Archive for the ‘Jesus Stuff’ Category

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World Vision Revisited – Bad Decisions and hypocrisy

March 31, 2014

I have placed myself in a difficult spot with this essay.

Which is okay. I don’t write, preach and teach in order to address the easy issues or the pleasant situations. I write to bring about change and to prevent good things from being eroded.

But there are times I find an issue where I cannot determine a side I am completely comfortable with. World Vision has forced me into one of those corners and I may end up painting myself even further in.

A synopsis: World Vision announced last week they were going to allow people who were in gay marriages to be hired by their organization. They rationalized this decision based on geography and internal goals. First, geography: Since Washington State has declared gay marriage legal—and they are based in Washington—they felt they should comply with Washington law. This is not valid, since religious institutions aren’t required to hire anyone who cannot comply with their beliefs.

Second: Internal goals. They are attempting through this decision to be more inclusive of both their conservative and liberal Christian supporters. As hard as it is for most evangelicals to accept, at least half of Christianity is more liberal and many of these people accept gay marriage as a legitimate form of marital expression. Many of them also support World Vision.

Being more conservative on this issue, I do not agree. But I recognize that World Vision has supporters who are from both liberal and conservative camps. They want to be inclusive.

That was a big mistake. On polarizing issues like gay marriage, one cannot please all the people. The only way to do that is to be silent and let people assume which side you fall on. But more and more, Christian organizations are being asked by both sides of the gay marriage issue to pick a side. So World Vision thought they could craft a position statement that appealed to both groups. They stated:

“Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues,” he said. “It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage.”

“It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there,” he said. “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.”

With this statement, World Vision wants both liberals and conservatives to support them. But since this is a reversal of their long-held policy against hiring gay Christians, there is no way for them to claim neutrality on this issue.

They should not have been surprised at the uproar this decision caused. Liberals, of course, were excited that this endorsed the position they already had. But conservatives viewed this as a slap in the face of their stand against gay marriage. It is understandable that conservative evangelicals were upset by this move. Since gay marriage is the most noticeable moral issue that most evangelicals agree upon, this has become the poster-child for the holiness movement. For a professing Evangelical organization to pull away from the “pack” like this, it feels like they have sold out their supporters.

Then, two days later, they reversed their decision. In a letter of apology, World Vision president, Richard Stearn stated:

The last couple of days have been painful,” president Richard Stearns told reporters this evening. “We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion we caused for many friends who saw this policy change as a strong reversal of World Vision’s commitment to biblical authority, which it was not intended to be.”

“Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent,” said Stearns. “Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that [World Vision supporters] helped us to see that with more clarity … and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

Wow! Let me count the mistakes they made.

  1. They erroneously thought they could engage the gay marriage issue by taking a middle ground stance. There is very little middle ground on a polarizing issue like this one, and they certainly didn’t find it.
  2. They put the lives of children at risk, callously ignoring a possibility that outraged supporters would withdraw support for children because of their decision. More about this in a moment.
  3. When people began to cancel their support for World Vision’s children, a number of people who support gay marriage offered to “adopt” those children. This number was smaller than the number who pulled away, so World Vision panicked.
  4. In their panic, they reversed their original decision. I suspect they did this to cut their already substantial financial losses.
  5. By reversing their decision, they have now alienated both sides of this issue, and both sides now feel they cannot trust World Vision.

As I reflect on it, I realize that at this point, no one should trust World Vision. They have shown little respect for their own children by putting them in harm’s way.

Suffice to say that I have never been a supporter of World Vision. I don’t like that they refused to participate in a study done to determine the effectiveness of feeding programs around the world. World Vision refused. So did Samaritan’s Purse. Only Compassion International was willing to put their reputation on the line to let their results become an open study. Therefore, that is the organization I support when I sponsor children and their food needs.

So, to sum up the first part of this essay, World Vision blew it big time. Someone ought to lose their job over this. I personally will not support the efforts of World Vision in the future. Are we clear on this point?

Now for the deeper issue. Is it morally defensible to cancel your avowed support of a child because you no longer support the organization? I do not think the Scriptures allow for such action, and I even go as far as to say this type of action is hypocritical.

