Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Donald Trump and Warren Buffet on Heaven

Donald Trump and Warren Buffet are not only known for their billions of bucks, but also for their tendency to say whatever comes to mind. I guess having tons of money affords you the right to have no filter and a huge ego. Some would argue that business tycoons like these guys have the E.F. Hutton effect upon the masses, meaning that when they speak people listen. After all, we’ve always been told that, “money talks.” While these titans of Wall Street may know the in’s-and-out’s of the financial markets, I’m often astounded at how little they know about theology. Consider a couple of anecdotes:  

Early in 1989, a writer asked Trump the inevitable question about what horizons were left to conquer. “Right now, I’m genuinely enjoying myself,” Trump replied. “I work and I don’t worry.” “What about death?” the writer asked. “Don’t you worry about dying?” Trump dealt his stock answer, one that appears in a lot of his interviews. “No,” he said. “I’m fatalistic and I protect myself as well as anybody can. I prepare for things.” This time, however, as Trump started walking up the stairs to have dinner with his family, he hesitated for a moment. “No,” he said finally, “I don’t believe in reincarnation, heaven or hell—but we go someplace.” Again a pause. “Do you know,” he added, “I cannot, for the life of me, figure out where.”[1]

A few years ago the media made a big deal about the philanthropy of Warren Buffet, the world’s wealthiest man. A USA Today spread explained how Buffet decided to sign over $30.7 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Here is an excerpt from the article:
            “Warren Buffett's contribution of about $1.5 billion a year to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be used to seek cures for the world's worst diseases and improve American education, Bill Gates said Monday. “There is no reason we can't cure the top 20 diseases,” Gates said while appearing with Buffett during a donation ceremony at the New York Public Library. The Buffett and Gates families, as well as onlookers, were beaming as the so-called Oracle of Omaha officially made his benevolence a reality. During the ceremony, Buffet said, “I am not an enthusiast for dynastic wealth, particularly when the alternative is 6 billion people having much poorer hands in life than we have. There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way.”[2]

Do you think God is impressed by Buffet’s donation? What about Trump not doing any research about what lies beyond the grave; would he be that reckless with his money? Buffet thinks that he can buy his way into heaven though good works, while Trump has spent more time planning his next investment than where he will spend eternity. These examples go to show how foolish men plan more for this life than the next.

Jesus told the story of a rich farmer who enjoyed great success. Reflecting on his accomplishments, he said, "I know! I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I'll sit back and say to myself, 'My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!'” (Luke 12:18-19, NLT). But God told him, "You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?" (verse 20, NLT).

We can find some commendable things about this rich man. He was a hardworking farmer. He probably would have had to work longer and get up earlier and expend more energy than the other farmers of his day to achieve such success. He was a lot like Buffet and Trump; he had reached the top of his career and the sky was the limit.

But his mistake wasn't in being successful in his work. His mistake wasn't even in acquiring possessions. His mistake was failing to make plans for eternity. He was living large. But he forgot that the clock was ticking, that life was passing by. Later on, Jesus would say in Luke 12:15, “And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” He who dies with the most toys, still dies.  

In his commentary on Luke, John Phillips, makes three penetrating observations that we should consider about the rich fool. He writes, “This fellow made three mistakes. First, he mistook his bankbook for his Bible. He measured success in terms of what he read in his bankbook and his balance sheet that what he read in the Bible. Then too, he mistook his body for his soul. What use does the immaterial soul have for barns and banquets? Finally, this secular humanist mistook time for eternity. He thought he had many years on earth, but that night his life would be required of him.”[3]

The only way we can become rich is to declare spiritual bankruptcy and turn to Christ. -DM

[1] Lee Strobel, What Jesus Would Say? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 120-121.
[2] “Warren Buffett signs over $30.7B to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” USA Today, 26 June 2006,  <http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/2006-06-25-buffett-charity_x.htm>
[3] John Phillips, Exploring The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2005), 180-181.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chocolate and the Gospel

It seems like every few years Americans are hit with a new epidemic of corporate scandal when greedy CEOs are exposed for white collar crime. Enron, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Waste Management, Lehman Brothers, Bernie Madeoff—need I say more? In the wake of these startling revelations thousands of innocent and unknowing workers are left without jobs, benefits, severance or retirement. It’s a crying shame.

Then we also hear about the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Fortune magazine reported that in 2013 that the average CEO earns 331 times more than the average worker in their company, with the CEO netting on average $11.7 million while workers take home on average $35,000. That same article went on to explain that most workers in these corporations cannot afford most of the services their company provides, “America’s CEOs—as exemplified by the individuals of these companies—are cannibalizing their own consumer base.”[1]

These thoughts came to my mind as I was studying Paul’s council to salves and masters in Ephesians 6:5-9, “5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”

In Paul’s day, slave owning was commonplace. The closest estimates by historians put the number of slaves in the Roman Empire in the range of sixty million—or about half the population. Salves were the largest demographic within the early church and slaves are addressed in seven of the New Testament epistles.[2] Of course, these institutions no longer exist today, but the relationship between bosses and employees do.

