Monthly Archives: August 2015

It’s Not About Me… John 3:22-30

Several of the churches in my area send postcards by mail advertising the latest sermon series or newly launched program. I’m always curious when the pastor’s picture is featured prominently on the card, sometimes to the point of dominating the message. What is church all about, really, and who takes center stage?

(John the Baptist’s words): “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:29-30 ESV

After Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, Scripture tells us that He and His disciples went into the countryside. People came to Him, and He baptized them. Some of John the Baptist’s disciples asked John about this, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:26) It’s a perfectly understandable concern, really. John the Baptist had drawn crowds for quite some time, baptizing many for repentance from sin as he announced the presence of Jesus the Messiah. Now Jesus’ time had come; His public ministry was well underway. And, with that, John the Baptist had fulfilled his purpose. It was time to step aside.

How easy it would have been for John to let ego cloud his judgment. Had he shown bitterness, resentment, or envy at the fact that people were flocking to Jesus instead of to John, I suspect that many would have understood those feelings. Instead, John took his rightful place.

Egoism is a prevalent trait in our sinful world. As defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, egoism is a condition in which a person’s motives are driven by their own self-interest, sometimes with an overt display of self-importance. We see this all the time, don’t we? Be careful here. While we may be tempted to think that politicians, athletes, entertainers, or successful business executives have cornered the market on egoism, the reality is this: Even “regular” people like you and me can be overcome by an air of egoism manifested in feelings of entitlement, self-centeredness, or perhaps through overtly seeking attention for ourselves. We have many avenues through which we feed our egos – ever hear of Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter…? Yes, I am as guilty as anybody when it comes to putting myself out there in social media and taking pleasure as the “follows”, “likes”, and “retweets” come. Don’t misunderstand me; I think social media is great. I get news and information via social media. I stay connected with friends through social media. I also take hiatus from social media from time to time when I start to feel like it is dominating how I spend my time.

What is really important? What is it that should supersede everything else? John the Baptist knew that it was Christ.

So, back to the postcards. Since egoism is such an easy trap to fall into, I suspect that many preachers and teachers are sorely tempted, and even give in to the temptation once in awhile. While some postcards prominently featuring the smiling face of the church’s pastor raise the question, I know not to judge a book by its cover. But I wonder what those preachers talk about in their sermons. Do they present the Gospel? Is their message focused on Christ and the fact that He suffered and died to save us from the eternal damnation we all deserve because of our sin? Or do they feed egos by telling their flocks that God wants them to be happy; He wants them to be rich. Is the message they deliver each week about Him? Or is it about the people and their quest for happiness and self-esteem? Do they take the stage accompanied by pounding music and raucous applause or do they quietly, humbly, and contemplatively step to their position to deliver the Word?

What about the music and those who deliver it? Are they more concerned about their appearance and what the congregation thinks of their presentation? As they lead worship, do they move or dress to draw attention to themselves, or are they entirely focused on leading the congregation in worshipping the Lord? In my church, the congregation commonly applauds after the choir or soloist sings and after various ensembles offer their music. To be honest, as a musician I’m a bit uncomfortable with the applause, and I constantly remind myself, “this isn’t about me.”

God called John the Baptist to a very specific ministry. John was to announce to the world that the Messiah had come:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” “No.” finally they said, “Who are you?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John 1:19-27 ESV

My role as a Christian is to announce Jesus to the world as He commanded in The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). It is not to draw attention to myself in doing so. Yes, I want to sing well as a member of the choir and when I assist in leading worship. When I play bells, I want to hit the correct notes at the correct time at the proper volume. I want to do those things to give glory to my God and my Lord. I confess that I am sometimes tempted to relish in the applause when it comes; God forgive me. As a Christian, I must also lift my pastor and all who preach the Word in prayer, that they would honor God in presenting His Word and that they would present His Word faithfully, truthfully, and forthrightly.

John the Baptist announced Jesus’ coming to the world, just as he was called to do. And, as Christians, we are called to do the same. It’s not about us; it’s about Him.

Ponder This: What is my attitude towards God? What is my attitude in worship, especially when I play a leadership role in the service?

My Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, You and You alone are worthy of glory, honor, praise and worship. Even so, I confess that I sometimes forget that, as I focus on myself and what others think about me. I confess that I sometimes give in to the temptation to bask in the positive feedback others give me to the point at which it overshadows You. Forgive me, renew me, and continue to lead me on the path of sanctification. Help me use the gifts and talents you have so graciously given me to Your glory. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Sources:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Scripture text from BibleStudyTools.com

The Prosperity Gospel: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Modern day Christendom is under invasion by a false teaching. The teaching is very attractive to a society whose members want to call the shots, desiring to accumulate for themselves increasing wealth and material possessions; a society in which the primary focus is achieving happiness in this life.