I will say that not everyone who cancels their sponsorship is a hypocrite. Some people are just ignorant of what they’re doing. But if you read my rationale here and agree that it is not biblical to do so—and then do it anyway—that would be hypocritical behavior. So let me take three biblical principles and show how they apply directly to this situation.

In Mark 7, Jesus and the Pharisees are fighting it out over Jewish ceremonial law. At one point, Jesus begins a rant about their religious hypocrisy. In verses 8-13, he states:

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Jesus addresses the issue of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe traditions. In this case, the command of God is for children to honor their father and mother. This includes helping them financially. But the Jewish leaders taught that if they would rather give the money to the temple instead of parents, they could declare the gift as Corban. Corban was a designated temple gift that superseded other gifts. In verse 13, Jesus reminds them that this tradition of the Temple actually nullifies what God has commanded.

God saw the child/parent relationship as a covenant. This is also true of a husband/wife relationship. If someone in a covenant relationship promises to act a particular way, and then acts differently, they are violating that covenant. This is a serious sin. The enemy of our souls loves to defeat people who break covenants.

When you agree to sponsor a child, you are agreeing to do that as long as they are a child. This is similar to any agreement between a child and a foster parent. Adopted parents, foster parents, stand-in parents, sponsoring parents–all of these parenting types fit into the covenant role with a child. If you cancel that sponsorship, you are reneging on the agreement you have with that child. Therefore, your actions are little different from the person who took money intended for parents and gave it to the temple instead.

Actually, I can imagine why some people would opt for Corban instead of parents. What if dad is an alcoholic? What if mom uses drugs? What if they both are violent? Does this mean we no longer have to help them out? I don’t think the Bible allows for an “out” clause in the covenant for those circumstances.

I fully understand why people are angry at World Vision. However, your original covenant is not with the organization, but with the child. I would recommend people continue to support their children and then let World Vision know you will not be supporting any other children and certainly won’t be helping with World Vision’s other projects. That would keep intact both your desire to distance yourself from World Vision and your commitment to the child.

Remember, Jesus also told us never to cause a child to stumble. When you support a child in a developing country, your gift allows that child to eat instead of die due to starvation. It also helps that child’s family. In addition, when several children are sponsored in one village, the entire village receives some of the funds. So when you drop support for a child, you are harming the child, its family and the village.

If you break your promise to that child–especially when the child knows you are a Christian–you are doing damage to that child’s view of Christ and Christians.

Jesus had these harsh words in Matthew 18:6 for those who do such things:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Finally, I can see someone who is still unconvinced. They may rationalize “I don’t think my promise to a child is the same as a covenant.” They may also say “I don’t think the teaching on offending children applies in this situation.” Hopefully then, you are a better Bible scholar than I, for I think both principles apply perfectly.

However, if you still aren’t convinced, let me give the final biblical reason why you shouldn’t end your support of these children. If you do, you’re breaking your promise.

The Bible has a word for a promise we make to another person. It is called “a vow”.

Here’s a few things the Bible says about vows:

Numbers 30:2  When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.

Ecclesiastes 5:5:  It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.

Matthew 5:33:  “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’

You do serious damage to your soul when you break a vow. If you make a vow, you are not let out of the vow because the person involved has problems or does things you don’t like. In this case, just because World Vision is not the organization you thought it was is not a reason to end your sponsorship of a child.

You have made a covenant with that child.

You are to set an example for that child.

And you have made a vow to that child.

If those reasons are not enough, then you should talk to the Holy Spirit about this.

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Ten Healthy Ideas – Day 2: The Well of Resentment

December 21, 2013

deep wellHe had married her 22 years before; and now he stood in my office in front of her and said “I don’t love her any more. I want a divorce.” I actually thought he had asked me to be there so he could reconcile with his wife. Why else would he want his counselor there for what he had to say? But no–he wanted me to be a witness to his final declaration.

I couldn’t leave it at that. I had counseled him for several months and never had any idea he was thinking about divorce. So I asked him to go through his train of thought leading up to this decision. He mentioned a number of grievances he had stored over the years. He chronicled a long line of things which hurt him, annoyed him, bothered him and made him angry. He carried a long list with him.

