Please arrive late for Bible Study group

It happened again. A student showed up late to Bible Study on campus. It was only 41 minutes late (for a 50 minutes group). I guess by some measure he had 9 minutes to spare. I smiled at him mid-sentence. A nod of acknowledgement. He sat down. And I kept leading the study.

As a university Bible teacher and evangelist it’s par for the course that students regularly arrive late. The time-challenged are young, almost always male, and unlike at school there is no longer a bell and teachers to herd the cats to where they should be. They’re on their own. Responsibility, man.

On this occasion no doubt there was good reason – an assignment and a late night is the usual culprit. And almost certainly some online gaming, socialising, or movie watching prior to aforementioned good reason.

It is well grumbled that punctual people bemoan the punctually-challenged. Most (Western) people hate it when others arrive late to formal gatherings. I am sympathetic to late hate. We should be people of our word and show love by putting the needs of others above our own.

But when it comes to students arriving late to Bible Study I have a confession: I love it. It’s one of my favourite things in the world.

And here’s why­ – because they came.

Arriving late is a sign of maturing

When you arrive late, you still arrive! It says to me, ‘You’re getting there… slowly.’ A student who arrives late has overcome a competing activity; they’ve said ‘No’ to a hundred other worthwhile uses of their time. They’ve prioritised the gathering around God’s word and they’ve recognised the irreplaceable power of presence in order to truly and deeply and personally encourage others in following Jesus.

Now lateness itself is often more grey than early birds realise. Sluggishness is sometimes the cause but it could also be illness, anxiety, or a variety of events outside our control. Sometimes competing responsibilities unavoidably back onto each other.

But for most students today, calendars are crowded: part-time work, longer commutes, never-ending assessments, group meetings, and online lectures. It can feel like our attention is being pulled in every direction. And with all this, they still came to Bible Study. Late again. But they came.

Arriving late is better than not coming at all

What goes through your mind when you’re really running late? The embarrassment? The need for a justifiable excuse? The easiest thing to do when you’re running late is to not arrive at all.

Part of my job as pastor on the campus is to recruit believers to see the university as their mission field. When I meet a Christian on campus who is not involved with our group I pursue them to the edge of awkwardness. I do so unapologetically because I long for them to be obedient to Christ. Getting involved in the Christian Union is not the only way to be Christian at university, but it is the best way.

This means I speak with a lot of Christians who see no connection between what they do on Sunday with how they spend their Monday to Friday. The gospel is there — you’re saved by grace not evangelism — but it hasn’t seeped into their bones.

I exhort them (read: sanctified hassling) to think Christianly about university but it’s common to find complete disinterest. I had the horrible thought recently about what some of these students must have my name as in their phone contacts: “Izaac – annoying – Christian uni group – do not answer.” It’s probably best that I don’t know.

So when a student arrives late I celebrate. Showing up late to study the Scriptures, to know God better, to pray for one another, to proclaim the gospel to each other, to teach, rebuke and encourage – it’s not irresponsibility, rather it is nothing short of the work of God’s Spirit in the life of that believer.

I was that 18-year-old student once. Arriving late. Sometimes in the tracksuit I’d slept in at college, hair askew, and a half-cooked slice of raisin toast in hand. Met by gracious brothers and sisters in the faith picking up the slack until I appeared. But I wanted to be there because my priorities were increasingly in order.

Arriving late is a sign of maturing. Not maturity, to be sure, but maturing.

A still more excellent way

Maturity on the other hand is doing all those things for 50 minutes rather than 9. Maturity in most situations is showing up early for those precious moments of welcoming others, of personal catching up, and a chance to pray before the hordes arrive. If any of my student leaders are reading this – don’t show up late. You’re the mature(r) ones who set the example of costly sacrifice to the group.

You see, one of my other favourite things in the world — other than seeing students arrive late for Bible Study — is seeing those who used to habitually show up late, now showing up early in order to love others more intentionally.

Arriving late to Bible Study should not be the goal. I don’t think we should encourage tardiness. But I’m arguing that as we demonstrate grace, with a little helping of patience and a side of forebearance we should celebrate a ‘late arrival’ with an emphasis on the arrival more than the late.

