Saturday, October 28, 2006

Kitten love

My oldest son, Nick, has a litter of 4-week-old kittens at his house. The girls saw them for the first time over the weekend. They have never seen kittens or puppies this young. Actually, they haven't ever seen a litter of any kind of baby animals. Liana was absolutely smitten.

I'm not sure how many kittens there were because little fluffy bodies of grays and blacks and whites, striped and solid, were crawling all over the girls. Arielle was a little leery of their sharp, gripping claws but Liana was awe-struck. She picked up one, then another, holding them gently, petting them, looking into their eyes. She was drawn to a multi-colored one, black and white with streaks of gray. It had a little black dot on its nose and cried piteously. She held it against her chest until it fell asleep. She played with the kittens for a long time. I enjoyed seeing her so kind and nurturing. "Mom, I like this one. Isn't he cute?" She showed me her favorite one, as if this small kitten was the greatest treasure on earth. "Mom, I REALLY like this one," she said again.

Nick said the kittens were hungry and needed to go back to their mama. They were carried out two by two to the other room. Liana's worried eyes kept darting to mine. Did she have to give up the kitten? Finally, she let it go.

On the way home I realized there was some kind of big misunderstanding. Liana, for some reason, thought she might keep that kitten. Dad soundly said no. All the drive home Liana gave her reasons why she would be the best mother ever to that kitty, tears rolling down her cheeks. Dad was patient for awhile. But he is adamant about no more cats. Our ancient outdoor cat is on his way out and Fred is looking forward to a pet-less house.

By the time we got home, Liana's silent tears became sobs. Her heart was broken. She realized she would probably never see the kitten again and couldn't bear the thought. Dad telling her she could have all the cats she wanted when she was grown up didn't matter. "But then that kitten will be grown up too!" she protested. Inside the house, the sobs became wails of grief; this was more grief than her little heart has ever known in all her six years. Now Liana can certainly be whiny and manipulative at times to get her own way, but I sensed something more.

First of all, she's never wanted anything so much. She's never before cried for toys or pleaded her case so convincingly for anything else. But she was also heartbroken because she saw a new side of her dad she didn't know existed. Before he was a dad who never denied her anything. She reminded him of that. "You always promised to give me anything I needed!" I know it hurt Fred to tell her no. He would like to be the kind of father to grant anything his beloved daughter might wish. But he knew this was not the right time to do that.

Liana fought hard but did not get her kitten. In the end she trusted her dad and accepted his decision. She didn't understand, but she knows he loves her. Was her bargaining and arguing and persistence wrong?

Coincidentally, the very same night I read an excerpt from Philip Yancey's new book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Yancey suggests God invites engagement with him in the kind of prayer that struggles and argues. God desires us to appeal to his grace and compassion and promises. Sometimes God comforts and calms us as we pour out our grievances. We see his wisdom and accept his final answer. Other times we wrestle, and like Jacob, we say, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." Genesis 32:26. Sometimes God changes his mind.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes--
The rest sit around it, and pluck blackberries."
E.B. Browning

Autumn in Pennsylvania. What could be more beautiful? My favorite month has passed by in a rush but we did have a couple of days to enjoy a glimpse of heaven here on earth. Two weeks ago the girls had a science class at a rustic camp and in the afternoon enjoyed a boat ride on this creek and a long hayride through the colorful woods.

Last weekend was no less enjoyable and all we did was work. Dad wants the garden cleaned up, I told the girls. They enthusiastically put on shoes and jackets and ran outside. As always, it is sad to put the garden to rest for the winter. How did summer go by so quickly? It was hard work gathering up the dead pumpkin vines still gripping the soil and dragging the huge dry sunflower stalks from the ground. The fragrance of the basil lingered in the air as we loaded the wheelbarrow. I pulled up the zinnias, still blooming, and marveled at how sturdy and thick their stems were, remembering the delicate seedlings we gently planted in the spring, wondering if they could possibly survive unpredictable storms.

I looked over at my daughter--Arielle, solid and strong, collecting the last of the green tomatoes and yanking up the withered remains. The frail little baby we brought home from China not so very long ago is as hardy and resolute as her peasant ancestors. The earth draws her, and she is truly joyful when her hands are touching plants and rocks and dirt. She was less than two years old when I noticed her unusual fascination with the moon, with flowers, with butterflies and praying mantises. She used to walk behind me in the rows of green beans, quietly studying the art of picking. Now she can harvest as well as anyone. She liked to hide among the corn stalks, listening to the slippery sounds of the long leaves in the breeze, pollen from the tassles dusting her black hair. My daughter-- she is no ordinary child. The hands that roughly shake off the dirt from a clump of roots right now can glide so smoothly across the piano keys. Her heart still hears the distant voices from her past, but she dances with enthusiasm to the music of her life with us.