However, he failed to mention a single thing that most people would associate with marital failure. She had not committed adultery, been violent, lied to him, appeared on a Reality T.V. show, hit the children, poisoned his food, withheld sex, had her mother stay for a year or joined a cult. Even though he carried a laundry list of grievances, none of them were that serious.

The biggest problem he carried with him to the end of his marriage was Resentment. Resentment is the idea that someone has done wrong by us and we refuse to let it go until they apologize or give retribution. We can resent someone for a small infraction or a huge sin. It really doesn’t matter how big or small the resentment is, it has the same effect: It sucks the life out of our love.

I tried to convince him to let go of his resentment and move on in his relationship with his wife, but he was not interested. A year later, their divorce was final and their lives in turmoil. I could have saved him a lot of hassle if he had just dealt with this like an adult.

Children cultivate resentments like a farmer grows corn. They can complain if someone gets a bigger portion of dessert. They will whine if someone bumps into them. They don’t like it when their brother looks at them funny. They will hit back when hit and curse back when cursed. But we expect that out of them–they’re children.

If you want to be a mature adult and have meaningful and long-lasting relationships, then resentments have to go. But that’s a lot easier to say than to do. I believe resentment is the most prominent disease known among mankind. We do not let go of them at all and certainly not easily. But I have an exercise that helps.

In the 4th century, there were a group of men and women called the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They lived in the Egyptian desert and taught many people about the deeper ways of living as a Christian. One of these, Abba Poemen, taught a practice called “The Well of Resentment”. (Note: This is a translation…it has been called the Well of Longing and the Well of Bitterness).

He taught his disciples to do the same thing at the end of every day. He said they were to picture themselves coming to the edge of a large and deep well. As they mentally look into this well, they should consider how things went for them that day. Each person was to probe their soul and see if there was anything that happened which caused any resentment. If a person identified resentment, they were to visualize casting that resentment into the well and watch it fall into the depths. Then they were to keep doing this until all resentments were gone. At the end, they should pray the Kyrie Eliason (“Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy on me”).

I have taught hundreds of people to do this the end of every day. I have yet to have someone come to me and tell me it doesn’t work. Rather, I have heard from many that it has revived their love for spouse, parent, child, co-worker, fellow-Christian and others. It is a practice which refuses to allow the little or big resentments from gaining hold. The Well of Resentment is like powerful vitamins which bind to viruses and snuff them out before they get destructive.

Try it for three days and see if it doesn’t begin to change your heart toward others around you.

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Five Plus Two (plus one) Equals 15,000

October 24, 2013

worship_kneelingI sat in the front row of my church recently and thought: “Finally, we broke through“. We failed to do this for the few weeks previous. One Sunday, we even felt completely submerged in despair, desperation and grim feelings. Though not everyone felt that way, it was a spiritual attack and we were not handling it well.

One primary reason for this is that people have not understood the power of worship. Worship is not a noun. I heard someone say recently to a friend who was discouraged: “We need to get some worship in you guy“. Another friend recently posted about a pastor who said “Let’s get our worship on.” These comments thrust worship into noun-status, relegating worship into a “thing” that we “receive”.

This is so far from accurate, we should cringe when we hear it.

Worship is a verb. It is an activity we perform with three distinct goals (we don’t always employ each goal, but they are all legitimate):

1. To pull away from the rat race of this world and re-connect with God whom we may have neglected or not taken time to connect with

2. To teach our souls that God is the center of the universe and deserving of praise and adoration, and not we ourselves.

3. To deny the soul-sucking beliefs and emotions that are inspired by selfish people and evil designs in this world. When we worship, we focus on God, his power and Truth and pull away from the negative influences of people and unclean spirits.

When we see worship as a noun, we passively receive some benefit from music, fellowship, church service structure or architecture. Though music can sometimes change our mood, it fails to change or address the deeper issues of the mind, emotions, memories and imagination. Only God can work with us on that level.

