Tag: practicalities

Letter 50: Beware of Teachers Who Only Talk of Tithing (Prosperity Gospel)

My Son,

 

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). God or money, money or God: that is the choice each of us must make. Unfortunately, many so-called “Christian” leaders have succumbed to the lure of mammon. Peter warned us that this would happen: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words … they have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way they have gone astray” (2 Peter 2:1-3,14-15). These false prophets have hearts trained in greed and it is because of such greed that they will exploit the flock.

How can we tell if someone is a false prophet in this regard? I believe a key indicator is how often they mention money in their sermons. Not just mentioning money, but talking about giving to their specific cause or church, and not just talking about giving to them but also emphasizing monetary rewards for those who do so. The whole idea of giving to get is antithetical to the Gospel. The Gospel tells us to sacrificially give without expecting to be repaid. It is true that we will reap what we sow and that there are rewards for doing good, but the tendency of the false prophet will be to emphasize the material and immediate reward rather than the heavenly reward that Jesus emphasized. This materialistic theology is often called the “Prosperity Gospel”. The problem with this teaching is that the central reward for man is not God, but money. If you work hard for God to get money, are you not just serving money? If you are only in relationship with God to get things from him, then are you not just using God to fulfill your own craving for mammon? Will God reward such obvious idolatry? Not only do prosperity preachers emphasize material reward as the ultimate end goal, but they also seem to focus all their messages on the individual. They will focus their sermons on you, the individual, and not on God. If they do talk about God, it is only in relation to how he is all about you, and is for you, to serve you, you, you, you. The tricky part with most false prophets is that they say half-truths rather than full lies. It is true that God cares about you, but if that is the focus of each message, then something is off. It is true that God desires to reward your generosity, but if that is the message each week, then something is wrong. So be careful, my son, that you are not also led astray by such lovers of mammon who speak only half-truths.

 

“For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10).

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 49: Beware of “End Times” Theories & Be Careful Not to Scoff

My Son,

 

In Jesus’ famous discourse on the End Times in Matthew 24-25, he solemnly warns, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). If Jesus himself does not even know the exact time he is coming back, then why in the world would anyone dare to claim to have such knowledge? In just the 20th century, many false prophets have led people to believe that they know when Jesus is coming back. Each of them has been wrong and has caused much embarrassment to themselves and their followers. Although it is baffling that these false teachers can be so bold as to claim knowledge only known by the Father, this should not surprise us because Jesus also said that in the Last Days “false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). Beware of these false prophets.

Beware also of false theories of the End Times. Perhaps the most popular false theory in America is the Rapture theory. Its followers believe that at a time when no one knows, Jesus will call all believers to be with him in heaven while he carries out 7 years of tribulation on the Earth for the unbelievers left behind; and at the end of the Tribulation, Jesus will come back to conquer the Antichrist. There are several problems with this theory. First of all, it seems to indicate two “Second Comings” of Christ: an invisible coming for believers, and a visible one at the end of 7 years. Although the first “Second Coming” is unpredictable, it seems that people would know the exact year of his final Second Coming, which is contradictory to the fact that no one knows the time he will come. Another problem is that no one believed in this theory until the 19th century. None of the Church Fathers believed in this interpretation of the End Times. The primary verse used to explain Rapture theory is found in 1 Thessalonians: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The point of the verse is that, no matter what happens, we will be with the Lord. Also, at the time this was written, the idea to “meet the Lord” meant to welcome the coming King to the Earth in a victorious procession. Therefore, this is a reference to Christ’s one and final Second Coming, where believers will welcome the King to the Earth. There will be one glorious Second Coming. Besides this, if anyone is taken up first, it would be the unrighteous, because Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 13 where the Son of Man orders the angels to “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matthew 13:30). If you are “left behind” and had believed Rapture theory, it may be quite unsettling to you if all the wicked were taken up and you were the one left behind. The Scriptures attest to the need for believers to endure Tribulation, not escape it. This is just one example of a false theory of the End Times that has no real foundation in the Scriptures or in Church history.

While we must beware of false prophets and false theories of the End Times, we should also beware not to scoff at the belief that Christ is coming back. “First of all, you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4). Although it is tempting to get burnt out on all these weird End Times theories, and burnt out on the fact that many previous generations thought that Jesus was coming soon and he didn’t, it is important not to lose hope and not to lose expectancy. We need to be on our toes. Jesus tells us to be ready and watchful for his Second Coming. He is coming back, and he may even come back today, so make sure you are living a holy and godly life by abiding in Christ. Do not succumb to false teaching and do not succumb to scoffing.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 48: Follow the Fruit

My Son,

 

Jesus told us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20). Follow the good fruit, my boy.