Arriving late to a Christian gathering is an act of love. Disorganised love, but love nonetheless. So to those racing the clock, I say,  please arrive late for Bible Study.

How to make the most of university

What is university for?

For many students, university is an unconscious decision. You finish high school; you’re a competent student and so you do what competent students do – apply to university.

Some students are completing a lifelong career dream of being say, a nurse. For others university is merely a way of delaying further the ‘real world’. These people often become the perennial professional student still hanging around a decade later. Yet for many students their arrival at university is just because. Sure, there were preferences to choose, and universities to select but university is simply what you do after high school.

But have you stopped to ask yourself ‘What is university for?

What are you hoping to get out of your student years? A degree? Honours? Some fun experiences? Lifelong friends?

The Hollywood answer is that university is for partying. It is tempting to dismiss this outright but this social aspect of studying has a surprising historical precedent in the history of modern universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

Most students today would say university is for a job or career. You train in primary education to become a primary school teacher, or medicine to become a doctor. In this realm some students will be honest and confess university is for Mum and Dad who wanted me here.

Perhaps more perceptively some will specify that university is for money; both the higher average wage that university graduates earn, as well as the universities themselves who continue to drink from the well of full-fee-paying international students.

To be sure, socialising, career, and money are unavoidably part of modern university life, but are they what university is for? If you don’t know what university is for, then you can’t make the most of it.

So I’d invite you to consider university with a loftier goal – that university is for learning. What I mean by this I hope will become clear shortly, but I’m talking about learning in a very broad sense. University is for learning. Not merely facts or knowledge or even scholarship, but an education.

As most university students today reduce their studies to a qualification it has become commonplace to mock people who consider university as an education rather than a career. We call them Arts students. And we suspect they’ll attain little practical skills (is ‘English literature’ a skill?) and in all likelihood end up working at McDonald’s. But then again according to recent reports, Law is the new Arts with only about two-thirds of law students finding work in law. In other words, there are many paths to McDonald’s.

However when I say that university is for learning, I don’t immediately mean the type of learning from an Arts major. From my 14 years with students (including two degrees of my own) I have observed that it is the students who understand that university is for learning who will get the most out of their student years. This broader approach to your education will ensure that the job, career, and socialising will form a necessary part of university life without dominating it.

I want you to get the most out of university. And if you don’t know what university is for then you won’t get the most out of university. If university is for learning then there are three attitudes to have towards learning and three key areas to think about as you learn.

Three attitudes to learning

  1. Learn to love learning

It is wrong to assume that everyone at university loves the process of learning. Most humans have a love of learning early in life but it is an attitude that is unlearnt through the later years of schooling once your childlike wonder dissipates. I blame hormones but it’s probably also modern education.

So whilst you’re at university learn to enjoy the process of gaining knowledge. Don’t complain as you write and research every essay and assignment. Perhaps you could argue a position in an essay that you don’t agree with; ask a question in class; disagree with a lecturer. Choose electives based on interest, not what furthers your career. Why not study a subject outside your course area?

Learn to love learning.

  1. Learn to prioritise learning

If these years are given to learning, then you need to give time to the process. The biggest mistake I observe these days is trying to squeeze your lectures into two days so you can spend three days working casual shifts at the supermarket.

What drives this is an ever-increasing standard of living expected by students. If you don’t want to waste your university years here’s the thing to do: learn to live with less. Lower your standards. Make the most of every free lunch on campus. Bring food from home. Live off 2-minute noodles. Live out of home as long as you can stand it. Take public transport. Ride a bike. Don’t get a credit card. Use student discounts. Don’t buy any textbooks (at least until you’ve checked with a final year student)!

Of course you can take this too far; I know a university student who saved money on an ear piercing by numbing his earlobe with ice and then getting a friend to make the hole with a fork.

Some students do need to work, but I advise students to look for a job that uses your nights not your days: work at a cinema, or in hospitality. Or better still outside of university time with seasonal work over Christmas and New Year.

Let me state this as plainly as I can: you have got 45 years of full-time work after university. No one ever gets to retirement and says, gee I’m glad I spent every spare moment during my student years working for $17 an hour at Target. But people do look back on the experiences they had with friends.