So, with those concepts in mind, let me go back to the worship service I reference at the top of this article. The week before, I had challenged the church to come together to do warfare against false beliefs and negative emotions by preparing for worship early and by coming together as a group to honor God whole-heartedly. For weeks, we had not done this and therefore, we were buried in the avalanche of life’s troubles and worries. That morning, instead of being buried, we broke through with a cry of relief and joy. Most people who were privileged to be there, and who shared in the experience, say it was one of the most dramatic times they had spent with God in a long while.

I remember experiencing the opposite on many occasions. I have sat in church services where it appeared to me (and I may have been wrong about this) that very few people were attempting to have a living, breathing relationship with God during their offering of worship. They were going through the motions. This brought to mind a dream I had 25 years ago. Let me share the dream then go on to a short teaching.

In the dream, another man and I were walking into a small country church. There were dozens of people there and the pianist was playing a well-known worship hymn. For some reason, no one could see my friend and I. We just observed what was happening among the people. I noticed that everyone’s mouths were moving, but I could only hear musical words coming from a few of them. That’s when I saw  a man standing beside my friend and I.

“Would you like to know what you’re seeing” he asked me.

“I don’t understand” I said. “Why can’t I hear most of them?”

He explained. “The ones you can hear mean what they are saying. The rest are just singing a well-known song. You are hearing what God is hearing. He can’t hear those who don’t mean what they’re singing.”

That’s when I woke up in a sweat. Through this dream, I came to realize that there is great truth in John 4:24, 25: “God is spirit; those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in Truth. God is seeking people such as this to worship Him.” God seeks out worshipers. This is not because God is vain, but because He knows that in worship, we connect deeply to him. In our worship, we throw down our self-absorbed ways and acknowledge our creator, bless his goodness, see his beauty and love and receive his power. It is in worship that we fully partner with God so that God is released in us to change us and re-structure all the damaged parts of our minds and hearts.

Let me dwell for a moment on this concept of partnership. Those times I have sat in the service where no one seems to be meaning what they’re singing, where no one is really connecting with God – I often get upset and start praying for them. I have often prayed that God would “break through and pour out His Presence.”

But recently, I realized God cannot just do this unless people are in agreement with it. If few people in a room want the presence of God to be seen, God cannot manifest his presence as He would want. But if enough people in the room (I can’t give  you a percentage, but it doesn’t have to be the majority) desire to have God show up and change our lives, then we experience that organic partnership that brings about miracles.

Remember the time Jesus was teaching the crowds and they all realized they were hungry. It would have taken hours – maybe days – for everyone to go home and have a meal. Jesus’ teaching was important, but they were hungry. So he tells the disciples to find something for the crowds to eat.

Matthew and Luke tell us there were 5,000 men at this meeting. It is reasonable to assume there were as many women and children there, so it is also reasonable to say that the crowd numbered somewhere around 15,000. They wanted more of Jesus and he wanted to feed them. There are a lot of deeper truths here, but I don’t have time to graze through them. Feel free to think more about this yourself.

A young boy came forward with his lunch: Five small barley loaves and two small fish. The word “small” is repeated in the Greek language. We are to see his offering as a small thing by human standards. But in offering his meal, he is offering to God a partnership with huge implications. Here is the deeper truth: It is not the size of the thing we are bringing to the partnership that is important: It is the attitude of wanting God to take what is ours and use it to God’s designs that changes our world.

The heart of worship is an attitude of surrender. It is not wise to come into God’s presence and bring nothing. Surrendering attitudes, decisions, relationships, plans, goals, desires, habits, money, sex, power, indifference, fears, loneliness – whatever we give to God freely with a full heart becomes the basis for a miracle.

Try this today. Get alone and put on some spiritual music that causes you to focus on God. Sing along with it if you like. But focus on inviting God to meet with you. Then, when you begin to experience his presence on the inside, surrender anything that wants to take your focus away from worship. Ask God to partner in this thing with you. Ask God how he wants you to act differently. Like the boy who had to give up the meal and then saw 15,000 people fed to overflowing, God will show you what comes next.

Recently, in worship, I surrendered my anger toward a colleague who had treated me poorly (by my estimation). I feel I am right in this situation, but once I surrendered my right to be angry, God showed me a perspective on his heart. My heart was filled with compassion for him, and God showed me how to bless him. Which I was able to do the next week. We have now renewed our friendship because of this. This is the kind of miracle I embrace. It changes our lives.

