Numbers, Dollars, and Sense

As I am writing this, our country; the United States of America and the world is in the midst of the Coronavirus COVID – 19 pandemic. However, the thing that is troubling me, even more than the pandemic itself is the diverse reactions and responses to it!

Even after all this time and the untold numbers of those who have fallen ill and died, there are many who are still claiming that it’s not that bad and that it is more important to get back to work to save the economy! In the state of Georgia, where I live, the governor has lifted restrictions and allowed businesses, such as hair salons, tattoo parlors, barber shops and other business where it is impossible to maintain social distancing to re-open! This is being done at a time when the rates of infection and deaths are still going up and the state is nowhere near bringing testing up to point to adequately gauge the virus spread! (One of the suggested federal guidelines stipulated that no state should attempt to reopen until there has been at least a 14-day decline in the infection rate!) The governor states that he has been listening to the medical and scientific experts, but one wonders who they are when the data suggest otherwise.

But at any rate, the thing that is so disturbing to me is that our country; the United States, is any and everything but ‘united!’ In the midst of this pandemic, which is the greatest crises this nation has faced since 911, many members of Congress and the President are obsessed with petty politics and political power! Instead of working together for the good of the country, many of our government leaders are focused on what’s good for their own political party and power base!

For the last several years, even before this present crisis, the American public and even the world has been subjected to an unbelievable display of petty, immature, and narcissistic behavior that is unmatched in the history of American politics! If someone had suggested twenty years ago that this would have been the ‘norm’ of American politics, they would have been deemed as crazy, because such levels of incompetence and the absence of human decency were beyond anyone’s imagination!

Who would have thought back then, that there ever would come a day in America when there would be a debate about which is really more valuable; the economy or human lives? Who would have thought that there would come a day in our country when people would have to actually decide, on a personal level, whether to go to work to pay their bills or stay home to save their lives?

The government leaders are saying that the economy should open when there are acceptable rates of infections and deaths. But what about the people who are actually being infected and the people who are actually dying? Is the sacrifice really worth it to them? In a country where there is already systemic discrimination in health care and benefits, is it reasonable to sacrifice the health and lives of people who were already being sacrificed and think there is some moral justification in it?

There is an effort by some to show appreciation for the health-care workers and other people who are hourly and daily sacrificing their health and lives for the sake of others, and that is good. But, would those who advocate opening up the country for the sake of the economy in spite of the overwhelming good-sense recommendations that it is too soon, be willing to make sure those and the families of those who get sick and die as a result of this premature action be compensated in some way? I think not! For those who are pushing such actions have already, by their actions, prove they value dollars over human lives!

I am not an economist, neither am I a business owner, but I do have bills to pay! Therefore, I have enough sense to know that we cannot indefinitely pause the economy! I know we cannot keep our present course indefinitely! But in the meantime, we should be willing to be patient and make some sacrifices if that means we are saving human lives! For we must all remember, the numbers we see and hear about in the discussions about infections and deaths, are not just numbers; they are people! They are husbands, wives, daughters, sons, grandparents and grandchildren! Their sickness and their deaths have an immediate impact upon the lives of countless other people!

And so, I appeal to you, no matter where you stand on the issue, this is much bigger than petty politics! It’s more important than the label of Democrat or Republican, liberal or moderate, right-wing or left-wing! When a person is sick or dead, none of that matters! This virus does not care about ethnicity, race, political persuasion, or social status! The real issue is not about numbers, because even just one is one too many! It’s not about dollars because how can anyone put a dollar-value on a human life? No! It’s not about the numbers or the dollars, it’s about sense! A sense of decency! A sense of mutual respect! A sense of what is right and what is wrong! As far as the dollars are concern, I hear a carpenter from Nazareth of Galilee, asking questions that have echoed down throughout the centuries: “What good will it do someone if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or, what can a person give in exchange for his life?” (Matt. 16:26 CJB) My modern-day Miller Translation is this: “What good is it to restart the economy at the expense of human life? What profit is it to the economy if people are too sick or too dead to benefit from it?” Some one might say that it will benefit those who are left! But how cold and callous can you be to sacrifice the life of someone else for your own? Such an attitude of one of privilege and superiority, which just might be the root-cause of this debate in the first place!