“You have a Bible right when you plant a seed to expect the God of the universe to give you a harvest; to give you a debt-free home, debt-free cars, jobs; to give you financial interest, to make you a millionaire for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!” ~ Televangelist Todd Coontz as featured on bennyhinn.org.

Known commonly as the “Prosperity Gospel”, this teaching and those who promote it are deceiving Christians all over the world into believing that God exists to meet our physical and emotional needs and wants in this temporal life, most notably physical healing and the accumulation of wealth. They attempt to support their doctrine with Scripture, albeit via significantly errant interpretations of several key passages of Scripture.

Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary David W. Jones wrote a piece entitled 5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel for The Gospel Coalition. Jones states that the prosperity gospel has its doctrinal roots in God’s covenant with Abraham discussed in the book of Genesis.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

According to Jones, Prosperity Gospel teachers misinterpret God’s covenant with Abraham to be about blessing him and his descendants with material wealth; that God’s blessing of Abraham and his descendants was simply that they would be rich! Both Orthodox Christianity and Prosperity Gospel proponents teach that all believers are children of God’s covenant with Abraham; thus, we all participate in the blessings that God promised in this covenant. Prosperity Gospel proponents err in their understanding of what construes a “blessing” in this context. This blessing is not about material wealth or personal happiness. The blessing is about our perfect rescue from the eternal consequence of sin; sin that each one of us commits daily. Sadly, teachers of the Prosperity Gospel have reduced God’s covenantal promise to nothing more than a large bank account. As a wise man once said, “you can’t take it with you.”

The Prosperity Gospel is a completely backwards understanding of God’s relationship with His creation. The “name it and claim it” ideal in Prosperity Gospel teaching says that one must have faith in order to receive the blessings of God – material wealth, physical health, and other temporal gifts. With enough faith, all one must do is “claim” or “expect” the blessings he desires and God will provide them. If the blessings don’t follow the claim, then the faith of the believer is said to be deficient – sort of like trying to buy a can of soda from a soda machine using a counterfeit coin. Since the coin is counterfeit, the machine won’t dispense the drink. Does that sound like the God of Scripture to you? God is not our cosmic granter of wishes. We exist to give praise, honor, and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Prosperity Gospel preachers tend to be very skilled in presenting their message. They speak with authority and charisma, often accompanied by colorful light displays, booming sound systems and emotional music. Todd Coontz, in preaching the message quoted earlier to a roomful of screaming admirers, was accompanied by organ music under full vibrato, as if that somehow validates his message. The package is quite attractive and the message is compelling on its surface; thus these teachers draw huge crowds. Jesus warned us about such teachers:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15 ESV

Is calling Prosperity Gospel teachers “false prophets” and “ravenous wolves” a bit harsh? I don’t think so. In preparing this piece, I visited the websites of several known Prosperity Gospel teachers, including Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen and others. Each website I visited offers a link to the teacher’s statement of faith. In a quick read, everything they say in their statement of faith appears copasetic with an orthodox teaching, but digging a bit deeper reveals the falsehood of their gospel. Benny Hinn’s statement of faith, for example, includes this statement,

“…all believers are entitled to, and should ardently expect, and earnestly seek, the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (bold text added for emphasis)

Sound good? Sure, it does! We Americans are some of the most “entitled” people in the world! No wonder people are flocking to this message in droves! Tie this statement of Hinn’s to his featuring Todd Coontz screaming “You have a Bible right…” on his home page and you have the Prosperity Gospel in a nutshell.

I have been burdened for the Christian Church in America for quite some time. As I read and learn more about the Prosperity Gospel, my burden is increased. Paul’s words to Timothy come to mind:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:3-10 ESV

Many good and decent people have been drawn into the falsehood of the Prosperity Gospel. My heart breaks for them, for the true promise of God – the promise that our sins are forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross and that we believers will spend eternity in His presence – is not the focal teaching in Prosperity Gospel churches today.

What is your church teaching you? Is it teaching you that God wants you to be rich, and that your faith entitles you to wealth? Is it teaching you that lack of wealth and lack of good health are the result of a deficiency of your faith? As Coontz stated in the quote above, is your church teaching that you can be “…a millionaire for the sake of the Gospel?” Friend, if your church is teaching these things, please hear me loudly and clearly: That is NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ! If this is the teaching of your church, run through the nearest exit and never look back.

Here is the true Gospel: God created man in His image. Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, and has pervaded our existence ever since. Sin separates us from God, and because God is holy, righteous and just, He must punish all who are guilty of breaking His laws. But God is also loving, kind and merciful. Because He loves us so much, He sent His Son to die as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins. Only through faith in Jesus are we washed clean from the guilt of our sins, and only through Him are we given the hope of eternal life in God’s holy presence.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 ESV

Jesus sacrificed Himself for you and for me, not so we can build wealth and gain earthly health, but so we can be saved for all eternity. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If this is the teaching of your church, you’re in the right place.