Worship is a verb, an action we perform so we can partner with the Living God to change this world.

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Exercises That Will Help When You’re Offended

April 2, 2013

OffendedSeveral years ago, I was counseling a woman who had severe depression marked by suicidal tendencies. After a month of counseling, most of the depression had lifted. But every time we made progress, she would return to issues regarding her sister. She could not let go of the pain her sister had caused.

She refused to talk about it. She would get choked up, and the knot in the center of her brow tightened. Finally, after we had exhausted every avenue of getting past this hurt, I told her I didn’t think there was anything else I could do to help her.

I could see her struggle internally – and then she decided to tell me.

“She told everyone in the family I was always going to be fat!” As she said this, her skin became flushed, she knotted her hands together in the middle of her chest and she bent over in pain. This hurt so badly it even caused somatic symptoms. It had happened 27 years before, when the girls were teenagers.

John Bevere, in his book “The Bait of Satan” calls this “personal offense”. He believes that personal offense is the root cause of almost every relationship problem on the planet. I have taught on this truth in seminars and no one ever disagrees with it. Unfortunately, the solution most people recommend is to “gut it out” and “just forgive them.” I really wish it were that simple.

But it isn’t. You cannot  just will away the hurt others have caused you.

But I have found we can dig up the root reasons for why personal offense burrows into our soul and eats away at our peace of mind. Here are eight exercises (and one final healthy response) I recommend to my counseling clients when they struggle to let go of past pain and move forward into forgiveness.

1. Think of a time when you did something similar to the thing you are offended by. Part of the ache we experience comes from a sense of injustice. It is not fair that others lie to us, gossip about us, take advantage of our trust. It is fascinating though, if I ask people to think about a time recently when they did something similar to the way they have been mistreated … people often feel the internal knots start to loosen.

Most of us commit offenses on a semi-regular basis, but we often don’t see the troublesome nature of our actions. It is only when it is done to us that we get upset. As we go through the exercise of thinking how we have done the same thing, it gives us a measure of empathy for those who have sinned against us.

2. Ask God to show you how He sees the situation. Several years ago, a friend of mine made a list of things I needed to improve upon. It was not a pleasant list; many of the items called into question my intelligence and choice-making. I was deeply hurt by the list. After marinating in my inner irritation for several days, I asked God to show me how He saw the situation.

First, God pointed out how some of the list items were actually true. Second, he showed me how my friend had been feeling cut off from me and didn’t know how to express his own hurt. This gave me enough solace so I could forgive him and set up a meeting. During our time together, I expressed my regret at how I had cut him off recently. Then I proceeded to tell him how some of the items on the list were very true. I also ended by helping him see how he had gone beyond the truth in some items as well. We re-established our relationship at the end of that meeting. (By the way, I have his permission to share this story).

3. Ask yourself who the person who offended you reminds you of. If the same person keeps offending you, and especially if your reactions to these offenses seem more intense than they ought to be, ask yourself if this person reminds you of someone else you were hurt by in the past. Often, we have trouble letting go of a personal hurt because the person reminds us of a person or situation we have not forgiven years before.

4. Put yourself in their shoes and ask how they would want others to react to the situation. If we can begin to see how it probably looked from the point of view of the person who hurt us, we may perceive the incident differently. Perhaps what we interpreted as a criticism was just a simple question. Or maybe the attack was motivated by fear for our safety. Even if the offense was truly offensive, we may discern how it was motivated by something we had done. Seeing things from the other person’s perspective softens the blow.

5. Keep short accounts. Wherever possible (and it’s always possible) try to let go of the hurt before the end of that day. Each day you coddle an offense, the larger it grows. Think of it as a debt. The longer you take to pay off a debt, the more you will have to pay and the more onerous the burden.

6. If feasible, talk to the person who offended you. Don’t just assume they know what they did or how you reacted to it. I can’t even begin to count how many times couples have said to each other in counseling, “You know what you did”. The reality: they often don’t.

