Monday, April 25, 2016

What is God's version of prosperity?

Dominick Santore recently wrote a powerful piece titled The Prosperity of the Gospel.

He used  Jeremiah 29.11 as his cornerstone scripture reference.

"For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope..."

One of Santore's main points is that "God doesn't always promise happy endings in this physical world."

Which got me to thinking: When it comes to this life, what does God promise us?

God doesn't promise financial or material success.

In America today, dollars and cents seem to be the most common way of measuring success in life. Quite often conversations about success are nothing but a listing of current salary, what neighborhood we are living in and how much money we will make in the future.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with money or a good career, these aspects of life don't capture the total picture of how a person is doing.

Jeremiah quoted God during a time when the Jewish nation was being held captive in Babylon, and God was telling his people that they would have to endure 70 years as captives until they could come back home. God was encouraging them to continue to seek him wholeheartedly. That was God's version of success.

God doesn't use the same yardstick to measure success that we do.

In Jesus' day, many religious leaders looked at health, business savvy and other possessions as signs of God's favor. But Jesus told them that they were mistaken. In fact, from what the bible shows us, God's Son had a very modest carpentry business that He learned and inherited from His dad. (It was so modest that there isn't much mention of it at all.)

Jesus didn't use his trade skills to build a mega-house for His Mom or set up a huge carpentry business with His siblings.

When God's Son began His public ministry, quite often the things He said elicited the response of, "Isn't this the carpenter's son?" A direct reference to His material insignificance.

God promises us that if we follow Him, we'll be challenged.

If we follow God, we're going to come against the prevailing wisdom of of the day.

It was true when Jesus walked the earth and it's just as true today. The human race hasn't changed its essential nature over the centuries.

We don't live in a nation that's inclined to follow God. So following God is going to cost us something because following God has never been popular.

God does promise us fulfillment.

So if God isn't promising us a materially satisfying and financially successful life, then what is God's version of prosperity or success?

Peace that isn't dependent upon circumstances. Security that isn't based on stock portfolio performance. Love that is eternal and non-conditional.

Jeremiah went on to say (after 29.11) that God's promise is that we will find God when we seek God with all of our hearts. God will hear us when we pray. And God won't forsake us.

Sometimes it takes great faith to believe this. Sometimes it takes outrageous hope to hold on to this. (Philippians 4.6-7). And ultimately such faith and hope bring us to ever-deepening relationship. Which is God's ultimate promise.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

The Practice of Being Thankful

Earlier this morning I had some lab work done as part of a follow-up.

The lab technician asked me if I had anything planned for the day. In response I told her, "no, I'm retired."

She asked me how retirement was going. I said, "Fine, if you don't mind living on half of the income you had while you were working."

Afterwards, I wondered why I answered the lab tech's questions so negatively.

Is this really how I feel?

Once I got home, I sensed God motivating me to think about this.

The fact is, I have plenty to be thankful for.

Like having affordable health insurance. And living about 10 minutes away from the hospital where the lab work was done.

Last winter I painted every room in my home. That's another thing to be thankful for: I have a nice home that's comfy, suits me and is in a diverse neighborhood. I live less than a ten minute walk away from one of the most beautiful public parks in the city.

While I'm not financially rich, I have enough.

I've written a book, 20 Short Ones, that's been published and people are actually reading it.

I go to a great church that's got solid members and the teaching regularly challenges me.

All that is more than enough for starters.

Ann Voskamp has written the definitive book on the subject of being thankful, called One Thousand Gifts.

I've written about her book a few times.

But it's interesting how easily taking things for granted can tarnish the ability to be thankful.

Since this is an election year, I've been writing a lot more politically focused pieces on my blog, and I'm sure that all the negativity surrounding the Presidential campaign has exacted its spiritual toll.

But that doesn't excuse the fact that I haven't been as thankful as I should be.

If we allow life's circumstances to dictate how we feel we'll never be happy enough, or joyful enough, or financially secure enough. We won't be satisfied or content. We'll be forever looking over the fence comparing ourselves to others.

And you know what? That's really not much of a life.

On the other hand, if we choose to look up from what's around us and be thankful it offers a totally different perspective.

Being thankful doesn't deny challenges, but it helps give us the energy to creatively tackle them.