Which leads to the third key attitude:

  1. Learn in community

Make the most of learning from others. There is a Christian element to this: we exist to serve others as Jesus too served us. Yet it is almost impossible to serve others when you’re not around them. Showing up serves your lecturers (even if they don’t think so), but also enables you to serve and be served by others. Other students will challenge you, push you further, give exam hints, and share resources. Show up, for your sake and theirs.

Socially this is also helpful for first year students. It can be hard to make friends, but be brave and keep showing up. I recommend sitting in the same spot in weekly lectures to try and get multiple contact with the same people. At most AFES groups many students find a warm welcoming community as well when you show up for a public Bible talk or small group Bible study to get to know a few people really well.

It has never been easier to be an absentee university student. Our university has wonderful technology called Lecture Capture which records lectures for later listening (and we always have good intentions of listening later, don’t we). Listen-later-lectures are a great servant but a terrible master.

As we learn to love learning, learn to live with less and learn in community, this will provide the foundation for deeper reflection on life itself, which is where the real learning comes in. This is how to make the most of university.

Three areas to think about whilst you’re learning

  1. Think about life’s big questions

When is the best time to stop and think about life, the universe and everything? When you have a mid-life crisis? Retirement? To get the most out of university you need to use this time to ask big questions. This is the time for it. You’re out of the bubble of school, taking a step into adulthood away from your parents.

Have you interrogated your beliefs? And this is true regardless of your religious background. Which beliefs have you inherited – both good and bad?

For without self-awareness in this area, you will imbibe someone else’s worldview. It is rare that lecturers will make their worldview explicit. So you will swim in it subconsciously. If you don’t ask the big questions about life, the universe and everything, you’ll accept someone else’s answers by default.

Our Christian group Gospel Students wants people to ask big questions. Questions that matter. Because whether you realise it or not you’re already on the treadmill of life. And life will go on whether you ask the big questions or not. But we want you to know what you’re living for. We want you to know that what you’re investing your life in is worthwhile.

  1. Think about yourself

University is the perfect time for an existential crisis or two. Consequently universities are a people-watchers delight as students try to reinvent themselves. Perhaps you could try a hipster phase: new haircut, skinny jeans, and start drinking lattes. This is a great time to work out ‘Who am I’? What am I like?

You may find your strengths and weaknesses, but also your limitations: If you aren’t going to be the girl who gets 7’s for every subject, can you be content with 5’s?

But there’s deeper thinking to be done about yourself to help you make the most of your student years.

One of the things that we do as a Christian group as we teach the Bible is we interrogate the view of humanity that is presented in university. We do this by seeing what the creator says we are like.

There are competing approaches to humankind that you’ll come across in your studies. Students in education, psychology and legal subjects will come across an optimism about the direction of humanity. Hopefulness that through education we will solve the world’s problems. A hope that through science we are reversing the effects of sin and making progress in life expectancy on the slow march towards immortality.

There are other visions of humanity too: a kind of reductive humanistic naturalism –which sees nothing beyond the physical realm, and so reduces most of existence to hollow philosophies of pleasure-seeking and the pursuit of happiness. Or in its darker forms becomes nihilistic and sees life as pointless and inherently selfish.

But the Scriptures paint a picture of humanity that is realistic, both recognising the deep inherent worth of life as those loved by God, and tempered by the reality of a fallen world which has rejected God. Rebellious, selfish, fallen, yet loved.

Think about yourself.

  1. Think about Jesus

Most university students are culturally illiterate. Because if you don’t know a reasonable amount about Jesus and Christianity then you won’t understand Australia. This country is not a Christian country — I don’t believe it’s possible to be a Christian country — but Australia is profoundly shaped by our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our legal system, our history, our art, many of our formative artists – are infused with Christian thought and influence. Not to mention our major holidays and entire calendar are determined in relation to the major events of Jesus’ life. Without some knowledge of Jesus you are culturally illiterate. Yet from a Christian perspective there is a more important reason to think about Jesus.

As someone who has shaped history so profoundly, it is important to consider the claims of Jesus. The way to do this is not by taking my word for it, or your parents, or your lecturers, but through opening the historical documents from the first century. This is how you make an informed decision, as you hear from those who witnessed these events. Jesus is worth rejecting as an adult.