7. React in the Opposite Spirit. One of the great teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is this concept of giving people back the opposite of what they give you. If a person speaks hurtful words, speak a blessing. If they take something from you, give them even more. If they force you to do something you don’t want to do, help them in love. This will completely leverage your own soul and feed it while they witness you are not affected by their hurtful behavior.

Early in my walk with God, a man cheated me at a local business. The details are unimportant. I made plans to go to the local Better Business Bureau with the hope of causing him some kind of grief. My roommate in college offered to pray with me about it. As we prayed, I had a sense I was supposed to go into his shop and ask if I could pray a blessing over it (even though we both knew he had broken something of mine). When I went down there and asked him if I could pray, he mumbled that I could do whatever I wanted. So I prayed God’s blessing on his business. I left that place a free man.

8. Forgive and Release. When you have done some of the exercises above, then meditate on this question: Do I feel free now to forgive them? If you don’t, do some more exercises. But keep testing the water of your soul until the release comes.

9. Set boundaries that are safe and healthy. If a person keeps on hurting you, and if there is something you can do to prevent that hurt from happening, do so. The best medicine, after all, is preventative medicine. I have a friend whose husband had cheated on her four times. At one point, as she concluded he was going to keep doing this, she asked him to move out and get his own apartment. She told him not to tell her about any of his extra-marital relationships. In the end, she fought through her personal offense and decided not to divorce him. She often had him over for family dinners with her and the children.

So why did she ask him to move out? He had truly broken the marriage bonds between them and she didn’t want to keep hating him. If he stayed in the house while continuing to trample their marriage vows, the pain would not end. She truly forgave him, but she put a boundary so she didn’t have to keep looking at his offense.

The woman I mentioned at the beginning of the article did several of the exercises written here. What finally helped was going to God and asking how He saw her sister. God showed this woman that the sister was jealous because the mother favored the older sister. She got revenge by criticizing her sister in public. My client realized she had carried all this pain for years and had no idea what her mother’s favoritism must have done to her sister. Within a year, they had reconciled and now have a healthy adult relationship.

This works wonders if you’ll allow it.

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God Can Help you With Money

March 29, 2013

A Helping HandWe now come to the two most popular posts in the past 10 years on this blog. This one (#2) was posted just last year , but already it has been viewed over 15,000 times. The truth is this: Knowing God will change your finances.

In a nutshell: He doesn’t help us with our finances, if by “help”, you mean that God will swoop down and rescue you from financial disaster. God wants to be our partner in everything in life, and that would not be a partnership at all.

However, God does give huge support in our financial endeavors. In the lifestyle we call “following God”, we recognize that everything we do in this world can be a partnership with God. With regards to money,  I can see at least eight ways God can give us long-term support with our finances:

1. Wisdom: There are thousands of traps out there ready to waste our money, steal our money and cause us to lose our money through negligence. Twice in the past five years, people have come to me with incredible investment opportunities. Both times, the risk seemed low and the rewards considerable. Both times, God sent people to me who gave me advice on why I should not go with either investment. Each of these investments went through bizarre disasters, and I would have lost most of what I owned if I had gone with either of them.

2. Defeating the Waste of Self-Absorption: We often think that we don’t have enough money. That is sometimes true (especially of those who live in third-world poverty). For the most part, we have enough money, we just have too many wants. God helps us with our money by showing us how much we are spending on ourselves: Our comforts, our habits, our pleasure and our fears. We are self-absorbed and this costs us a lot of money. Think of the person who spends $100,000 on a sports car and then wonders why God didn’t answer his prayer for more financial success.

3. Rebuking the Devourer: In Malachi 3 God promises if the people of God will begin living on 90% of their income instead of 100% (tithing), he will “rebuke the devourer”. The Devourer is everything in our world that will destroy our possessions. Traffic accidents, household appliances exploding, unexpected medical bills; these are all examples of the Devourer at work. When we tithe we are recognizing a partnership with God. The person who stops living a self-absorbed life, who tithes in recognition of God’s partnership will find that things just don’t break down as often. The pastor of my church growing up lived on very little and gave much of his financial wealth away. He kept a car running until 250,000 miles. When he got a new car after almost 20 years, his old car died about a month later. The mechanic opened up the engine and found there were almost no piston rings left. It should not have run at all. But God kept it going…he rebuked the Car Devourer.