As I read these verses, it dawned on me that although this passage may be short, it has far reaching implications. I would submit to you that if these principles of workplace ethics were in practice then much of horrible labor conditions of the Industrial Revolution, the vast wage inequities between big business and its workers, union labor strikes and the atrocities of communism could have been avoided.  

Then I came across the fascinating biography of John Cadbury who actually put these ideals into practice. In 1824 Cadbury opened his first coffee and tea shop in Birmingham, England. He also began experimenting with a new sideline - cocoa and drinking chocolate, which he prepared using a mortar and pestle.

The popularity and growing sales of John Cadbury's cocoa and drinking chocolate of 'superior quality' determined the future direction of the business. So he decided to open a full-blown chocolate factory. While working conditions at that time in England during the height of the Industrial Revolution were terrible and inhumane, Cadbury was driven by a different set of principles that put people ahead of profits.

Cadbury was a committed Quaker with a strong sense of social responsibility motivated by his Christian convictions. His family was anti-slavery and campaigned for abolition years earlier. He was also for the temperance movement as he saw how alcoholism ravaged families into poverty and squalor. When John Cadbury handed the family chocolate business over to his sons they decided to use their wealth to reform working conditions for their employees.    

At a time when factories were dismal and dangerous places to work, the Cadburys made sure theirs were safe and humane. 1893, the Cadbury’s bought up land around their factory to build a community for their workers, named Bournville Village. They wanted to provide a safe, pleasant place to live as an alternative for grimy cities. Each home was comfortable and had a plot of land to grow vegetables. They built a community for families to enjoy activities. They provided their employees with good wages, medical treatment, educational opportunities, and pension plans, which was very unusual for the time. They introduced the 5-1/2 day work week and closing for bank holidays. The factory had sports facilities for the employees. In 1918, the Cadburys organized elected work councils, made up of equal numbers of workers and management. The councils, one for men and one for women, oversaw the welfare of workers and their families. They eventually built a hospital for the Bournville community.[3]

The Cadburys did this not because the government made them, or because they were pressured by tightening regulations, they did it because they took Jesus into the workplace. I bet the next time you bite into a Cadbury cream egg you’ll think about it differently. While the Cadbury’s were the forerunners, thankfully other business owners have followed suit, like Truett Cathy of Chick-fil-a, which is still closed for business on Sundays and Norm Miller of Interstate Battery, who posts his personal testimony on the company website. (click here)  

What this passage implicitly teaches is that there is no division between sacred and secular. So many Christians compartmentalize their life so that who they are on Sunday has nothing to with their work on Monday through Saturday. However, the basic premise of this passage is that all of life relates to God and is sacred, whether we're making a business presentation, fixing someone’s leaky faucet, changing diapers or singing a hymn. If you are a Christian, then you do not work primarily for your employer, because behind your boss stands the Lord Jesus. Knowing that all of our work is a reflection our relationship with Christ should raise the bar in every area of our workplace experience.

Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist. A monk, perhaps. Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”
“I’m a shoe maker.” Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”

In becoming a Christian, we don’t need to retreat from the vocational calling we already have—nor do we need to justify that calling, whatever it is, in terms of its “spiritual” value or evangelistic usefulness. We simply exercise whatever our calling is with new God-glorifying motives, goals, and standards—and with a renewed commitment to performing our calling with greater excellence and higher objectives.

[1] Kathryn Dill, “Report: CEOs Earn 331 Times As Much As Average Workers, 774 Times As Much As Minimum Wage Earners” Fortune, 15 April 2014, <http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathryndill/2014/04/15/report-ceos-earn-331-times-as-much-as-average-workers-774-times-as-much-as-minimum-wage-earners/>
[2] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary—New Testament (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2007), 621.
[3] Melinda Penner, “Cadbury Chocolate and Christianity,” Stand to Reason, 10 July 2014 <http://www.str.org/blog

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Hymn writer Robert Robinson (1735-1790) was eight years old at the time of his father's death. He was a bright, strong-willed child, who became increasingly more difficult for his mother to handle. When Robert was 14, she sent him to London for an apprenticeship with a barber and hairdresser. He proceeded to get into even more trouble as he drank and gambled with rowdy friends.

At 17, Robert and some of his buddies decided to attend a George Whitfield evangelistic meeting, fully intending to disrupt the service, but the Lord had other plans! As Whitfield preached, young Robert felt it was directed to him. Toward the end of his sermon, Whitfield burst into tears and cried, “Oh, my hearers, the wrath's to come! The wrath's to come!” Those words haunted Robinson for three years until finally he yielded his heart to Christ on December 10, 1755, at the age of 20. Soon after he answered the call to preach and in 1758 Robinson penned the words to immortal hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”[1]

While singing that hymn in church a few weeks ago, I noticed for the first time the strange and cryptic words of the second verse, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” If you are like many who have sung this song, the word “Ebenezer” immediately brings to your mind visions of old Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ Christmas Carol, screaming at Bob Cratchet to conserve coal and get to work. Yet, we all know that is not the idea behind this song. Where, then, does the term Ebenezer originate, and what does it mean?