Ponder This: Which is truly the greater blessing: Health and wealth in this temporal life or life eternal in the presence our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Your name is to be magnified through all the earth. Forgive our sins and grant us saving faith in the redemptive sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ. Open our eyes and our ears to Your Word. I pray for all who sit at the feet of those who preach a deceiving message. Give each of us discernment to recognize false teachings and lead those false teachers to true repentance. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Sources:

The Gospel Coalition

Got Questions.org

BibleStudyTools.com

GOP Inaugural Debate: My Winners & Losers

For the first time in a long time, I woke up this morning feeling bullish on America. Last night’s inaugural GOP debate of the 2016 election season has given me great hope. Seventeen Republicans have thrown their hat into the ring as they vie for their party’s nomination for President of these United States. I remain undecided as to which candidate will garner my support in the rapidly approaching primary season. Here is my short list of winners and losers from last night:

Winners

Carly Fiorina – Pundits from both the left and the right almost universally agree that Carly carried the night. Relegated to the lower level “Happy Hour” debate, Carly offered clear and concise answers to each question she was asked. Her approach to her campaign is refreshing. She is a Washington outsider who has done her homework. Our country is ready for a female president, and Carly just might be the ideal candidate to take on Hillary Clinton. Carly’s award for the evening: Grand Champion.

Jeb Bush – Based on news reports and blogs I’ve read, Bush is the darling of Fox News and the Republican National Committee (RNC). For me, that is not a positive point. However, Jeb was articulate last night. I thought he explained his position on education, particularly common core, quite well. His plan to combat illegal immigration includes a plan to establish a means of gaining legal residency for those currently here illegally – a position with which I agree wholeheartedly. His record as governor of Florida qualifies him for the job he seeks. His biggest hurdle is his last name. Jeb’s award for the evening: Most Improved.

Marco Rubio – Ever since Marco Rubio was elected to the US Senate, I have hoped he would run for president one day. Rubio was the most likeable of the candidates last night. His grasp on foreign policy impressed me. Like Bush, he supports a pathway to citizenship for certain illegals currently in the country. Rubio’s award for the evening: Mr. Congeniality

Scott Walker – Walker is my favorite US governor. I admire the turnaround he led in his state of Wisconsin. I admire his tenacity in standing firmly on his principles against the government unions and for standing his ground as state Democrats sought his recall from office. Walker offers solid leadership with proven results. Walker’s award for the evening: Most Likely to Succeed

Ted Cruz – Senator Cruz is widely known as an expert debater. He is a bona fide Constitutional expert. I am convinced that he would respect our Constitution and govern accordingly as president. While I disagree with him on immigration reform, I believe he would be a strong and principled leader. Cruz’s award for the evening: Most Scholarly

Ben Carson – Soft spoken and quite demure, Dr. Carson is the consummate gentleman. Carson had the best line of the evening in my opinion. In his closing remarks he mentioned a few of his achievements as a neurosurgeon including, “I was the first to remove half a brain; but if you were to visit Washington these days you’d probably think somebody beat me to it.” I think I got that right. While I view Ted Cruz as most scholarly from a Constitutional standpoint, I view Dr. Carson as most wise. That said, he appeared a bit unsure in a few cases and appears to have more homework to do. Carson’s award for the evening: Most Intellectual

Losers

Donald Trump – Pundits stated ahead of the debate that Trump has hit on an anger simmering in the country today, and I agree with them. However, I have never believed him to be truly interested in the job. While his success in business and entertainment cannot be disputed, Trump lacks the self-control and worldly knowledge to serve as president. The bully pulpit will only take one so far. I believe that his showing last night was the beginning of his implosion as a bona fide candidate. Trump’s award for the evening: Class Clown

Rand Paul – Once on my short list of candidates to possibly support, Rand looked completely befuddled last night. He was neither articulate nor persuasive in explaining his position on foreign policy. I am a huge fan of his plan to eliminate income tax in favor of a consumption tax (I’ve advocated that for years) and he appeared to score a few points there. Overall, however, he did not appear comfortable nor confident. Paul’s award for the evening: Most Disappointing

It felt good to wake up this morning feeling bullish on America. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I love my country, always have, always will. But the shenanigans of the current Administration have caused me great consternation for our country’s future. Under Barack Obama, our nation is more divided than I can recall in my lifetime. Our reputation around the world is weakened, much like it was during the Carter years. Our borders are porous, our national debt continues to spiral into the stratosphere, our moral foundation is rapidly deteriorating, and our federal government continues to garner more power for itself at the expense of our liberty while neglecting to meaningfully address the issues that threaten the very existence of this great nation. When Obama first announced his candidacy for president, I said that he was unqualified and naïve of the ways of the world. He has proven me right.