4. Simplifying our Needs: When you follow Christ, your priorities change. One thing many followers of God find is that they don’t want expensive things or too many things to complicate their lives. A simple follower of God is usually quite content to live simply. This will definitely change a person’s financial standing. John Wesley used to teach that a follower of God needed to work as hard as they can, live as simply as they can to give as much as they can to God’s Work.

5. Work Ethic: Those who follow God with a full dedication often work harder than the average person. For centuries, this has been called the “Protestant Work Ethic”. Hard work almost always impresses those for whom we work and it almost always produces higher returns on our money. Hard working salespeople make more sales. Harder working students get better jobs. The work ethic that comes from the Spirit of God will give a person more ability to produce money…and this will dramatically impact a person’s finances.

6. Sin is Expensive; Righteousness spends Differently: Which person will spend more money: The one who spends a week in Las Vegas, or the person who goes to Yellowstone Park? I am not saying everyone in Yellowstone is righteous, but is hard for me to believe that those who deliberately choose Vegas as a vacation spot are doing it in order to enjoy the Godly life. Let’s face it: Sin can be very costly. Look at addicts, adulterers, thieves, alcoholics, liars, swindlers and the like. Though they may all have moments where they make a lot of money fast, they usually lose it even faster. Most people who live Godly lives never waste their money on vices.

7. We Become God’s Channel: When we seek to use our money for God, he sees that we are good stewards of our money. God loves to use good stewards to get some major things done. If you continue to allow your life to be a channel of God’s work, expect he will give you enough money to get that work done. You will never out-give God.

8. Long-term View Always Pays Off: In the world of investing, it is said that those who invest with an eye to the long-term always do much better than those who invest in the short-term. Long term vision often keeps us from spending foolishly. No one has longer vision than God. The person who plants a tree often will not see that tree grow to its full height. But living in Sacramento, a city of Trees as it is known, I can thank God for the vision of people who planted so many of the downtown trees a century ago. The same is true of finances. The longer a vision you have for finances, the better you will handle it. For instance, if you waste five dollars now (money that could have been invested) it is like wasting $25 over the next 40 years. Keep the long view and understand that God may want us to be frugal to bless future generations and not just the here and now.

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Why People Follow John the Baptist instead of Jesus

January 21, 2013

God has called me to love everyone. But I don’t like everyone. I naturally befriend people who are intelligent, have a sense of humor and show a life of integrity. One particular man who exemplifies all of those qualities has been a friend of mine for many years. We enjoy each other and find we agree with each other on many things.

sparksBut he did something that confused me years ago and it has never sat right with me since. During this season of our friendship, he gave me a number of books to read. Many of them were written by Dr. T. Austin Sparks (known to many of his readers and followers as TAS). For the sake of clarification, let’s put Dr. Sparks in the category of a Holiness preacher. I knew of his writings before my friend showed them to me, and honestly I don’t care for them. Let me quickly explain.

Dr. Sparks writes mainly about the dangers of sin. I have no problem with any preacher or writer pointing out sin. We humans are an unhealthy race, and we occasionally need to be shown that unhealthiness before we can grasp what it means to live better. But Dr. Sparks is of that race of preacher/teacher that will not teach on anything else. I never heard him preach in person (he died in 1971, the year I became a Christ-follower), but I have been told by those who did hear him  he rarely smiled or joked around when he preached. Though he was not a “hell-and-brimstone” preacher, with acidic tones and booming voice, his content fit that category.

What confused me is why my friend would digest a steady diet of this type of teaching. I asked him and he seemed annoyed I would even question it. “Mike, I thought you appreciated someone who is biblical and encouraged people to live in holiness”. I assured him I did – and do. But I do not agree with any ministry that focuses completely on the negative aspects of our existence without constantly bringing this back to the glory of New Life in Christ.

Here is what confuses me. This kind of preaching still exists and people prefer to listen to it, for reasons I am suspecting are not healthy in themselves. Along with Sparks, there are other prominent scarecrow preachers like Leonard Ravenhill, John McArthur, Paul Washer, Mark Driscoll (though sometimes Driscoll is just bombastic) who have huge followings. Some people tell me it is because sin is increasing in our day and we need more of this type of preaching to stem the tide of wickedness.