After the garden is cleared, the girls want to play in the leaves. Arielle has already raked a huge pile. The two sisters jump over and over, squealing with abandon. I want to keep these moments forever, to treasure them always. But all I can do is grab a camera and a pen and preserve what fragments I can. Autumn, soon to be gone. The girls eagerly anticipate the Christmas season. They CAN'T WAIT! But let me linger here awhile longer.

Now the wind has turned cold and it has stripped the beautiful leaves from the trees. A vase of faded flowers that the girls salvaged from the dying plants is all that's left of October.

A living example

A family I know is living out what Jesus taught about riches. The man and his wife are both doctors. Early on, the wife left her career. She spends her time with her many children, homeschooling some, and serving in various ministries in and out of church. She was my Bible study teacher for a couple of years and I watched her carefully because she seemed to have unusual wisdom. She was zealous for the word and for prayer. She was what I wanted to be.

Arielle was invited to their home for a birthday party. I was very curious to see where this family lived. Our church has many wealthy members so I'd often visited palatial homes owned by generous, giving people. Even so, I wanted to know how this particular family lived. Maybe I suspected their home would be different. This family could have had everything our privileged American culture has to offer--fancy cars and houses, dream vacations and every luxury thought up by mankind. I already knew their vacations were always either visiting family members across the country or going on short-term mission trips. But what about their home?

The house was big and old. It was simple, plain, sparse. Nothing fancy anywhere. But it was also warm and welcoming. The birthday party itself was old-fashioned fun. Their children were boisterous and joyful, but had few "things." I never forgot this home. A family who understood real riches lived here.

Not surprising, this family left their home several years ago and are full-time missionaries in a remote country. If their hearts clutched worldly goods, they would never have been able to detach from them when God called them to leave everything behind and go out to serve him at the ends of the earth. Without ever saying a word, their lives spoke loudly and clearly where their true priorities were. I am troubled by the American lifestyle. It's bad enough I'm living it, but I can't promote it or ask God for more. My family already has too much, and I am too attached to what I have. At this point, I don't think I could walk out and leave it all behind. I like my "stuff" and I like comfort. I don't want to go to a hot and humid place or a place where people don't speak English and eat weird food, or a place with strange insects and snakes. Or a place where Christians are persecuted. My heart is far from where it should be.

Some questions:

1. If we are seeking financial blessing, will we still be content in whatever our circumstances?

2. How much is too much? When is enough, enough, and we don't ask for more?

3. When do our lifestyle and possessions become offensive to God when the money spent could be spent on others instead?

4. When does our wanting "stuff" venture into the realm of covetousness?

5. When does God become a means to an end, and not the end in himself?

Kenneth Hagin has a whole chapter in his book based on I Timothy 4:8. "...godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." The King James version says "godliness is profitable..." Curiously, the book of the Bible he ran with also has some sobering thoughts for us about riches. I'll end this topic with these words from scripture.

This passage begins talking about false doctrine and "men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." I Timothy 6:5-10.

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." I Timothy 6:17-19

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Still more...

The gospels are full of encounters with people where Jesus addressed money issues. It seems money was a problem then as it is now. Think back on these familiar passages.

The rich young man in Matthew 19 asked Jesus what good thing he must do to inherit eternal life. After a short discussion, with this man affirming that he's kept all the commandments, Jesus concludes, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." After this, scripture records, "When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth." Matthew 19:16-30.

Consider also the widow's offering in Mark 12. What's interesting is what Jesus is doing. "Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts, but a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny." Mark 12:41, 42.

Jesus responds to this by saying, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on." Mark 12:43, 44. These are hard sayings! The rich man had much to give but couldn't part with it, yet the poor widow gave it all. Jesus directs us back to the heart issues.

Luke 16 begins with Jesus telling the parable of the shrewd manager to a group of Pharisees. Verse 14 says, "The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus." Jesus responds, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." Luke 16:15.

In one of the seven "woes" of Matthew 23 Jesus says, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness." Verse 23. Do we do what is "required" but forget the suffering world? Jesus said the Pharisees were "full of greed and self-indulgence." Matthew 23:25. This sounds like an average American. (Myself included.)

In Luke 12 Jesus says, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Then he goes on to tell the parable of the rich man with no place to store all his crops. So the man decides to build bigger barns. The man says to himself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." But God said, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" Jesus concludes the story by saying, "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." Luke 12:13-21.

In Luke 19 Jesus meets Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector. We all remember Zacchaeus as the "wee little man" who climbs the tree to see Jesus pass by. But do we remember his attitude? "Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount!" Luke 19:1-10. As the crowds are listening to this, Jesus goes into the parable of the ten talents about the two men who invest their master's money and the one who hoards it.