If you need some biblical encouragement to give thanks, here's a a few scriptures:

Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good! And the Lord's mercy endures forever. (1 Chronicles 16.34)

It is good to give thanks to the Lord (Psalm 92.1)

Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High (Psalm 50.14)

Actually, the bible is full of verses that speak about thanksgiving and ways to give thanks.

So I'd like to offer a suggestion: Make a conscious effort to give thanks today.

Get alone with God in your quiet/prayer time and speak out the thanks. Let God know what you're thankful for. Be specific.

To help keep in the habit of being thankful, why not do what Ann Voskamp suggests, and begin a journal of thanks, writing down what you're thankful for each day?

It may not seem like a big deal, but believe me, it works. I'm already beginning to feel a whole lot better by getting back in the habit of being thankful. So can you!

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Monday, April 11, 2016

The Good Samaritan & Social Justice

"We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for their actions."
- Ronald Reagan

While on the surface, the above statement may seem like a worthy goal, it's important to note that it was said by a president who claimed to be Christian and often appealed to them.

So let's take a moment to look at what Mr. Reagan said, in particular the second part of his statement about removing societal accountability, and see if it stands up to what Jesus said on the subject.

When Jesus was on earth, he didn't let society off the hook.

In fact, God's Son didn't spend a lot of time talking about the poor and downtrodden being held responsible for their plight. And he didn't seem to be interested in distinguishing between the 'deserving' and the 'undeserving' poor. Jesus called them all blessed (Luke 6.20, Matt. 6.3)

He talked about loving our enemies (Luke 7.35), and being compassionate (Luke 7.36). 

About the only group that Jesus singled out fairly consistently to criticize were the religious leaders of His day. He told them to quit placing burdens on others (Matt. 23.4), and offering false wisdom
(Matt. 23.16). Jesus went on to tell them: "You’re like tombs that have been whitewashed. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth."(Matt. 23.27)


Far from pointing fingers at the downtrodden, God's Son encouraged his followers to go the extra mile (Luke 6.41), turn the other cheek when hit (Luke 6.39) and give those who want to sue us the shirt off our back (Luke 6.40).

That doesn't sound like someone who was interested in blaming those in need of help or advocating societal abandonment of responsibility.

Double ouch!

To sum up what God's Son had to say on the subject, He imagined the "final judgment" being a separation of those who helped other people out, from those who didn't. (Matt. 25: 31-46)

When those who had helped their neighbor asked Jesus: "Lord, when did we ever see you" in serving those who were thirsty, hungry, homeless or in prison? God's Son replied: "I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me" (Matt. 25.37) 

To be fair, maybe certain followers of Jesus mean to imply that if you have a relationship with God's Son, you'd be inclined to help your neighbor. But even then, it's interesting to note that one of Jesus' most famous parables (The Good Samaritan) involved a religious leader and a temple worker who both walked across the street to avoid helping someone who was beaten and lying right in from of them. (Luke 11.31)  

It wasn't until a Samaritan (who would have been the modern-day equivalent of a Hamas member) saw the poor fellow that any assistance was given.

Triple Ouch!

What point was God's Son making?

Quite possibly that we are all each other's neighbor. And as a society, God's Son was calling us to act like it.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts!

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Walking on Water

Remember the story of Jesus' followers being caught in a storm at sea? (Matt. 15.22-33).

In the middle of the storm they saw Jesus walking towards their boat, on the water.

At first, his followers think it's a ghost. But Jesus calls out to them.

In response, Peter calls back: "Lord, if it's you, command me to come to you on the water."
(vs. 28).

Initially Peter was fine. But then the wind "was boisterous" and kicked up waves, so Peter began to be afraid, and started to sink.

He shouted out: "Lord, save me!" (vs. 30).

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand, caught him and said: "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

In so many ways this story serves as a template for a walk of faith.

God's Son calls, we step out of the boat; we keep our eyes on him, and we start walking on water. It’s that simple. At least it should be.

But then the storm comes and the doubts and we're sinking. Oftentimes we start to sink because it feels like we're losing control. And in a real sense, we are.

Most days, I have no idea of what the day will bring. Neither does anyone else for that matter. That's reality on earth.

Most followers of God's Son, including myself, don’t like living with uncertainty. 

