Why would God destroy a city?

Sodom and Gomorrah are two famous historical cities known for their destruction. The account of their demise begins in Genesis 18, when the Lord says to Abraham, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me.”

I was reading this passage as a part of our church’s Genesis study, and this question was posed: ‘Why would God be so concerned about the reports coming from Sodom and Gomorrah?’ I was stumped at first. Sure I know that God hates sin, but evil is just a part of our world, right? Why did He feel the need to destroy them so dramatically?

As I pondered this I was suddenly reminded of something Jesus said: “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.”

Sin is not static. It spreads like a cancer, sometimes slowly, but surely. It seeps into a culture until it moulds minds and consciences and lulls people into deception, saying, “You can live as you like” and “There is no consequence.”

God’s destruction is always characterised by two things: justice for evil, and protection of that which is good. Just like a cancer in the body must be killed, in order for the body to be saved, so has God worked throughout history to restrain the spread of evil, so as to protect his people and offer salvation to all.

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So… I wrote a book.

UntitledSome of you have been faithful followers of my blog for a couple of years now, and you may have noticed that my posts have become a bit less frequent over the last year.

It’s because I was writing a book.

It has been my absolute privilege to have co-authored the book PURE LOVE – Pursuing Purity in a Sex-Obsessed World with my senior pastor, Timon Bengtson.

We are so excited to be able to present the Christian community with this resource that takes an honest, biblical look at many aspects of our sexuality and that calls Christians to a radical standard of purity.

As a high school teacher I am so passionate about helping to inspire and equip the next generations to live out their calling to not only glorify God with their bodies, but also to be freed from the enslavement of sexual sin to discover the joy-filled life that God has for them.12071576_10153360242288143_1168645822_n

If you live in Australia and would like me to personally post you a (signed or unsigned) copy of the book, I can do so for AU$20.30.

If you live overseas and would like a copy, you can purchase it on Amazon or Book Depository or download it from Kindle.

Would love to hear from any of you who would like to read it or have already read it!

God bless you as you seek to exalt Him in all areas of your lives.

Love Sarah

Why I don’t think people returned from Heaven.

My last blog post (When Heaven is for Real becomes a movie- and it’s my final straw) raised some questions that I think it would be remiss of me not to address.

While I am committed to keeping my posts short, and am not afraid of raising questions, there is always the risk that with such a concise amount of words I will be either misinterpreted or unclear in my meaning or the thinking behind my posts.

I think it is dangerous to criticize the experiences and motives of fellow Christians, but I also believe there are times when it is equally dangerous not to.

I am no great Bible scholar, in fact I’m a novice, and I may stand to be corrected, but I would like to take this opportunity to convey the basis for my conclusions.

First, I’d like to address the comment that I’ve received that if these stories cause people to think about Heaven, then they’re beneficial. I don’t agree with that reasoning. There is no doubt in my mind that God can use them for good. In fact, we live in a world in which God is daily using all manner of things for good and for his purposes (Rom 8:28). That doesn’t mean they’re right (God’s use of Solomon as a great King and part of the lineage of Christ does not justify David and Bathsheba’s sin).

Yes, these books may give some people hope, and cause others to re-consider the reality of heaven. But that does not by definition mean that the experiences conveyed are scriptural or accurate. God may use them for good, but it doesn’t alter the accountability of the ‘preacher.’

Second I’d like to address my specific gripe with the book that I began reading, “Heaven is so Real” by Choo Thomas. (Different from that which is being relased as a movie, which is “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo)
I’ll admit straight up, that it has been a long time since I read the book, and while I do recall the description of heaven being different to that described in Scripture, I don’t have specific memories of it. There are a few things, however, that I distinctly remember. First, the relationship between the author and Jesus was not one consistent with John’s visit to heaven in the Bible (more on that later) and was very human focused. The author was frequently referred to as Jesus’ ‘special daughter,’ which after a few visits began to have quite worldly and humanistic applications including promises of earthly prosperity, which culminated in the promise of an elite red sports car (soon after this I stopped reading).

I will mention as an aside that the feeling of oppression and (dare I say) demonic presence that I felt as I was reading this book was unparalleled to almost any other book I’ve read. I say that as an aside though. I believe it is important that my argument be based primarily on Scripture rather than personal experience or feelings.

Finally I’d like to address my Biblical reasoning for being sceptical of these ‘heavenly visit’ stories.

