Friday, August 25, 2017

Writing a Reluctant Robber

Periodically I get fraudulent emails.  Perhaps you do too.  Since I have an online business, these often take the form of requests to buy large quantities of products I sell.  I sometimes write back to the scammer to tell the scammer:

Due to the 99% chance that you are engaging in criminal activity (theft), we have no desire to do business with you.  However, I do desire that God bless you.  If you are indeed, as I suspect, a thief and a liar, please, give up your wickedness.  Jesus will take away your bad heart and give you a new, good heart if you will allow Him.  Please read a Bible and find Jesus before it is too late.  All thieves and liars will go to hell.  (Revelation 21:8).  I don’t want that to happen to you.
But yesterday, a scammer wrote back!  He said:
Thank you.  I was touched by your message.  Not doing this intentionally but i must live. I pray may God forgive me. If really you want me to stop let me know how you could help me finacially. Then i will promise you to you to stop.
What do you say to a guy in that situation?  Most likely he's an educated but unemployed young man in Ghana or Nigeria.  Here's what I told him:

Thank you for writing back.  I'm sure that your life is very difficult, and I am truly sorry.  What I have to say to you will sound harsh.  But please read this.  I say this because I do truly care about you. 

You said, "I must live".  You are right.  But the problem is, you are thinking of the small life.  You are not thinking about the big life.  As long as you think wrong, you will continue to sin.  Your small life is your life right now.  Even if you received 1 billion dollars right now, you probably would still only live to be 90 years old.  Then you would die.  Your big life is your life after you die.  The big life never ends.  You will spend your big life either in heaven or in hell.  After you die, you can never change your location.  You will either be in hell forever or in heaven forever.  After 10 billion years, you will still not be able to change your location. 

You think "I must live".  But you are sacrificing heaven in the big life to gain a few more dollars in the small life.  Jesus said, "How is a man profited if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?" 

You said, "I am not doing this intentionally."  You are wrong.  You are doing this intentionally.  You don't like it; you feel guilty about it; you know it's wrong.  But you are destroying your relationship with God so that you can earn a few more dollars.  This is a choice you are intentionally making. 

With Jesus' help, you can choose differently.  Stop your stealing right now.  Yes, I mean right now.  This minute.  Cry out to Jesus to save you and make you a new person.  Contact the people you have lied to and stolen from.  Confess your sins to them.  Tell them you will repay the money you have stolen, when you are able.  Then you can have a clean conscience to ask God to provide for your needs. 

God may choose to provide food for you.  Or He may let you starve to death.  But even if your life ends at age 22 of starvation, it is only your small life.  Better to die at 22 and go to heaven, than to live to 92 and go to hell.  Jesus said, "He who saves his life will lose it.  But he who loses his life for My sake and the gospel will save it." 

Father God, you know "Mark's" real name.  Please help him to trust You.  To believe that You are good.  To trust that it is better to follow You and die, than to disobey You and live.  Give him the gifts of faith and repentance.  Bring glory to Yourself through his life.  For Jesus' sake, amen! 
 Do you have any other suggestions?  What would you say to a person in "Mark's" situation?

Friday, July 21, 2017

"Pretend" You're a Missionary!

Many professing Christians have the very bad notion that only a few are called to be missionaries.  But the Great Commission was given to all of us.  Stop waiting for a "call" -- you've already got one.

If you were a missionary, what would you do?
  • Seek training to improve your evangelism and discipleship skills.
  • Seize opportunities around you to evangelize and disciple.  No matter where you are, opportunities are all around you.   
  • Look for other "missionaries" in your area that you can collaborate with.  (Hint: hopefully your church.) 
  • Ask your friends to become prayer supporters.
  • Send them regular updates on how to pray for you (and how their prayers are being answered).  Personally, I send out a prayer update email about once a week to friends who pray for me and my family.
  • Periodically evaluate whether you should move to a new area where there are fewer missionaries.      
Hey, those are things that all Christians should be doing!  Start today!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Unhappy with Happiness

I think I've become a grinch.  How could anyone dislike a book called Happiness, particularly when the author is Randy Alcorn?  What makes my discomfort even weirder is that I agree with almost everything in the book.  No matter how hard I try to pin down my objections, they remain just out of sight, like tiny splinters in your finger that you sense only when you brush your hand a certain way on your pants.