When something happens that appears to go against our plans, we tend to get anxious, or try to overcome obstacles on our own. Either way, there is no chance for change or adjustment because our eyes aren’t on God. Our eyes are on the things that are mucking up our plans.

The irony is, sometimes what we perceive to be an obstacle is actually God inviting us to get out of the boat and trust him.

But if we keep our normal mindset in place, life's obstacles become stumbling blocks instead of opportunities. 

On the other hand, with the correct vision, a follower of God's Son can choose to agree with what Peter later wrote about trials. He saw them as opportunities to draw closer to God as our faith is strengthened. And if anyone knew about trials, it was Peter. (1 Peter 1.6-7.)

It all begins with awareness. 

It begins with awareness that brings a new mindset. A mindset that allows for a follower of God's Son to keep their eyes on him and not on the thing that seems like an obstacle.

Yes there are trials. The apostle James says to "count it all joy" when we run into them. (James 1.3-4.) Make no mistake, life comes with challenges. However, it’s how they are viewed that makes all the difference. James says we can be joyful in trials by remembering they ultimately strengthen our faith and our character. 

We all stumble over this. We're not alone in this dilemma. Which is why James reminds us that if we don't understand the purpose of trials we can cry out to God for wisdom and receive liberal amounts of it. (vs. 5)

The apostle Paul (who knew a thing or two about facing challenges) wrote about the thing that he asked God to remove from his life three times. God didn’t. 

Eventually Paul got the bigger picture and quit asking.

Theologians have speculated on what was Paul’s “thorn in the side.” Was it something physical? Was it epilepsy? Was it something spiritual? But that’s not the point. The point was: Paul learned to view that “trial” from God's perspective and grew spiritually because of it.

Is there anything in your life, right now, that's challenging? Do you feel like your drowning? Be encouraged. God is right there, reaching out his hand to you, inviting you to walk on the water with him. 

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

World Class Challenges & Solutions

Sometimes it's hard to keep up with the news. Especially outside of the US. So, in an effort to expand our international knowledge-base, here's a quick quiz.

1. What event recently happened in Pakistan and how many people were affected?

On Easter Sunday a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in a public park in Lahore. 69 people were killed and another 340 were wounded in the attack. A branch of the Taliban claimed credit.

A high percentage of the people killed or injured were children and mothers.

2. Are the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS branches of the Muslim faith?

No, they aren't.

While Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS members may regularly claim affiliation with particular branches of the Muslim faith, they are not sanctioned. In fact, each of these three groups are political organizations that exploit religious prejudice as a reason to further their own agendas.

3. How many refugees are there currently, worldwide?

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRA), there are close to 60 million refugees across the world. Half of them are children.

The UNRA reports that, globally, one in every 122 humans is either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this population were a country, it would be the 24th largest in the world.

4. What are the top global crises currently?

According to World Vision the top global crises in 2015 were:

Syrian refugee crisis
Nepal earthquake
Iraq displacement
West Africa Ebola outbreak
South Sudan conflict
Somalia drought
Central America drought
Central African Republic violence

5. What global challenges should we be focusing on?

In 2004 Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg gave a TED Talk. That year he convened the Copenhagen Consensus which focused on which global challenges we should be addressing. He convened another Consensus four years later.

Back in 2004, Lomborg suggested that the top four challenges that would be most affected by financial help were: HIV, malnutrition, free trade and malaria.

Lomborg started off his TED talk mentioning that there is a difference between setting priorities and prioritizing solutions. His opinion was that we should be focusing on the later rather than the former.

It's interesting to watch his TED talk, given twelve years ago, and see how far we have come.

How can we help?

There are numerous reputable organizations that provide help internationally. Here are four of them:

Preemptive Love Coalition (helping children in the middle east)

World Vision International (faith-based, poverty-alleviation)

Doctors Without Borders (serving in war-torn and other emergency situations)

Charity Water (providing the gift of sustainable water supplies)

What do you think? I welcome you to leave your opinion!

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

What would your mom say about Donald Trump?

If you had a mom who was nurturing, kind, compassionate and loving, here's what she would say to you about Donald Trump.

He's rude.

Remember when your mom washed your mouth out with soap when you used a swear word? She reminded you that what comes out of your mouth is an indication of what's inside you. Meaning that how you think, deep down, usually expresses itself, sooner or later, in how you treat people.