My first point comes from the Gospel of Luke and Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazurus. (Luke 16:19-31) Jesus (through the character of Abraham) makes an interesting point at the end of the story. The rich man is begging Abraham to send Lazarus back to his family because if ‘someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.’ Abraham refuses his request saying that ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them’ and that ‘if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

Jesus himself was later to die and rise again and appear to many, and yet many have still not believed. The world has Moses, and the prophets and the Son of God who returned from the grave. If people will not hear them, I cannot see, from this Scripture, that God would be sending others to them from the dead. Let them believe the testimony of Jesus.

There were several people who were raised from the dead at the time of Christ, the most prominent of whom was Lazarus (not to be confused with the Lazarus from the parable.) On none of these occasions was there any testimony of them having experienced heaven (even though Lazarus was in the grave for several days, far longer than any of the people in these books). The focus was completely on Jesus and his work. Furthermore, Jesus did say to Nicodemus in John 3:13 that ‘no one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.’

My second point comes from the testimony of John, Jesus’ disciple, who, in Revelation chapter 1, was given a vision of heaven for the purpose of scriptural revelation. While Jesus was on earth, John was his closest friend. If anyone knew Jesus it was him, and yet, when John was taken ‘in the Spirit’ (read- not dead), to Heaven, he saw Jesus as he now is, in His glorified state, and ‘fell at his feet as though dead.’ Meeting our glorified Lord in heaven is no matter of pleasant conversation, camaraderie or even comfort. It is the experience of coming face to face with the living God, who said himself to Moses that ‘man shall not see me and live.’

My third point follows from this and centres around the focus of those who supposedly went to heaven. From my quick perusal of the synopses of these books, much of the focus (and validation) of the experiences concerns meeting people in heaven who they once knew. While I have no doubt that we will be reunited with loved ones who had accepted Jesus as their saviour on earth, my problem with these recounts is twofold. First, in any biblical description of any person ascending to heaven (to my knowledge, always in the spirit or a vision, never dead, eg: John (Rev 1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6)) the person concerned was always completely captivated by the Glory and majesty of God. There was no mention of anything secondary, and no mention of meeting loved ones. From my understanding, meeting loved ones was a primary focus in this book. (For an interesting unpacking of this, see my post entitled ‘What if you got to Heaven… and God wasn’t there’

Furthermore, there is almost no scriptural evidence that anyone can meet with people who have already died. In fact, the scriptural evidence is quite to the contrary. In Deuteronomy 18:11 it refers to communication with the dead as an abomination to God. The only accounts I can think of where anything akin to this took place in the Bible was first when King Saul used a sear to call on Samuel (things didn’t work out too well for him) and the presence of Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration (clearly a very different situation to what we see today.)

My third point concerns the human focused nature of these heaven stories. My knowledge of them is limited, but the focus does seem to be on reassurance to people of the existence of heaven and the care of God, and the promise of earthly blessings. I would argue that any ‘trip to heaven,’ (which I believe, based on the above scriptures is unlikely if not completely unscriptural in our time), should be characterized by complete awe and worship of God, together with an unrivaled mantra of ‘worthy is the Lamb that was slain,’ and ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord.’

I’d like to finish by qualifying what I’ve said with a few short points.

I do believe in the value of personal testimony that testifies to the outworking of the promises of God, as outlined in the scriptures. I do not believe in further revelation from God, to a particular individual, that adds to the words of the Bible.

I do believe that God (in His triune form) does convict, lead, guide, impress upon, and, by his Word, individually communicate with His people. I do not believe that He takes them to Heaven and then returns them to earth, with the mandate to share their experiences.

I do believe that it is possible that God, may give a person a vision, dream, angelic visit or even near death experience for the purpose of leading them or bringing them comfort, but that any such experience will not bring them face to face with the living God, nor will it give them any message that adds to, contradicts or goes beyond the revelation of Scripture, nor is it to be used as a method of doing so.

Finally I’d like to finish with what may be the most controversial comment I’ve made so far: As Christians, we must be careful not to be deceived. We must not look at something that appears innocent, pleasant and harmless and assume that it is so. The Bible tells us that the devil himself masquerades as an angel of light, and that we are to be careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The doctrines and stories most dangerous to the church are not those that are blatantly opposed to it, but those that work their way in under the disguise of something that is good. If the experience of ANY person contradicts the teachings of scripture, we are to disown it, not tolerate it as harmless. I’d argue that the most harmful divisions in the church (including the development of cults) have been caused by those who add to the teaching of scripture with their own experiences and ‘words from the Lord’, and by those who have tolerated it.

I hope that this helps clarify some of my thoughts on this topic.

