Let God put you together and in that in the process of God (we’re all a work of process).


Pride is a doorway to darkness. Gen 4:7. The brothers are fighting over whose gift is greater than whose. The heart of the matter is always the matter of the heart.


God comes and speaks and says in vs 6, why are you so angry? Who so disjected. If you refuse to do what’s right, sin is crouching at the door and you must subdue it and be its master. Cain heard the care and concern of the love of the father and went out straight away and murdered his brother. There’s a little bit of frank sinatra in each of us where we say we’ll do it my way.


There are different scriptures that are tempted beyond what we can stand and we come under the same temptation as everyone else. We become familiar with them. Dr Rabie, worth jumping on his website, he speaks about moral issues. Talking about porn he says in America that 40 percent of the clientelle that buy into porn are from the Christian community. From people that say I’m a Christ-follower.


My dad was a good businessman and in the building industry and then the government changed how they did stuff and in a stroke of a pen he lost 30 percent of his business. That 30 percent loss overnight impacted him so greatly that he ended up losing his business, because of the sudden-ness of it. Only 30 percent. IF 40 percent of people subscribing the industry that pollutes the soul and sucks our worship life, removes our platform and strength, if they can find some breakthrough. But it’s an industry where shame, darkness and secrecy thrives.


Jesus needs to rule in the heart of us as leaders. Here I stand but by the grace of God. I’m 50 and have run out of excuses. When we compromise it’s not just about me, it’s about others and the community and our wives etc. What I’ve realised over time is that if you really want to transform community you need a strong transformed community. Not just in mouth or outward appearance but in life and freedom. That can speak of the darkness with confidence because they’ve learned how to walk in the life.


Pride is the doorway that can take us out. Most of the guys I’ve walked with and in my own life, I’ve had opportunities to fall; but humility is the doorway to overcome. God gives grace to the humble. Perfectly placed for grace. God wants us to grow in this life but we’ve got to learn to break through some stuff. Saving grace is humility. Peter wrote about that in the scriptures we just heard.


The place where we stand and are firm is in Christ and God’s saving grace, his redemptive purpose in our lives. It’s in His light and His liberty. Peter wrote you stand there you’re less likely to fall. It’s not the things that shoot at us but the things that we’ve never taken out of our lives that get at us.


Marcus: we need to deal with those issues. If we want to see a future we need to be able to say that we’re a woman or man of unclean lips. Bruce’s statement that sums it all up is the devil has dominion over nations because he has access to human hearts. I don’t want it to be us. This was from the heart of God. There’s a challenge to us and a wake-up call.


Marcus is now going to interview Hennie and this is to give us the big-ness of this call. If there are those issues speak to your wife, speak to your accountability team, etc.


Bruce: There’s a bigger reason. There are people waiting for our response to Him. There’s a father waiting as well.


How do we keep clean hands and a pure heart? We come into the light as He is in the light; confess; have fellowship together.