Happiness is long, and massively researched.  Much the same as he did with Heaven, Alcorn has written a definitive work on the subject.  In some ways I found the length exhausting; I did not require as much proof and nuance as Alcorn provides.  But for people more critical of his main points, perhaps the additional documentation would be helpful.  And I know that for people in the midst of depression, long books with short chapters (like this one) can be a wonderful source of warmth and encouragement.

Much of the length is due to quotes from other authors' writings about happiness.  Many of these are from Puritans, my favorite genre!

I like Alcorn's main message, which is that "God wants you to be holy, not happy" creates a false and dangerous dichotomy.  When we attempt to obey God out of duty, and think that affections for God are unnecessary, we are on the track for moral collapse.  We must and we can find supreme happiness in Jesus. 

But in his attempt to encourage Christians to become a people known for happiness, I fear that Alcorn spends too much energy encouraging them to pursue happiness through what I regard as side-eddies, rather than heading straight for the Fountain.  Why spend so much ink trying to find Biblical evidence that Jesus laughed, that God is playful, that we might ride bicycles in heaven, when God's grander joys are clearly laid out for us in Scripture?

He quotes with approval from Robert Hotchkins:

"[Christians] ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment.  We ought to give ourselves over to celebrations of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death."  (102)  It is the word preoccupied in that paragraph which I particularly take issue with.  It seems to leave no room for fasting, for sobriety, for warfare, which will also all be a part of the Christian's life until Christ's return.

On the same page, Alcorn himself suggests:

"A feast of Saint Francis, in which churches invite the community to celebrate animals in a way that's God honoring, not pantheistic, could be a joyful and powerful outreach to people who otherwise would never connect with a church."  (102)

The attempts to find reason to believe pets will be restored to us in heaven comes up again:

"We needn't be embarrassed either to grieve the loss of our pets or to want to see them again.  If we believe God created them, that he loves us and them, and that he intends to restores his creatures from the bondage they experienced because of our sin, then we have biblical grounds for not only wanting but expecting we may be happy with them again on the New Earth."  (404-405)

I could cite more examples, but it would be tedious for both you and me.

In summary, Alcorn's book combined some beautiful truths in an imbalanced package, which made it impossible for me to truly enjoy.  The reader must keep his tweezers ever present.  If you want to read a book that will truly stoke your happiness with massive, grand truths, I recommend John Piper's The Pleasures of God.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Need Counseling?

I am pursuing certification as a Biblical counselor through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.  Praise God, I just passed my exams and now there is only one hurdle left: completing 50 hours of supervised counseling.

If you know anyone who might be interested in receiving Biblical counseling, feel free to pass on my contact info to them.

  • No problem is too big or too small.  Anything from anxiety or abuse.
  • If the counselee is a woman, I will have another woman sit in on the counseling session.
  • The sessions can be conducted in person or via Skype video call.
  • There is no cost or fee whatsoever.

To learn more about what Biblical counseling is, click here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Don't Waste Your Corpse


Unless Jesus returns first, one day your body will be a corpse.  Have you considered how you can best use yours for the glory of God?  Here are three ideas.

1. Seek to let your death be seen.
Although 150,000 people die every day, I have never been present when a person died.  We have become adept at avoiding death, which is perhaps one reason we do not know how to live.  In the old days, people would die at home, with young children around, often with opportunity to speak long and touching last words.  Christian, what better way to show people that Jesus is truly faithful, than by letting them see how you die? 