As I said, I’m no scholar, and I’m sure there is much to be said on this topic that I’ve missed. It is also not my job to judge the hearts and minds of these authors, but rather to be discerning in what we accept as from God and what we reject as not of Him.

May God be glorified always above all things, and may His word be given the place of authority that it deserves.

What has the right to judge me?

smallLet’s face it. We don’t like to be judged.

We live in the age of relativism. What’s right for me is right for me and what’s right for you is right for you, but you know what all that really boils down to? An innate, inner desire to have ultimate authority over our lives.

The relativist looks at the world around them and says: If I see it, if I feel it, if it’s within my realm of experience, then it is truth. Right and wrong can be whatever I want them to be.

Even Christians are far more prone to this than we like to think. Sure we look to the scriptures, but too often we hold them in one hand, balancing them against a hand piled high with reason, experience and feelings.

This makes me think of one of my favourite quotes by Tozer: ‘[The scholar] may compare scripture with scripture until he has discovered the true meaning of the text. But right there his authority ends. He must never sit in judgement upon what is written. He dare not bring the meaning of the Word before the bar of his reason. He dare not commend or condemn the Word as reasonable or unreasonable, scientific or unscientific. After the meaning is discovered, that meaning judges him; never does he judge it.’[1]

May we never bring the Word of God under the judgement of our own corrupt reasoning.


[1] Tozer, A.W. The Knowledge of the Holy, p24

Is there a Greater Reality?

dreaming-in-the-grey-reality-1136764-mThis is a question that has changed my life. I think most of us go through life defining our reality by what we can see and touch. We assign levels of reality. Tangible objects are the most real, followed by feelings and then ideas. That which is spiritual is often designated a position in the outskirts of what we deem true reality.

The Christian is called, however, through the renewing of their mind, to alter their perception of reality. We must perceive that which is spiritual, as described by the Scriptures, to be equally as much of a reality, if not even more so, as that which we see and feel.  We are called to live not by sight, but by faith.

This changed my life when I realized that the truth of the Scriptures must override my earthly perception of reality.

When my feelings tell me I’m afraid, they are intense. They claw for a prime position in defining my reality, but as a Christian, fear does not need to be my reality. When I read the scriptures I learn that the Spirit within me does not fear, and therefore, fear does not have to have a hold on me. Acknowledging this as a greater truth and ‘even more real’ than my feelings brings liberation.

Our reality must no longer be defined by what we see, but what we know by faith. It’s radical. To the unbeliever it’s absurd, but as they say, truth is often stranger than fiction.

Give Me the Truth that Hurts, Over a Lie that Makes Me Feel Good.

916513_28615130I’ve always had a passion for truth, but I know that sometimes it hurts. Sometimes facing the truth is like getting out of bed on a cold morning. You really don’t want to, but you know you’re not going anywhere until you do.

It bothers me how many people are willing to hide from the truth behind weakly spun webs of emotional reasoning and self-gratifying feelings.

Sometimes the truth tastes bad, but like medicine, it gives strength and healing in the end.

I think that’s one of the reasons I love the Bible. That book can pack a punch. It doesn’t bend to feelings or indulge human egos. It stands before us like a mirror and shows us our reflection: the good, the bad and the ugly. It is the best piece of human anthropology ever written.

So many people reject the Bible because it doesn’t feel good; because it doesn’t ‘sit well’ with their human reasoning. I encourage you to be open to the fact that the truth might hurt, but that its value is beyond measure.

Truth that Surpasses a Bed of Flowers

Kamille und Mohn am Wegrand im Sommer

Scarcely have I read a passage that resonated so deeply both with the objections of my own heart and my desire to hear truth, as this one from Stepping Heavenward:

‘Having been pardoned by your God and Saviour, the next thing you have to do is show your gratitude for this infinite favour by consecrating yourself entirely to Him, body, soul and spirit. This is the least you can do. He has bought you with a price, and you are no longer your own.

“But,” you may reply, “This is contrary to my nature. I love my own way. I desire ease and pleasure; I desire to go to heaven, but I want to be carried thither on a bed of flowers. Can I not give myself so far to God as to feel a sweet sense of peace with Him, and be sure of final salvation, and yet, to a certain extent, indulge and gratify myself? If I give myself entirely away to Him and lose all ownership of myself, He may deny me many things I greatly desire. He may make my life hard and wearisome, depriving me of all that now makes it agreeable.”

But, I reply, this is no matter of parley and discussion; it is not optional with God’s children whether they will pay Him with a part of the price they owe Him and keep back the rest. He asks, and He has a right to ask, for all you have and all you are.’