Coronavirus: Revelations and Lessons

Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock or on some remote island in the middle of sea, you have been, in some way or another, impacted by the spread of the Coronavirus. The economy and social structure of the entire world has been impacted. In the annuals of history, the Coronavirus Pandemic will rate on the scale of such catastrophic events as the World Wars, the assassination of JFK, the Space Shuttle catastrophe, and 911! And, just as it was in the aftermath of those red-letter-calendar events, things will not return to the way they were before the event occurred!

But, there are some lessons we can learn from this recent world-wide event that will be beneficial to all, if we would just learn them and adapt. First of all, Corona reminds us that we are indeed a global community and that our commonalities really are more than our differences. It didn’t matter what ideology, religion, political persuasion, ethnic or racial identity; all were and are impacted by the virus! The lesson to be learned? Since all are equally impacted, then it seems to reason that all are equally human! Therefore, the Coronavirus is just another, of a long, unending list of proofs that the artificial barriers and claims of ethnic and racial superiority that some promote are just plain nonsense! All are equally susceptible, but the proof of our humanity or the lack thereof, will be shown in how all are treated in response!

Although, I use email, social media, and other means of technology to communicate, I am somewhat of a ‘dinosaur’ in some other things. The lesson that this crisis is teaching me is the importance of being flexible and willing to adapt new ways of doing old things! Because of restrictions put in place in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, the congregation I lead is temporarily unable to meet as we normally would on Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, or on various other days for ministry activities. Consequently, I am being forced to experiment with making Facebook Live presentations and conducting virtual Bible Class and preaching to a camera instead of a live audience! Funny thing about it is that I am discovering that I am more nervous talking to a camera than I am addressing a live audience! Now, all of this is not necessarily a bad thing! The church has always been traditionally lagging behind in adapting new technology. But the adaption of new technology is needed in order to reach the current culture. I just pray that when this is over, people don’t prefer to remain socially distant!

And speaking of ‘social distance,’ the practice of maintaining social distance has forced us to re-establish the practice of family togetherness, which is really a good thing! Hopefully, being forced to remain in close proximity to the wife, the husband, the children, and the pets will force families to get reacquainted with one another and strengthen the family bond!

I realize we are in the midst of stressful times! We are having to do and endure some things that are unpleasant and undesirable, but as the Bible says in KJV English, “It shall come to pass!” I have talked with pastors and other church leaders who insist closing the church doors for this crises is giving in to fear and/or government control. But the bottom line is this: This is not a matter of faith, this is a matter of public safety and concern for one’s fellowman! Along that same line of reasoning, I just read of a beach in Florida, packed with people, in blatant disregard for the restrictive measures the CDC and the government are suggesting. Yes! People may have the freedom and the right to do something, but that doesn’t mean it’s right to do it!

We are all in this together! We should all do what we can to get through this with a minimum amount of sickness and death. So, if that means giving up some of my rights for the sake of the health and benefit of all, in my mind, that is the only loving and humane thing to do!

In the meantime, stay safe: Wash your hands, take care of yourself and your neighbor!

Does the Bible Say It’s God’s Will That We Prosper?


riches“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”  3 John 1:2 KJV

Unless you have been living under a rock or have been otherwise deaf to the religious rhetoric that is abundant in many church circles today, you have heard some preacher or some other person say that it is God’s will that we (believers) prosper and be in health even as our souls prosper. The person who said this derived their conclusion from 3 John 1:2. But was that the original intended message of this verse? Is that a correct application of the principle of the verse? Does this verse really teach that it is God’s will that every believer prospers and be in health?

Well first of all, the first thing that we must consider in seeking the truth of this text and any biblical text is context. Note that this text is actually a greeting. John was not trying to relate a deep theological insight or blessing to Gaius, John was simply saying: “Hello!” According to the Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament (BECNT), “Some form of remembrance (common in Paul’s Letters) or a health wish was common after the opening lines of secular letters of the era, but 3 John “gives the best and only clear example” of such an opening in a NT epistle (R. Brown 1982: 790). Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 292 (ca. AD 25) records Theon writing to Tyrannos, “Before all else you have my good wishes for unbroken health and prosperity.” A second-century letter states, “Before all else I pray you are in good health” (for both examples, see Elwell and Yarbrough 1998: 194). Given the brief life spans and marginal medical care of antiquity, this would always be a point well taken.” [Yarbrough, R. W. (2008). 1–3 John (p. 366). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.] So, what many today have interpreted as a major statement of God’s will for our prosperity and health was actually just a common greeting!