2. Have an open casket funeral, with pallbearers. 
I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a human corpse in person -- and most of these times, it was a human corpse artificially beautified by a mortician.  Even during my lifetime, I've seen open casket funerals plummet in popularity.  This is a tragedy.  Staring into the face of a corpse for five seconds or carrying a coffin for five feet teaches more about the brevity of life than five hours of the finest sermons.  

3. Opt for burial, rather than cremation, if you can.
Cremation comes from the Hindu belief in reincarnation.  Burial is rooted in the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body.  Of course if we die in a fire or are eaten by sharks, our bodies will still be resurrected; physical congruity in the grave is not necessary for reconstruction of our new bodies.  Burial is a symbolic gesture, showing Christians believe that there will be continuity between the body we have now, and the glorified body we'll receive at the resurrection. But burials are dying, in part due to the government-backed funeral industry cartel making full burials so much more expensive than cremations.  So you'll need to weigh the costs of both options.  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

This American Lives on $20 a Day - By Choice



To the majority of my readers, $20 a day is a pittance.  To the majority of people in the world, $20 a day is extravagance.

A few months ago I wrote about the correlation between income and life expectancy, and how Americans could dramatically trim our spending levels without much decrease in our lifespan. 

Then I heard from a reader who has been doing this for the last 8 years.  70-year-old American John Hostetter lives on $20 a day.  Because of this, he gives away enough money to provide clothes and blankets to 200 orphans in Kumasi, Ghana, along with supplemental food when their supply runs low.

A few of the children John's gifts help
You’re probably curious how he does it.  I’ll tell you in a minute.  But first, let me ask you a more important question: are you willing to sacrifice, even to suffer, in order to help those who are already suffering more than you?  As 1 John 3 says, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” 

When we have the desire and zeal to be generous and compassionate, the “how” usually solves itself pretty easily.

Here’s how it works for John. 

His total annual income is around $12,400.  He lives on about $7000 and gives the rest away.  He drives an older car (’02 Venture) and rents the lowest price housing.  He has a friend at the supermarket who gives him blemished vegetables and outdated canned food. 

A typical breakfast would be oatmeal, grits, rice, or quinoa, along with eggs.  For lunch, John might have fresh veggies such as tomatoes, onions, spinach, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and/or peppers.  And then supper is rounded out with veggies and sweet or white potatoes, sometimes with chicken, ground beef, gravy, and rice. (I share all those details to show that living inexpensively does not mean eating junk food.)

He still does a little mechanical work.  In his spare time he gives away Christian books and encourages people by email. 

I asked John how he combats spiritual pride.  He said the Lord keeps his pride down through constant pain from a broken back suffered in a work injury 25 years ago.  His energy levels are low.  So rather than feeling exhilarated at what he’s doing, John is hungry to serve the Lord more.

Do you feel the Lord calling you to adjust your standard of living, so that you have more time and/or money to give away?  I’d like to hear from more readers.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Would Your Year Be Better if You Lived on $9733?

"What is a man profited, if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Luke 9:25)

Globally, the median household income is $9733.  The average life expectancy at birth is 71.0 years. 

Here in the US, the median household income is $51939, and the average life expectancy is 79.3 years. 

In other words, although there is a correlation between income and life expectancy, the correlation is not proportionate.   If you want to dig into this topic more deeply, Google "Preston curve". 


Here's my question: is it worth our trouble to earn that extra $42K a year, to add another 8.3 years onto our lives?  In trying to gain more years, are we wasting our days?  What if our families voluntarily chose to live on $9733 a year?  There would be more lasagna and motorcycles and mobile homes and fewer Brussels sprouts and SUVs.  But although our lives would be shorter, we would either have a lot more time for serving (if we chose to work less) or a lot more money for giving (if we continued working the same amount). 

Have you already taken steps in this direction?  I would love to hear your story!  Wrestling with a particular aspect of your expenditures?  Share your quandary, perhaps someone will have an idea for you. 

(Footnote: household income stats are from 2014; life expectancy stats from 2015.)