Stepping Heavenward. Elizabeth Prentiss. P86-86

What if David knew?

mylna-cave_2511893

I’ve had a note scrawled in my Bible for years now. I can’t even remember the circumstances surrounding me writing it, but it’s struck me a few times since:

Imagine if David knew, while he was in the cave, singing alone to God, that people would find comfort in his songs 3,000 years later; that the book that contained his songs would be directly from God; that it would be the best-selling book of all time.

I can be fairly sure that David had no clue, but I can’t help wondering, whether if he did, it suddenly would have all seemed worth it. Like us, David had times when he was alone, cold and despairing. He was in danger, overcome with fear and felt helpless. In the midst of the storm, he cried out to His God, with no comprehension of its significance in God’s big picture plan.

Our words may not be written down in scripture for millions of people to read over thousands of years, but like David, we often cannot see the way that God can and will use our own legacy.

As you go through the storms of life, remember that your time here is short, but that the beauty and influence that can be worked in you through the hands of the Potter do not fade away.

One day, I have no doubt, it will all be worth it.

When I’m the Worst Version of Myself

840879_woman_prayingI had a bit of a “bleh” day the other day. Nothing happened in particular, but I just felt like I’d been the worst version of myself.

God felt like a distant pen-pal whom I’d forgotten to write to for a while and, as I reflected on the day, I saw a lot more of ‘me’ in me, than Christ in me.

Blessedly, I knew the antidote. I went into the lounge room with a cup of tea, a blanket (the dreaded winter is upon us) and my Bible.

I opened to where I’ve been reading. Galatians 3. “…did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? … After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

What a great reminder. On those days when we are the worst version of ourselves, grace still covers us.

I am saved by grace, through faith, not by works, and there is now no condemnation!138261

The point is, I fail. I screw up. I don’t represent myself well, let alone Christ, but, (praise God) my salvation and sanctification was never dependant on my efforts.

When I am the worst version of myself, He is still the best version of Himself.

When A Student Makes It All Worth It. (But it’s too small a thing)

Living with a chronic illness, and being a teacher are giant tasks in and of themselves, but combining them, for the last six years has been the challenge of my life.

higher-1_21205205Though I only teach part-time, there have been many times, weeks, even months on end, when the task has seemed insurmountable. But I push on, and one of the driving factors is that I work at a school where I’m allowed to share my faith with my students. I’ve often said that if I saw even one student in heaven, if even one got saved as a result of my ministry, it would make all these years of struggle and fight worth it.

Last year I had a stand-out student in my Religion class. She loved coming to class and she’d hang off every word, but she was broken. On several occasions she stayed after class to ask me questions, often crying. I shared Jesus with her, over and over, but she just couldn’t seem to grasp it. I prayed for her, and bought her a Bible. Still she struggled, and at one point she ended up in hospital as a result of severe depression. Not long after that she left the school. I worried for her and I prayed for her, but it was out of my hands.

Last week I attended our school’s musical. During the interval a young lady ran up to me and hugged me. It was the girl from my Religion class the year before. She looked so happy and vibrant and she said she was doing well. I asked her what she was planning on doing next year, when she’s finished school. With shining eyes she told me that she was going to Bible College! I could have fallen over! What?

As I asked her about it, she shared what has happened over the last year; that she’s at church all the time now; that she’s found God and He’s changed her life. Then she said some things that really impacted and humbled me. She told me that she has so much love for me; that I’m her inspiration. That it was those Religion lessons and chats that led her to God. I was lost for words. After six years. Finally, a life changed for eternity.

All credit and glory goes to God. He does the saving; He gave me the strength to get through days when I had nothing and he gave me the privilege of being used for His greatest purpose. Even more, He let me know. So often we hope that lives are changed or impacted in ways that we’ll never know about, but what a privilege and blessing to actually be told. To actually have that student chase you down and tell you they’ve been wanting to get in touch with you for months. It’s rare.

So, I’ve had my one. The one who was going to make it all worth it; but you know what? It’s not enough. I was reminded of the passage in Isaiah when God says that reaching the Jews was too small a thing, He was going to save the Gentiles too. This is my conviction: I’ve been privileged to be part of a divine miracle; a soul brought from death to life, but to rest at one? It’s too small a thing. I see hundreds of teenagers every day who need Jesus, so for as long as I’m in this job, as long as God gives me strength to do it, I’ll be sharing the gospel with any who are willing to hear it.