Not only that, Jesus himself makes some pretty amazing claims about how important he is. In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He makes a claim to being different, to being the one way, the only way to be right with your maker. And it has been my experience that as students think about Jesus they can be strangely and frustratingly drawn to him. Oftentimes inconveniently convinced that he is who he says he is. We simply read the Bible so people can make a decision to trust in Jesus — or at least an informed decision not to. Think about Jesus.

And to Christians, make the most of university by giving your intellect to putting down deep roots in Christian belief. We won’t treat you like a child. Our Christian group is not a youth group all about playing games — although we do have plenty of fun — and there are times for games. We want you to become an informed, mature, adult believer.

Unapologetically give all your intellect to pursuing the things of God – his unfolding plan to bring all things under the rule of Jesus. Being a Christian student is not an oxymoron. Don’t buy the lie that secular universities means no place for Christian thought – it means the opposite not to privilege any one religion over another. Christians are students of history because we believe in the God who is over world history, students of science because we believe this is God’s ordered world, students of the humanities because we believe humans are the high point of God’s creation.

This is what university is for. Not money, not the piece of paper, but to learn. Don’t waste your student years by merely graduating.

Rather learn to love learning, learn to prioritise learning, and learn in community. And whilst you’re learning, to think. Think about life’s big questions, think about yourself, and think about Jesus.


For Griffith students:

For other universities:


Some musings on a decade of marriage

I saw the Facebook post. And I smiled. I see a lot of Facebook posts and I smile often, but I remember this particular post and this particular smile because I’d posted on Facebook almost identical words only a few months earlier. ‘My wife is one of God’s greatest gifts to me.’

It makes you smile, doesn’t it? A husband’s unbridled joy in his wife; a joy that cannot be caged causes you to delight in their delight. One of my marriage mottos—and I can only identify a few— is to ‘delight in the wife of your youth’. This comes from Proverbs 5:18 and surely the command as you age to continue delighting in the wife of your youth, assumes delighting during your youth. So I read the post and smiled.

Yet I smiled for a different reason than shared joy. When I’d typed these words I was a man married seven or eight years. The post I was reading was from a relative newlywed. His post was no doubt arrived at independently of mine. In fact, I may be conflating a number of posts from a number of friends into this one memory as this type of newlywed bliss is so common. We even have a name for this ‘honeymoon period’, when the true fault lines of our personal tectonic plates have not yet caused any quakes. This is the time when overcome with joy, or the intimacy of friendship, one feels the need to declare to the whole world (or at least the part of the world they can get a megaphone to on Facebook) that this woman is God’s great gift to me.

I smiled because I thought ‘he has no idea what he’s saying.’ And at least internally I shook my head a little bit. He. has. no. idea. The post was not clueless; it was not a silly thing to say. On the contrary it was in every way lovely. It was not even bordering on carelessness, because you cannot rightly describe an expression which is true in and of itself as careless. It was not quite ignorance. Perhaps simply it was a naiveté. There was an innocence because the declaration was premature. The words had not yet been given an opportunity to take on the depth of meaning which I was certain they would over time. It was naïve in its one-sided-ness. It was calling this gift of marriage good when it was still viewed from a distance as a circle when in reality it is a sphere. And only time can reveal this.


Sarah and I got married at 20 years of age. By modern standards we were young (with the implication of foolish). When Sarah and I announced our engagement, people would sometimes suggest to my mother that we were too young. Mum, to her credit, would sometimes challenge her friends who expressed this about how old they were when they married. For many of my parents’ generation it was fairly common to marry in their early 20s but apparently society knows better now. If I had my time again I’d change lots of things but getting married at 20 isn’t one of them. However I’m scarred enough to know that if I was a 30 year old divorcee I would think differently. And I’m aware of my own failures enough to know that it is a special mercy of God to keep two sinners married, together, and in love for any length of time.

For there is nothing like marriage to expose your imperfections. Although I think having kids is a close second. It’s one thing for your spouse to call you out for your flaws, it’s another to have your kids taking on your behaviours and marauding around the house as a living, breathing, less-sophisticated embodiment of your sinful traits. But Sarah gets to see things I can hide in public. Not shameful or violent things, just the rough bits.