It's rude to call someone ugly or stupid or a loser.

He's unkind.

Back in the 1940s there was a Disney movie, Bambi, about a fawn growing up. In the film, Thumper (a rabbit) admonishes Bambi: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." (Here's the clip.)

It's really good advice.

Mr. Trump has said lots of unkind things about many people. In fact, 90% of his tweets are unkind. The other 10% are brags about himself. Speaking of which...

He's a braggart.

The Bible wisely tells us it's better to keep quiet and be perceived as smart than open our mouths and prove that we aren't.

Take a look at any of Mr. Trump's victory speeches to date and you'll get a very good example of what this looks like.

He lies.

Remember how your mom responded when she caught you telling a lie?

None of us had to learn how to do it. And some of us are better at telling lies than others.

Here's a few lies Mr. Trump has told: He doesn't know anything about David Duke or Duke's affiliation with the Klu Klux Klan (he knew Duke as early as 1999). He's going to build a wall between the US and Mexico (a president can't do that) and make Mexico pay for it (how?). That blacks murder most whites in the US (blatantly not true).

Here's a US News & World Report article on this trait.

He's a bully.

Bullies threaten.

Your mom wisely advised you to steer clear of them.

Mr. Trump's campaign slogan is "Make America Great Again."

On the surface it may sound semi-reassuring. But if you examine it, you'll find it actually consists of a lot of thinly-veiled threats. Like Mr. Trump's insistence that he will expand the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture, send more troops to the Mid-east and further bomb their already crumbling countries and put a short leash on the media who disagree with him.

None of those things will help America.

Having a president who is rude, unkind, brags, lies and is a bully won't do any good for our country or any other nation.

In fact, a few of our allies across the world have been  wondering what's gone wrong with America when we have someone like Mr. Trump as a front-runner for his party's nomination. (Not to mention that rudeness, unkindness, bragging, lying and bullying aren't condoned by any positive-thinking religion, including Buddhist, Christian, Jewish or Muslim.)

Finally, just for fun, here's some really great tips on how to be nice to people.

Have a great day everyone! And be good to your mom!

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Miracles from Heaven: A movie review

Miracles From Heaven is a film that forces you to make a choice.

It's based on the true story of Annabel Beam, who suffered from a chronic intestinal disorder. Until she fell 30 feet down a hallowed-out tree, headfirst.

She not only was lifted out of the tree with no significant damage, but after the fall, she no longer had the disease.

Annabel's recovery happened in December of 2011. She's been symptom free ever since.

The film is based on her mom's (Christy) book of the same name.

It stars Kylie Rogers as Annabel and Jennifer Garner as Christy.

Before I saw the film, I had a bias which needed to be addressed. Garner tends to play emotions one-dimensionally full-tilt. But in the case of Miracles from Heaven, she works that to her advantage. In fact, her performance is razor sharp. We see Christy as a caring mom who is anguished over the pain her daughter is enduring.

So Garner's pain becomes ours.

As you might expect, the relationship between Christy and her husband, Kevin (played by Martin Henderson) becomes strained almost to the snapping-point. Henderson does a fine job portraying a person who remains resolute in his faith, despite any outward reason to keep it.

But the true gem of the film is found in Kylie Rogers who gives a solid performance as Annabel. Her upbeat nature shines through. But so does her struggle with physical pain. During one of her frequent hospital visits, Annabel tells her mom: "I want to die so I can go to heaven..."

Far from seeming melodramatic, this moment is captured beautifully.

Although there is a post-accident, post-recovery scene, where Christy addresses her church family, she offers no in-your-face answer for her daughter's healing.

Rather, you are left to ponder the source of Annabel's good fortune.

It is plain that the Beam family believes Annabel's recovery is a miracle from God. But the viewer isn't hit over the head with that conclusion.

Was Annabel's recovery miraculous? Or was her nervous system physically re-set when she fell 30 feet head-first down a hallowed tree?

The film wisely leaves the decision up to you.

Other noteworthy performances: Queen Latifah does a fine job as Angela (a waitress who befriends the Beams) as does Eugenio Derbez as Dr. Nurko (the chief physician who cared from Annabell at Boston Children's Hospital).

Here's the trailer.
Here's an interview with Christy & Annabel Beam.

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