So "name it and claim it"? It just doesn't fit. Yes, Jesus does say in Matthew 7, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you...if you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Verses 7-12. But the Word also says, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him." I John 5:14. "According to his will" is key here. What is his will for us when it comes to wealth? Our heavenly Father is extravagant and generous, showering us with gifts we never deserve. But we also need to be mindful that as any good parent, God gives us what is good for us and sometimes says no.

As for the pastor who says it is unbiblical not to own land? Jesus says, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Luke 9:58. Do we deserve better than Jesus?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Prosperity 2

I consider myself one of the richest people in the world. God has lavished me with gifts and has never withheld any human joy from me. I lack nothing. All these riches are totally undeserved. I didn't name and claim anything but my generous heavenly Father has showered me with blessings. My heart is full of gratitude.

Yet, my husband is out of work on a disability and we're learning to be very creative in paying our bills. If you knew my life story, you would know that material wealth (as seen through American eyes) never entered the picture. But these facts don't diminish my view of my riches. We have more than enough "things". My children have food and clothing and we live in a comfortable home and drive reliable cars. But this isn't where my true wealth is.

As I searched the scriptures for Jesus' words on money, I found he has plenty to say on the subject. The Pharisees were rich and Jesus was always at odds with them, so many of his comments were directed at them. (Or maybe us?)

First of all, let's put to rest the passage from John 10:10, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Or "more abundantly" as the King James Version says. This chapter is not about material wealth at all. It is about Jesus being the true shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. We live life to the full when we follow him, but promises of having "stuff"--no.

Let's look at Jesus' life. First of all, he was born into a poor family. Did Jesus use his miraculous powers to give his parents a mansion to live in? Did Mary and Joseph expect material gain due to their "rights" as God's chosen people? Many of Jesus' followers were poor too. Are there any miracles recorded where Jesus zapped them with riches? Or that they even asked for them?

Jesus was more concerned with heart issues. "Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...No one can serve two masters, 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 money." Matthew 6:19-24. Our wealth (and our time and concern) must lie in what is eternal--God, and our relationship with him, and the souls of people.

It's not wrong to have money. It's how we feel about it, how we pursue it, and what we do with it that matters. If you have it, thank God for it, and use it for his kingdom and to serve others. If you don't have it, right after this teaching Jesus says, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?..." He ends with, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:25-34. A key verse in this passage is: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (food, clothing, things God knows we need) will be given to you." Vs. 33. We are to seek God, not for the goods he supposedly wants to hand over to us, but for him to fill our thoughts with his desires for our lives. He promised to provide for us. Don't "worry". He says it six times in this passage.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


The past few days I have been wrestling with a big theological issue. I never knew it was a controversial topic in the church until I read an article in Time magazine and until a good friend of mine took an opposing side from what I believe to be true. So when confronted with a new idea, I took it to prayer, study of the Word, and research. Please weigh in and let me know your thoughts.

The article is from the September 18th issue and is titled, "Does God Want You to Be Rich?" I discovered there are several huge churches in this country that proclaim that one of God's top priorities is to shower blessings on believers, and we should not accept anything less than what we are entitled to as God's children. This message is called Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, or the new term--Prosperity Lite. The emphasis is on personal financial gain that supposedly our heavenly Father is more than willing to bestow upon us if we would only ask. Opponents describe it as "materialism framed in a kind of Tony Robbins positivism." The premise is that Jesus promised an abundant life and "abundant" is interpreted to include money and possessions. One pastor even says, "God wants you to own land. ..Land represents that God is with you and God has blessed you." The article says this is peculiarly an American theology but I was told it is popular in Singapore too, another wealthy, materialistic society.

A now deceased pastor was one of the granddaddies of this teaching. He wrote a book on financial prosperity and I read enough of it to get the gist of his ideas. He says poverty and sickness are a curse while prosperity and good health are indications of God's blessings. He believes people are poor because they have dishonored God in their way of living. He said his ideas came by way of revelation from God to claim whatever he wanted and speak it out in faith. (Name it and claim it.) The last chapter is "Godliness is Profitable for All Things." He says godliness ensures protection (tell that to the Amish families), godliness ensures promotion, godliness ensures perpetuity (long life), and godliness ensures prosperity. He lists why some don't prosper financially--laziness, extravagance and excesses, and poor management. The back cover states, "God wants His people to prosper financially...many Christians have never entered into the dimension of prosperity that God intended for them." Highlights in bullets say: How to eat the good of the land, Your authority in Christ concerning finances, How to release your faith for finances and The role of honoring your pastor so you can walk in prosperity. (You can guess what that section is about.) As with any false doctrine, there is always an element of truth to bring a measure of confusion.

Is this liberating news for the poor, or is it offensive and exploitive? What does the Word say? Specifically, what does Jesus say?