I could do a better job of hiding some of the rougher parts of my personality when I was only a son and brother. But my wife has had to see me at my worst and there is an ugliness there as there is in all of us. Much of marriage is managing the ugliness. In both of us. Some people say marriage is about ‘loving an imperfect person perfectly’ but even then our love too is stained by its own imperfections. When two sinners are joined together they don’t complete each other like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It’s more like two tectonic plates being pushed together and all those connections are jagged and jarring and when the pressure mounts in the right way they can explode.

I’m thankful that Sarah and my personal jagged edges mostly presented themselves after we were married. We’d been pressed together by then. If it had happened during our courtship I wonder if my younger immature self would have re-started the impossible pursuit of the perfect person. It would have been fruitless. And it would have only delayed my personal humbling. No matter the person we choose to marry, our tectonic plates are shaped differently—some more jagged than others—but never a perfect fit. Yet the bond of marriage forces you to work on your tectonic plate alignment. To try and find the best fit, try and smooth a few of our own rough edges. I’m thankful that, committed to me in faithfulness, Sarah has chosen not to trade me in for a newer, less arrogant model.

This all sounds like a glass-half-empty view of marriage. My intention is not to be pessimistic, but reflect Reality. Although I do fear these caveats misrepresent the mostly happy times. Nevertheless, the day-to-day experience of my marriage has been positively mundane. And I mean positively. But it is not glass-half-empty. It is simply ordinary. And even then this ordinariness is most often interrupted by times of joy.

But reflecting on ten years as a husband, my mind keeps going back to a day a few weeks before I got married. A good mate and I were sitting down with an older Christian man. He’d been married longer than we’d been alive. For some reason the conversation reached a point where he felt he needed to temper our idealism. He was giving us our Reality Check. But the way he did this still stops me in my tracks. He shared with us that before conversion, as a married man he’d committed adultery through a one-night stand. It was only after years of guilt that post-conversion he could confess his deceit to his wife. There was not a shred of boast in the words. Just brokenness. Not a feigned humility. He was showing us Reality. Brokenness. His wife as a woman clothed in the gospel was able to forgive him. At least, after a time. But. it. was. forgiveness. Forgiveness that is just as Real as the sin. Forgiveness which reconciled their marriage and remembered the sin no more. And it’s knowing this forgiveness—the kind learnt from the God who while we were sinners sent his Son to die for us—that meant this man could share his deepest shame with a couple of young idealistic blokes. He didn’t just know mercy, forgiveness, and love. He had experienced mercy, forgiveness, and undeserved love.

I am thankful my marriage has not required a painful healing of that order. But there are enough smaller hurts that I don’t know how marriages survive without knowing God’s forgiveness. Obviously many do. Yet I can’t see how I’d do it. Being broken yet welcomed into friendship with God cannot help but shape how I react to sin in Sarah, and her to me. It constrains our reaction to the ugliness. Because we’ve been loved before we were worthy. And this is Real.


After ten years, Sarah and I are great friends. And this has been a great coolant on the normal frictions of married life. In our moments of greatest distress we cool quickly. It is a genuine affection and friendship that is forged not only by bliss but pressure and time, and experience. It’s a friendship formed through the moments of greatest fear and distress and loss. But then again it’s forged just as much by the inanity of life: making cups of tea, driving to church, playing board games, doing the shopping, sending texts.

I could fill volumes with stories of Sarah’s grace, courage, patience, thoughtfulness, kindness, generosity, care, love and selflessness. I could also write a small companion piece of her many faults. I know this because there’s a draft version in my mind that I quote to Sarah in my worst moments. But ten years in, my maturing as a husband has had so very little to do with Sarah and almost everything to do with me.

You see, that Facebook post about God’s great gift to me of my wife, was written not in a moment of joy but in a moment of repentance. The biggest shadow over our marriage has for many years been sickness. It’s sometimes a cloud, sometimes a fog, always there in the atmosphere. Just enough to interrogate my vow of ‘in sickness and in health’ most weeks, and sometimes for weeks at a time. You see caring for an unwell person has been very revealing. It has exposed where my expectations as a husband were about keeping score rather than sacrificial love. For where is a give-and-take relationship when one half has little to give? Unfair expectations. Selfishness. Pride. And this has been painful. And yet what time has revealed is that this itself is perhaps the greatest gift Sarah has been to me – of seeing the ugliness and loving me anyway. She has helped me again to experience the gospel, to know forgiveness and welcome.