What is this fruit? Paul makes it clear, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Are those who are teaching you full of this kind of fruit. If not, then beware of such persons.

The chief fruit from which all good fruit flows would be love. Those who love God with all they have, and love their neighbors as themselves are true to the teachings of Jesus. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16). Let us abide in love, and thereby abide in Christ. Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Listen to those who are true followers of Jesus, who truly bear the fruit of the Spirit, and who truly abide in Christ and in his love.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 47: Laughter

My Son,

 

There is an old saying that I believe to be true: “Laughter is the best medicine.” It is good medicine for the body and the soul. Laughter, happiness, joy and smiling are all integral parts to having a full life. Laughter is often the fruit of joy and joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit; therefore laughter is an essential element of the Christian life.

In the many paintings, images, and icons of Christ that I have seen, most depict Jesus with a serious demeanor. There is a time to be serious, but I have to believe that Jesus laughed with his disciples. If Jesus was accused by the religious leaders of being a glutton and a drunk by eating and drinking with sinners (Matthew 11:19), then surely he was laughing, smiling, and having a good time with them. A friend of mine once gave me a card that had a picture on it of Jesus laughing. This has been my favorite image of Jesus for a while. It captures the divine and human joy of Jesus. Not only do I believe Jesus laughed and smiled a lot, but I think he did so more than most people. It says in Hebrews that Jesus was anointed with the oil of gladness far above his companions (Hebrews 1:9). Jesus was smothered in gladness and his cup was overflowing with joy. The very presence of Jesus, the presence of God, is imbued with joy. God has shown us the path to life, that in his presence “there is fullness of joy” and at his right hand “are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

I adjure you, my son, to be filled with joy and anointed with gladness so that your cup overflows with laughter that emerges from the depths of your being. Laughter is a sacred gift from God, that when experienced at appropriate times, can make your friendship with Christ and with others more genuine and life giving.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 46: Live from Your Passion

My Son,

 

Life is too short to succumb to boredom. Many people settle for working jobs that they don’t care about. How sad is that? They spend a majority of each day doing something they don’t even like. Obviously, in certain circumstances, people have no other choice, but when a conscious decision is made to settle for a boring job rather than a job they care about, this is a problem. Why do people do this? I think it’s mainly out of fear. People are afraid that if they take a risk to do what they love that they won’t make enough money, or that they won’t be successful. Their fear traps them. It is also out of a false sense of security. Many college kids are told lies about which jobs are going to provide financial security. No job is secure. If you do something you hate, you won’t be as good at it as someone who actually enjoys that job and you could then be fired for underperforming. Our economy changes so quickly that the job you thought was going to be secure when you graduated actually has been automated and they don’t need people for that anymore. The safest route is actually to pursue your passion.

When you live from your passion, you stop working merely for a paycheck, but work because you genuinely enjoy what you’re doing. The majority of your days are filled with purpose, significance, and joy because you are doing the very thing you were made for. Because you are working from a place of love rather than fear, you will be much more motivated to do your job with excellence. Being excellent at your job earns trust. You may even be an expert in the area that you’re passionate about, thus securing a place for you in the market whether the economy is in good condition or bad. Living from your passion is way safer for these reasons. There are risks involved, but those risks are simply part of the adventure that can lead to joy rather than fear.

A good indicator of what you are passionate about is what you do when nobody forces you to do it. What are the books you read? What are the industries you’re interested in? What are the things that excite you? What do other people think you are passionate about? Once you find your passion, live from it. Do not settle for a boring, mundane, and “safe” life when you can choose to have an exciting, extraordinary, and adventurous life.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 45: Life Is an Adventure

My Son,

 

In a world full of new possibilities, new trails to blaze, and new mysteries to solve, if you are bored, then something is terribly wrong. This is true even in the midst of routines, but especially true when you take adventure trips. I highly recommend that you take at least one adventure trip each year. As men, we are designed for adventure, so we must have outlets to express this design. I, personally, have been on many international travels and each new country has proved a new adventure. The cultures are different, languages are different, nearly everything is different, so it forces me to get out of my comfort zone. Some days are intentionally left without a plan. One time, your aunt and I went hitchhiking on the island of Crete and got picked up by a couple from The Netherlands who dropped us off at a large and beautiful gorge that we then hiked until we got to the ocean. That was quite the experience!