Not only that, but let’s look at the context again! The “beloved” in the text is not every believer today nor was it every believer at the time of the writing! It was a term of endearment specifically for Gaius, the recipient of the letter. Furthermore, the “I” in the text was not a reference to the Lord, but rather it referred to author of the letter; the Apostle John. So, to be biblically correct, it is wrong to use this text to say that it is God’s will that we prosper and be in health even as our souls prosper! According to the text, it wasn’t God’s will for us, it was the Apostle John’s wish for Gaius! John wasn’t really saying anything “deep!” He was just saying our equivalent to: “Hey, I hope you are doing OK and I wish you good health!” It wasn’t a deep theological statement; it was just a common conventional greeting of that day and time!

Now how did we get from a common greeting to one person to a deep theological principle for all believers? Again, the BECNT offers some insight: “Landrus (2002) explores the history of interpretation of this verse. From various angles going back at least to Tertullian, interpreters always tended to stress John’s concern for Gaius’s overall welfare and especially his spiritual well-being. But beginning with Oral Roberts in 1947, 3 John 2 has been interpreted by some to say “something truly different” (Landrus 2002: 81). Followed by Kenneth Hagin and others, Roberts takes “the greeting of Third John … to secure the promise of physical, financial and spiritual prosperity for all believers” (Landrus 2002: 82). While it is possible to mount a defense of this approach (as Roberts 2002: 96–97 attempts; but see McConnell 1988), if Jesus came proclaiming a gospel of material prosperity, it is otherwise absent from the Johannine corpus. For that reason, and particularly in the current era of persecution of Christians on such a wide and ferocious scale going back to the early twentieth century, most careful “interpreters could not … responsibly encourage anyone today to anchor an exposition of God’s intent for his people to prosper on 3 Jn 2” (Roberts 2002: 96). This is of course not to deny that it is within God’s ability, and frequently his will, to bless his people materially in all kinds of ways.” [Yarbrough, R. W. (2008). 1–3 John (p. 367). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.] Is it God’s will that every believer prospers and be in health? It may very well be, but my contention is that assertion cannot be honestly made based on this text! In fact, it is a dangerous practice to base any assertion or principle on just “one” text in the Bible! If it’s an intended universal principle or practice, it will usually be found in more than just one text!

What does God want for us in regard to prosperity and health? Well, when we look at the whole of scripture, we discover that prosperity and the blessings of God were really just by-products! According to the dictionary, a by-product is something that is produced during the production of something else. It is something that happens as a result of something else. It is something produced in addition to the principal product. It is a secondary result. Typically, you don’t cut wood for the purpose of getting sawdust! You cut wood to have material to build something and sawdust is produced as a by-product of cutting the wood! Well, in the same manner prosperity, success, health, and other blessings are just by-products! Abraham was blessed by God because he was obedient and faithful. In Joshua 1, we discover that God told Joshua that his prosperity and success would be the results of his obedience! The Lord made Solomon rich, not because he asked for riches, but rather because he asked for wisdom! Wisdom was the real prize and his wealth or prosperity was just the by-product! Jesus said we are to seek first the Kingdom (rule, authority) of God and all the things needed would be added! Nowhere in scripture do we find the Lord advocating that we make blessings, riches, or prosperity our main goal or pursuit! In fact, the Bible teaches that the pursuit of those things is detrimental! (See 1 Timothy 6:8-11) In the Bible, God didn’t bless or prosper people because they ask or sought to be blessed or prospered. God blessed and prospered them because of their obedience and faithfulness! Is it God’s will that we prosper and be in good health? That is not the “real” pertinent question we should be asking. The question we should be asking is: Is it God’s will that we be faithful and obedient? When we are, God will bless and prosper as God sees fit in God’s own time! But we shouldn’t pursue the blessings, they are just sawdust. They are just the by-products of faithfulness and obedience! In fact, It is has never been God’s will that we pursue blessings and prosperity, but rather it has always been God’s will that blessings and prosperity pursue us! Deuteronomy 28:1-2 says: “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.” In Psalms 23:6, David says: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” In the Hebrew text, the word for “follow” is not a passive word for a puppy-dog following it’s master, but rather it’s active word for a ferocious beasts tracking and pursuing it’s prey! In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus said: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” This modern-day prosperity preaching has really gotten it twisted by making a side dish the main dish! It has made what God intended to be an appetizer the main meal! It is putting people in bondage because it is making people work for (pursue) what should be working (pursuing) them!