I think this is most of all why I smiled at my newlywed friend speaking of God’s gift of a wife. He had no idea. Because a decade in, God’s gift to me of my wife has been so much greater than I imagined. The expected joys have been tempered by Reality. And it is beautiful in all its ugliness.


Ten years. You’d trade a car after that long. But I’m trusting this particular model is becoming a classic. Now I’m not triumphalistic; too many marriages of dear friends have ended around us to have me relax. And only God knows how these two sinners will navigate the next waves we face. But I’m also hopeful—should the Lord will—that in another decade I can look back with just as much gratitude. And it wouldn’t surprise me to look back on the man I am today, to smile at this naïve young man and think ‘he had no idea.’

Prosperity Theology: An Audit of Jesus’ Financial Teaching

Like all good viruses prosperity theology has mutated.

Detecting the promises of money and houses and cars booming from church pulpits used to be easy. But as financial gurus have morphed into life coaches, prosperity teaching has become increasingly implicit. The guarantees of monetary wealth have been replaced by a more general motivational-speak of God enabling the best version of you, God wanting you to prosper, and God causing you to succeed. In some ways this is an improvement. Because given a biblically nuanced footnote I could agree with each of these statements (and a number of evangelicals have jumped on the bandwagon with talk of ‘human flourishing’). But herein lies the danger; an untruth has been replaced with a half-truth.

The problem with these new kinds of ambiguous statements is that a culture of rampant materialists (of which I ashamedly see myself) is left to fill in the blanks. And we do this mostly with blank cheques. So the best version of me has a second investment property, the ways God will prosper me are more financial than godly, and my plans God wants to succeed align almost perfectly with those of my financial planner.

Prosperity theology may have mutated, but it’s still harmful because it is a lie.


It takes a bit of creative accounting to arrive at the prosperity gospel from the teaching of Jesus.

The gospel of Luke does not rate the rich/poor divide of mere variable interest. Rather taking stock of the overall theme, Jesus seems to credit wealth as a liability with any teaching to the contrary morally bankrupt. It must be taxing to attempt to reconcile the concept of God wanting material prosperity for his people in this life, with Jesus’ words that most often default to depreciate wealth.

Right from Jesus’ initial public offering he quotes from the prophet Isaiah that as Christ he is invested with the task ‘to proclaim good news to the poor’ (4:18) The kingdom of God is an asset not of the rich but of the poor (6:20) as shown by the story of Lazarus and the rich man (16:19–31). The poor not the rich should be the ones invited to your banquets lest you be seeking a line of credit (14:13-14). And again, it is the poor widow — rather than the rich — whose capital gains Jesus’ approval (21:3).

The bottom-line on the Pharisees is condemnation as lovers of money (16:14), just as the rich in general are at risk of not inheriting the kingdom of God (18:24). Jesus tells the rich young ruler to liquidate his assets and give to the poor (18:22). You can lay up treasure for yourself without being rich toward God (12:21), you cannot serve God and money (16:13), and woe to the rich for you have received your equity (6:24). Similarly, before the woman with the discharge of blood receives her fringe benefit (8:43–44), Jesus explains that riches make the word of God a distressed asset (8:14). A person can gain the entire world but forfeit his soul – the worst possible return on investment (9:25).

To be fair, not all rich people leave sadly from Jesus’ presence as the rich young ruler does (18:23). Zacchaeus is a man of great wealth who receiving Jesus joyfully saw his acquisitions as an especially gross profit and repaid his debts accordingly (19:6–8).

But when you add it all up, it is difficult to conclude that prosperity theology is anything more than a scam.


There is however a Christian prosperity that Jesus speaks of in Luke 18:28–30.

And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

On first reading, this story quacks like prosperity theology. Is Jesus promising great financial wealth in this life?

Peter’s claim to have left his home harks back to Luke 5:1–11. After a night of unproductive fishing Simon Peter was in his boat wondering what is this net worth? Next thing Jesus comes along hauling in a miraculous load of fish that would have made the net profit [okay I’ll stop now]. However Jesus calls and says ‘Follow me’ and so Peter, James, and John get back to land and leave everything. They left a physical home, so will they get one back with interest?