After some research I discovered the meaning lies in an obscure story in 1 Samuel 7, when the prophet Samuel and the Israelites found themselves under attack by the Philistines. Fearing for their lives, the Israelites begged Samuel to pray for them in their impending battle against the Philistines. Samuel offered a sacrifice to God and prayed for His protection. God listened to Samuel, causing the Philistines to lose the battle and retreat back to their own territory. After the Israelite victory, the Bible records: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’ ” (1 Sam. 7:12).

The word Ebenezer comes from the Hebrew words which simply mean “stone of help.” When Robinson wrote his lyrics, he followed the word Ebenezer with the phrase, “Here by Thy great help I’ve come.” An Ebenezer, then, is simply a monumental stone set up to signify the great help that God granted the one raising the stone. In Robinson’s poem, it figuratively meant that the writer—and all who subsequently sing the song—acknowledge God’s bountiful blessings and help in their lives.

The next time you sing about raising your Ebenezer, you will be able to “sing with the understanding” that you are acknowledging God’s help in your life (1 Cor. 14:15). Whatever we have done, wherever we have wandered, He will receive and restore us by His grace. Perhaps we should keep a small stone or token on a desk or shelf as our own Ebenezer—a powerful, visible reminder that by God’s help we have come this far in life, and He will see us through to the end.[2] -DM

[1] Robert J. Morgan, Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010), May 24.
[2] David C. McCasland, “By God’s Help,” Our Daily Bread, 19 September 2010 <http://odb.org/2010/09/19/by-god%E2%80%99s-help/>   

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Hand of God

The first images released from NASA’s cutting-edge telescope, NuSTAR, which is short for Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, went viral on the internet within a few hours. The NuSTAR telescope, which is actually onboard the Chandra satellite observatory, uses high-energy X-rays to peer into the distant galaxies, revealing stunning discoveries about our vast universe.

The most noteworthy snapshot taken by NuSTAR is a picture of a bluish-green cloud of material ejected from an exploded star, or supernova, some 17,000 light years from Earth. The image has been dubbed, “The Hand of God,” because it shows what looks like fingers, a thumb, and an open palm showered with spectacular colors. (See the image here

Scientists are quick to point out that, “The Hand of God” is an example of pareidolia, the psychological phenomenon of perceiving familiar shapes in random or vague images. Other common forms of pareidolia include seeing animals in the clouds, the likeness of celebrities burnt into our breakfast toast, or the classic man in the moon.  

Despite its supernatural appearance, we know that “The Hand of God” was produced by natural astrophysical phenomena; however this image got me thinking about several verses in the Scriptures which refer to God’s creative touch.

In Psalm 8:3-4, David writes, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (ESV)” Again, David writes in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (NIV)” In Isaiah 66:1-2 God asks, “Heaven is My throne and earth is My footstool . . . has My hand not made all these things? (NKJV)” Once more in Isaiah God declares, “Surely My hand founded the earth, and My right hand spread out the heavens (48:13).”

We know that God the Father is spirit (John 4:24). He does not have a body, therefore no hands and feet. However, these human descriptions of God’s hands fashioning the cosmos help us understand His nature and actions. We also know that Jesus Christ, did assume flesh at the incarnation and He still resides in that glorified human form today (Luke 24:39). The Scriptures also tell us that Jesus played a role in creation (John 1:3).

NASA’s telescopes bring into view undiscovered beauty all across our universe that we are just now observing. God is a lavish Creator whose artistry and imagination are unparalleled. I wonder if the Almighty thought when He made that exploding star 17,000 light years away, “Wait ‘till they get around to seeing this one!” How much more lies beyond our gaze that God has made simply because He loves beautiful things?

Yet, that’s not even the best part. As stunning as the creation is to study, it cost God nothing to make it all, just a few words according to Genesis. But, the redemption of mankind, that’s another story entirely. Salvation cost God His only Son (John 3:16, Rom. 8:32). We may feel very small in this endless ocean of stars, but never underestimate your value. Jesus came to this tiny planet, shed His blood in its dust, and allowed His cosmos-creating hands, to be pierced with nails. In fact, the next time we see the real hands of God they will appear with scars as an eternal reminder of what it cost for us to dwell with Him in heaven (Rev. 1:7). -DM   


1. Dennis Fisher, “The Hand of God,” Our Daily Bread, 27 January 2015 <http://odb.org/2015/01/27/the-hand-of-god/>  

2. Tanya Lewis, “Hand of God, Spotted by NASA Space Telescope,” Space.com, 9 January 2014 <http://www.space.com/24225-hand-of-god-photo-nasa-telescope.html>