Is it God’s will that we prosper? I believe it is! I just don’t think it is the teaching to this verse! I  don’t think the Bible teaches we should pursue prosperity for prosperity’s sake! I’m a “meat and gravy” kind of guy, so let me put it this way: I don’t cook meat just to get gravy, but I appreciate the gravy as a by-product of cooking the meat! Instead of pursuing prosperity, if we pursue the God who prospers, we will be blessed, we will prosper (as God sees fit), we will be in health (as God sees fit and as we live healthy life-styles) as a by-product of our relationship with God.


Forgiveness is for YOU!

forgiveness handcuffsI don’t know why or how we came to think this way, but there are many people who just can’t seem to let go of an unforgiving spirit! For some strange, sick and demented reason, they think that not forgiving another person actually has a detrimental effect on that person. They think that, by not forgiving that person, they exercise some sort of power or control over them. But the truth of the matter is this: Forgiveness is not really for the other person; forgiveness is for you! Let me show you what I’m talking about:

There are some people who use unforgiveness as a weapon. They actually think that by not forgiving the other person, they are actually hurting the other person! (If the other person is indeed hurt, it really not because of the un-forgiver’s unforgiveness, but rather because of how the unforgiven processes the situation in their mind. The only real power the un-forgiver has over the unforgiven is the power the unforgiven gives the un-forgiver!) Some people use unforgiveness as a means to attempt to keep the other person locked in a certain position or mental location. But think about this for a minute: The only way for a guard to guard a prisoner is for the guard to be constantly vigilant and diligent in watching the prisoner. Now in order to do this, the guard has to be, to a certain extent, locked up himself! Think about it for a moment! The prisoner can’t come and go as he pleases, but neither can the guard! Now this comparison does not stand on all fours, simply because when we are unforgiving toward another person, we only “think” we have them locked up; they are actually really free! We are the only ones in prison! They are free because the only place they are really imprisoned is within our minds! Did you know that there are some people who have not forgiven another person, but that other person is not even bothered by that fact! In some cases, they don’t even know about it! This is a twisted scene: You may be angry with your spouse or whoever, because of something they may have done. They have asked for your forgiveness but you refuse to forgive them! But your anger and your unforgiveness really hurts you more than it hurts them! Un-forgiveness and holding a grudge is like holding hot coals! You may be holding them against someone else, but the truth is; you are the only one getting burnt!

So it really doesn’t make sense to hold grudges and to have an unforgiving spirit! It’s really a form of suicide! Holding grudges and having an unforgiving spirit causes mental stress in your mind, spiritual stress in your soul and physical stress in your body! The medical field has confirmed it with numerous studies! Doctors say that many ulcers come, not from what we are eating, but rather from what is eating us! Aside from the religious and spiritual fact that we are commanded to forgive in order to be forgiven, doctors now confirm that holding grudges and being unforgiving for a prolonged period of time often lead to such maladies as high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer!

Therefore, you ought to forgive because forgiveness is really not for the other person; forgiveness is for you! The next time you are in a situation where you are tempted to hold a grudge and be unforgiving, ask yourself the question: Is it really worth it? Is not forgiving this person worth a heart attack or a stroke? It is really worth injuring my relationship and fellowship with the God who has forgiven me? I don’t care what they did; let it go! When you let it go, it doesn’t mean you are weak, it just means you are wise! It means you have come to understand that at the root of the matter having an unforgiving spirit is not really worth it because forgiveness is really not for the other person; forgiveness is for you!