Adventure trips are fun and good for the soul, but there are two more adventures in life that far surpass the trips we go on: Getting to know people, and getting to know God. People have an uncanny way of surprising others. We are somewhat goofy creatures filled with curiosity and depth. Getting to know another person can take a lifetime, and even then, there is more. Perhaps this is because we are made in the image of God, who himself has infinite depth. He also is full of surprises. Just when you think you figured something out about him, he will flip your paradigm upside down. He is also an adventurous God. He creates, pioneers, leads, and takes his creatures on wild adventures. What is great about being in relationship with this adventurous God is that he is everywhere. Whether you are in your hometown, traveling to the mountains, or stuck in a deserted place, God is there and is ready to encounter you. I’ve often said to others that I don’t care if I’m in the beautiful state of Colorado, or the Sahara Desert, as long as I’m surrounded by the people I love and the God whom I adore, then I’m content. So it isn’t about where you go, so much as whom you are with, that makes an adventure truly life-giving. Getting to know people and getting to know God are both essential to living a life of adventure.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 44: Experiencing Other Cultures: Jesus Alone Satisfies

My Son,

 

When I was in college I had the privilege of travelling to Nepal with a good friend of mine to teach English to a small Christian community in Kathmandu. Upon our arrival, we interacted with a local who called himself “Mr. Himalaya.” he showed us around the city and took us to a couple different Buddhist temples. The people we saw and interacted with in the temples actually seemed quite depressed. There was a general spirit of sadness and oppression that hung in the air. Mr. Himalaya himself tried to get money from us at the end of our time together. On the other hand, when we spent time with the local Christians, they were filled with joy and a spirit of generosity. Love and sacrifice marked our interactions with them. By the end of our time together, they ended up giving my friend and me gifts and sent us out with a tremendous blessing. The stark contrast we experienced between the Buddhists and the Christians in Nepal was profound. I’ve had similar experiences in Thailand, Albania, Jordan, India, and many other places and cultures.

Despite the many great differences that I’ve been able to see and experience on my travels across the globe, I’ve found a commonality that I especially wanted to share with you. This commonality among cultures is that Jesus alone satisfies. Sin is the culprit of man’s unhappiness in every culture. Jesus is the Savior in every culture. In every country I’ve been to and among every type of person I’ve interacted with, whether rich or poor, those who are filled with the most joy, peace, and love are those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ. This should not surprise us, for God gives men his Holy Spirit when they believe in Jesus and are baptized. The Holy Spirit binds Christians together as brothers and sisters and creates immense love to well up from within. Though language barriers remain, when we interact with those who also have the Holy Spirit, the language of love takes over and we can immediately form a bond that goes deeper than any other type.

It is important to experience other cultures, for by so doing you are broadening your perspective. It allows you to appreciate other people groups and other ways of living life. It also enables you to look back on your own culture and see where the strengths and weaknesses are. You will notice that different countries show varying degrees of hospitality, have specialty foods, view time and timeliness differently, and have unique historical qualities.

So I urge you to travel, explore, and go on many adventures throughout the world. Notice the difference Jesus makes in each person and culture, and seek to make God’s name hallowed among the nations.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 43: Video Games: Get in the Game

My Son,

 

Don’t waste your life. Perhaps playing a video game every once in awhile is acceptable, but I see too many guys spending way too much time playing video games. It can be a source of recreation and relaxation, but it can also be an addiction that dominates your life. So I’m not telling you to never play video games, but rather I’m encouraging you to get in the game of life. For example, there are some games out there that allow you to play a character that fights against demons. Instead of playing the game, why don’t you get in the actual “game” of spiritual warfare and start praying? Dedicating the hours you would have spent on the video game to something that has more eternal significance will probably be more meaningful to you in the end. I’m not trying to create a false dichotomy between recreation and spirituality. Rather, the recreation we do must be intertwined with the spiritual so that both needs are met simultaneously.