It is tempting to rationalise Jesus’ promises of many more times homes (and family members) as metaphorical or heavenly. Yet Jesus makes clear that alongside the future blessing (eternal life) there are current blessing (in this time).

What specifically is Jesus promising?

Jesus is not promising wealth to his followers. If you follow Jesus you will not have a greater property portfolio or a bigger bank balance.

Quite the opposite – Jesus is promising that you will own less as a result of following him. And you will own less in two ways:

  1. You will accumulate less. Taking the warning of Jesus you won’t chase wealth. Thus those who live for their career will oftentimes get promoted ahead of you leaving you comparatively worse off.
  2. You will give more. As someone who knows God’s generosity you are generous to others. And if you give to others you will consequently own less.

Yet this in turn shows how Jesus is not misleading his followers.

It’s all about ownership. You will own less, but have more. You own less because you accumulate less and give more, but collectively you have access to many times more. Jesus fulfils this promise by bringing Christians into a community of God’s people. It is from the Christian gathering that those who are in need will have shelter provided and those who have been rejected by their family will have spiritual brothers and sisters and parents. The comfort to Peter and all Jesus’ followers is that your path of lack now is actually the path of plenty. This is Christian prosperity – less in your bank account, but together more in our bank.

But this is only the beginning. The even more impressive part of Christian prosperity is the last part of Jesus’ promise, ‘and in the age to come eternal life.’


The truly great prosperity is yet to come.

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

– Luke 23:32–43  

The promise of Paradise beyond the grave is for those who trust in Christ. And this salvation comes about through the greatest transaction of all; the innocent Son giving his life to take the debt of condemned humanity. The punishment of sin poured out on the sinless. The death of the blameless in place of the guilty.

This is Christian prosperity: those forgiven by Jesus experiencing God’s kindness in Christian fellowship both now and forever.

And unlike the virus of prosperity theology this is a message worth spreading.

The A to J of Maintaining Discussion in Small Group Bible Study

Good discussion in small group Bible study is all about momentum. Established groups can be like dropping a small pebble on a snow-capped peak which starts an avalanche. In other groups discussion can feel as if you’re pushing a boulder up that same mountain.

Tips for getting discussion started and keeping it going:

Acknowledge – an audible but non-committal grunt recognises contributions without closing discussion. For the correct sound think teenage-boy-responding-to-parents.

Bring in others – These are the four most important words for a Bible study leader to learn: “What do others think?”

Calmness – silence is golden. Give people time to respond. Never give up and say the correct answer yourself. Answering your own questions is a sign of madness.

Direct question – “What do you think, Jess?”

Eye-Contact – Locate the person not awkwardly looking at the ground.

Follow-up question – “Thanks Dave, are you saying….? How does that fit with what Jerry said?” “What makes you think that?” “Which verse are you getting that from?”

Grouping members – Get in pairs or threes to discuss. Then get each group to share what they discussed.

Heresy – Use this sparingly but sometimes giving a wrong answer can inspire people to correct you. If everyone wrongly agrees with you (d’oh!) then get everyone back on course with a sudden epiphany. “Gah, actually what I said can’t be right; look at verse 6.”

Introduction question – try to get everyone to have spoken as early as possible because our first word can be the hardest.

Jesus – the best discussion in Bible study comes when Jesus is at work in the lives of individuals. It is Christian maturity not sociability which leads group members to contribute constructively. So even if discussion feels like drawing blood from the stone, it is the work of regularly speaking the word of the gospel from the Bible into people’s lives which over time produces people who speak to serve. However maturity takes time so it may well be a different group in years to come which reaps the benefit.

It feels a little too convenient to end with J for Jesus, but this is no token gesture. Those who embody the gospel of grace contribute in order to serve others. These are the people who will speak if no one else will, who hold their tongue to allow others to speak, who gently correct, who know the answer but ask it as a question to invite others to participate. These are the people who won’t let a preferential learning style prevent them from entering discussion.

And if you are blessed with a small group Bible study full of these kinds of people you’ll simply need to drop a pebble and watch the avalanche.