Do we? Does that really work? My observations tell me otherwise. Sin is no more or less prevalent today as at any other time in history. The increase in so-called “prophetic preaching” feeds on three things in the human soul:

1. Our innate guilt for many things we have done wrong and never settled.

2. The constant doubt that we are acceptable to God or anyone else.

3. The need to feel superior to others, even if it means we must demean ourselves to get to that place.

I find those who like holiness preaching of this brand already lead pretty decent lives and are probably least in need of the type of preaching these guys specialize in. So why do so many good-thinking and well-meaning Christians follow these Scarecrows of the Faith?

I think the answer is found in the disciples of John the Baptist. John inherited a mantle from a long line of gloom and doom Old Testament preachers. His ministry was stark (he dressed in old rags and lived on locust nuts and wild honey), he called people names, rattled all their cages and asked them if they were ready to die soon. He wore the calling of Elijah well. In fact, Jesus confirms that he is Elijah – or at least that he carried on the same ministry as Elijah did.

But at some point, that all changed. The day that Jesus came down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, the entire understanding of sin and the Kingdom of God forever shifted. From that point on Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Those who followed John were encouraged from that point on to follow after Jesus. But even after John told them “He (meaning Jesus) must increase and I must decrease”, some of John’s followers couldn’t get the hint. In some ways, not even John the Baptist could fully release his ministry, even after Jesus came along. I get that. Once a prophet, always a prophet.

For instance, John and his followers taught a rigid discipline of fasting. Jesus and his disciples often went to banquets – and they were duly criticized for doing so; not only by the Pharisees, but also by the followers of John.

Listen. I know this world can exhibit evil and will not be entirely cleaned up until God remakes it all. And I know that even followers of God need to be reminded to clean up their room and play nice. Sometimes, they need to be told in clear tones not to cheat on their spouse or their taxes. But I don’t see the point of someone preaching only about sin and leaving Grace, Joy, Forgiveness, Laughter, Fellowship, The Power of God and a hundred other great Jesus teachings lying on the shelf.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ time looked for reasons why natural disasters happened to people. They pinned the blame on the sin of a victim’s parents, on his lineage and even some sin the victim must have committed. The Pharisees found a woman committing adultery and flung her into a market square, daring Jesus not to condemn her.

Instead, he asked them all if there was a person among them who had not committed sin recently. If they had, he welcomed them to stone her first. No one did. No one could withstand the glare on his face!

When all had left, this man of Righteousness, this preacher of Holiness, this Prince of Peace just said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more”. He didn’t follow her down the road heaping condemnation on her head.

Remember, the enemy of our souls is called Satan. The name means “Accuser”. Unfortunately, instead of giving our Adversary a counter-attack from the pulpit, where the love of God and the cleansing of the blood of Jesus could be spoken triumphantly, we sometimes echo the words of the Calumniator all too easily.

Of course, there are those who feed God’s people with a steady diet of Youtube videos, hackneyed cliches and positive thinking. I sometimes think the Scarecrows believe they are countering that unhealthy pap by focusing continually on sin. As we were reminded in Kindergarten, two wrongs don’t make a right

If you have become hooked on the Holiness Scarecrows, maybe it is good to mix some grace in your diet. Otherwise, you may get spiritually constipated.

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Here is a Real Treat

July 24, 2012

In 1981, I sat in meetings taught by Dr. J. Edwin Orr. He was probably the greatest scholar and expert on the subject of Christian Revival. I was mesmerized. I am fairly hard on public speakers, but I could have listened to Dr. Orr for hours and hours.

I just found an archive of old messages by Dr. Orr. If you have any heart for the work of God in our world, then you will be blessed beyond measure to listen to his teaching.

Here is the link to his sermons: http://bit.ly/LLh4Vw.

Here are the ones I would listen to:

Wales Revival

Movements in Latin America

The Resurgence of 1882 onward

Movements between World Wars.

In fact, you can’t go wrong if you listen to all of these.

 

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