You may think me hypocritical for condemning video games while previously praising movies as a means by which to see the Gospel. Both video games and movies can be bad if either the content is bad or if they become addicting. They can also both be good if it leads you to know and serve Christ more effectively. Video games, movies, and many other forms of entertainment can become huge time wasters if you let them. This is the crux of my letter; don’t waste your life with too much entertainment when you could use that same amount of time to better build up the Kingdom of God. Entertainment and impacting the Kingdom are not always mutually exclusive, but if you are to choose what dominates your life, let it be the Kingdom of God.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 42: Creativity & Multiplying Talents

My Son,

 

“For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property, to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ his master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ his master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ he also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! you knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has more will be given and he will have an abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’” (Matthew 25:14-30).

 

God has gifted us each with various levels of resources, skills, graces, and faith that we are called to multiply for his glory. The first thing I want you to ask yourself, my son, is this: What has God given me? Think about your environment, the people you know, the natural talents you have, the skills you are developing, and, as a literal correspondence to the parable of the talents, how much money you have. Then think about how you can further invest in those gifts and utilize those gifts so that they are multiplied. Finally, focus on how multiplying those “talents” can cultivate a deeper love for God and for neighbor.

The second question you need to ask yourself is this: Is the multiplication of my gifts actually making the world a better place? There are many who are given “talents” and know how to multiply them, but then use those additional resources to corrupt themselves and the world. For example, a person may have been given a significant amount of talent to make great movies. They spend their lives honing those skills and are getting better and better at their own abilities, yet they use their increased level of expertise to make inappropriate movies. This would be a very bad use of their gifts. Alternatively, if you have someone good at making movies, but they never develop the skills to make really great movies, or decide to bury their creativity by playing it safe taking a job they know they were not made for, then they also have not adequately multiplied their talents for the good of mankind. The person that truly glorifies God in this is the person who knows they have the gift to make really good movies, works hard to increase their own skill-base, and then makes high quality films that lead people into an encounter with God. It may not be an explicit Gospel message, but perhaps the overall message of the movie is good and is making the world a better place.

All people have a certain measure of creativity, for they were made in the very image of the Creator. God multiplied his talents by creating the Earth and all that dwells in it. He calls us to share in this vocation of creativity. It is so important to him, that he tells us Christ will judge us in the Last Days on how well we were able to multiply our talents. Know what God has gifted you with, examine how you can multiply those gifts, and seek to do all of it for the glory of God.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 41: Spending Time with God

My Son,

 

In God we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). Thus, God is always near and ready for us to draw near to him by deliberately spending focused time with him. Christ is our life and though we are to abide in him every second of every day there are special moments of individual quietness before the Lord that can help fan the flames of our faith and aid us in our abiding. Quite often, the Gospels recount Jesus withdrawing from the crowds and disciples to spend time alone with the Father. He expects his disciples to do the same when teaching them to pray in the Sermon on the Mount: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). From the secret place we draw strength and nourishment in our intimacy with God to then share his love with the world.

Now, my son, I’d like to give you some practical guidelines and tools that I have found to be helpful in my own time with God. Different seasons of my life have caused my time with God to change. When I was in college I would simply read Scripture during breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nighttime: Old Testament (2 chapters) for breakfast, a New Testament epistle for lunch (1 chapter), a Gospel for dinner (1 chapter), and a Psalm and Proverb before bed. While reading Scripture has always been a core part of my own time with God, I needed to become more deliberate in prayer, so after college and while I was transitioning to becoming Catholic, I picked up a fabulous resource called the Liturgy of the Hours (or Divine Office). There are prayer times for morning, mid-morning, noontime, mid-afternoon, evening, and nighttime, plus readings for the Daily Office. These prayer books really helped launch me into a more disciplined prayer routine.

Another part of my time with God that was missing in college was a more focused time with him, so after college I began to spend an hour with him before eating breakfast. During that time I would listen to worship music, pray, and read Scripture. At other times, I would memorize passages of Scripture. The reason why I enjoy designating the first hour of my day to spend time with God is that it sets the tone for abiding with him the rest of the day. Just recently, I began to notice that my time with God is filled with a lot of talking both in prayer and speaking out Scripture, but not as much quietness. Something the Lord has been putting on my heart lately is the need to simply be quiet before him in contemplation, meditation, and sheer silence.

My suggestion to you, my son, is to have a specific consistent time with God at the very first part of your day. You can then fill that time with a variation of what I’ve talked about and perhaps other things I have not. You can read, memorize and meditate on Scripture, pray, listen to worship music, listen for his voice in the stillness, etc. The goal is to connect with God. May this time with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, serve to catapult you into the very life of the Triune God.

 

Love,

Dad