Indeed, I am excited about the 2016 General Election and what it could mean for our nation. Several of the GOP candidates are beginning to emerge as superior to each of the three candidates likely making up the Democratic field: a liar, a socialist, and a buffoon. I come away from last night’s debate with a resolve to support whomever the GOP nominee turns out to be. I’m relieved, as I now know we can do better.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of “Cheap” Insurance

I read a post on LinkedIn the other day that purported to offer tips on how to buy “cheap” business insurance. Ever since reading it, that post has really stuck in my craw. The phrase “cheap insurance” is like fingers on a chalkboard to me and it should be to you, too. Why? Because I’ve seen what can go wrong when price is king.

Photo credit: insurancejobs.com

Photo credit: insurancejobs.com

Why do businesses purchase insurance anyway? Because they have assets – people, property, profits – at risk of loss due to something accidentally going wrong. Furthermore, business owners and their employees are sometimes unjustly accused of wrongdoing, and in those situations, the cost of defending the claim often exceeds the value of the claim itself. The financial cost of defending claims, repairing, replacing or rebuilding damaged business property, and indemnifying claimants may exceed the business’s ability to pay for the loss on its own. Insurance is really a source of funds to cover the costs resulting from accidental loss; costs which the business cannot otherwise afford to absorb.

Truth is, insurance companies and the insurance policies they sell are not created equal. If the insurance buyer isn’t careful, that “cheap” policy may not respond as anticipated when a loss occurs. Perhaps the policy was cheap because the insurer’s financials are not real strong. Will the insurance company be around to pay the loss when it comes due? That day of reckoning often comes years after the temporary satisfaction derived from getting that cheap premium has worn off. Perhaps the policy was cheap because the underwriter excluded some key elements of coverage or reduced coverage limits on some aspects of the policy in return for cheapening the cost of his product. Such adjustments are sometimes the very thing that jumps up to bite the business in the behind when the claim is presented and declined by the insurer, leaving the business owners with nothing more than a three-ring binder full of paper that just might be worthy of campfire starter fuel. If you are the business owner or the owner’s designated manager of her risk management and insurance strategy, you do not want to place yourself or your business in this precarious position.

Photo credit: sorryaboutyourweight.com

Photo credit: sorryaboutyourweight.com

So what is a business owner to do? How can she be most assured that the insurance she purchases today will truly be there for her business later when it’s needed? Let me answer this way. I consider myself to be a pretty decent handyman. I’ll tackle basic repairs to many items in my home, but there are three items I will not touch: electricity, natural gas, and plumbing. If I mess with those systems and make a mistake, the result could be catastrophic. So when those systems need work, I call a pro. Business insurance falls into that category as well. The business owner is very skilled in her chosen field but probably does not have the expertise or the relationships to self-source the best possible insurance policy for her business at the best possible price. That’s where the insurance broker steps in.

A quality insurance broker will be familiar with the business owner’s industry and the insurers most qualified to cover it. A quality broker will interview the business owner or her designee to glean as clear an understanding as possible of the potential causes of accidental loss the business might face while counseling her on practical strategies that just might help prevent the loss from occurring in the first place. In transacting an insurance purchase, the broker’s job is to gather required underwriting data, prepare marketing materials for presentation to qualified potential insurers, receive quotes, and negotiate policy terms, conditions and price. The broker then presents quality options with pros and cons of each to the business owner or her designated insurance buyer so she is equipped make an informed purchase.

Photo credit: dearmediacare.com

Photo credit: dearmediacare.com

Managing the insurance transaction in this manner benefits the business owner in at least two ways: (1) The business owner is free to focus on her business while letting the insurance pro work the marketplace in her behalf, and (2) The business owner is now in the best possible position to achieve the optimal balance between coverage quality and coverage price. Even better is the fact that insurance brokers are typically compensated by the insurers via commissions; thus, the business owner should not incur additional cost for accessing the services of a quality insurance broker. (Note that there are other methods of broker compensation, but that is a topic for another post).

If you are a business owner with the objective of buying “cheap” business insurance, I hope you will rethink that strategy. Don’t put your business at risk to save a few bucks on your insurance premiums. Call a pro who will manage the insurance marketplace in your behalf to help you achieve a quality purchase at a reasonable price. That, indeed, is the wise business decision.

Note to the Reader: The information offered herein is derived from my personal experience as a risk management professional. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. This information should not be considered as a substitute for legal, tax and/or actuarial advice. Please contact the appropriate professional counsel for such matters.

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