Sunday, 15 September 2019

Is Joseph Prince a prosperity preacher?

This is not a straightforward question. JP has definitely preached about prosperity, restoration of your godly and rightful inheritance, and possessing your possessions. 

He has written about asking really big from God, and he was referring specifically to greater wealth, health, career growth and promotion. He even challenged his congregation to trust God and pray believing for bigger houses, cars and balance accounts during one of his church fundraising campaigns. And he has been called many names, both derogatory and praiseworthy, and one of them is, well, “prosperity preacher”. 

But, having said all that, JP is definitely not a one-dimensional pulpit charismatic phenomena. 

He is known for launching the grace revolution after a Swiss Alps, transfiguration-like encounter with the divine. He is a trailblazer when it comes to looking at radical grace from the original apostolic intention. His books on grace has spawned a condemnation-free faith industry for believers all over the world. And he is the lead shepherd of the biggest and richest megachurch in Asia, save for South Korea, donning a leather jacket and sporting an impeccable coiffure and a mediagenic smile. 

So, is JP a prosperity preacher? 

Well, that depends on your definition. And if you take Benny Hinn’s most recent definition of it, you will be struggling not to associate JP (at least for a season) with the stable of prosperity preachers in the likes of Kenneth Copeland, Jesse Duplantis, Robert Tilton, Ceflo Dollars, and his partner-in-faith Joel Osteen. And maybe Benny Hinn, in his not-so-distant past?

If you have not heard already, on Thursday, Benny Hinn claimed to have been transformed by a road-to-Damascus experience while travelling for decades on the glittering broad road of health, wealth and prosperity. 

Mind you, this is the same preacher who once proclaimed: “I’m sick and tired of hearing about streets of gold. I don’t need gold in heaven. I gotta have it now!

So, now, he is denouncing all that. Forget about the gold and prosperity on earth. He is in a state of soulful remorse. He said he is troubled by such excesses and greed, such gimmickry and trickery. 

He rubbished the self-indulgent concept of “seed money” which he said were “financial donation to support the ministry or ministry projects” and ploys employed by prosperity preachers to pull in the funds and flood the church coffers at the expense of the struggling churchgoers who is himself tethered to the elusive religious promise of making it big one day.

He said: “What was troubling is the mentioning of amounts connected to some blessing that should come back just because you gave. I think it's an offence to the Lord, it's an offence to say give $1,000. I think it's an offence to the Holy Spirit to place a price on the Gospel.”

I'm done with it. I will never again ask you to give $1,000 or whatever amount, because I think the Holy Ghost is just fed up with it."

He admitted that his ministry successes had in the 90s distracted him and “his teachings got out of hand.”

He added: "It just got out of hand; give a thousand to get whatever, a hundredfold. I, myself, said [those things] and my heart was saying different. What if that hundredfold never came back? What does that do to their faith? What does it do to his future and her future? And then, if it doesn't come, that life is damaged.” (underlined mine)

Benny Hinn also admitted that the prosperity gospel has “damaged a lot of people” and it “needs to stop.” He said: "I've had people come to me and say, 'please, don't say it again, it's not working in my life.”

This sudden change of heart and ministry direction has led the 67-year-old mercurial preacher to declare publicly that he now wants “to focus on the message of salvation“ and point people to the Lord he loves. (Well, I wish him all the best then).

At one point, he even lamented: "How long do I have on this earth? What am I going to do in the next twenty years? That is for me to decide. I want to make sure that the next 15-20 years of my life, that my message is the cross. The real call on my life."

"I want to be known for that. I don't want to be known as the prosperity teacher.

Mm...this brings me back to JP as I come full circle. 

In 2012, in what is called Miracle Seed Sunday, JP took the stage at the Rock Auditorium and proclaimed: “As they come forth Lord to sow, release upon them Father the power to get, to create, to receive wealth in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

He added: “Prosperity is right. Amen. We prosper to prosper others. We prosper to prosper God's kingdom, so come believing.”

That Miracle Seed Sunday in 2012 was for the expressed purpose of raising funds for the church's half of a S$976 million (HK$6 billion) retail and entertainment complex. And the great attraction of ”believing big and receiving even bigger” invited famous guests from the music industry like musician and producer David Foster, Chaka Khan and Babyface.

Is JP then a prosperity preacher when he spearheaded the Miracle Seed Sunday with promises dished out indiscriminately to the expectant crowd? In other words, is his pulpit spiel that day what Benny Hinn would describe as “gimmickry” and “an offence to the Holy Spirit to place a price on the Gospel”?

Well, while JP is not a one-dimensional preacher, giving credit where credit is due, what I find disconcerting about the Miracle Seed Sunday (7 years ago) is that the focus then was to portray God as one-dimensional, that is, you give, and pressed down, shaken together, and pouring over, will it be returned to you, manifold, even thousandfold. 

And that can only mean more wealth and health to everyone present, that is, everyone has a sure shot at striking it big provided they give big. Doesn’t that turn the house of God into a house of competitive giving, like the frenzy seen in the stockbroker's trading floor, thereby stoking the baser instinct of believers with its insatiable appetite, in the pretence of a religious celebration just to win that much coveted divine favour?

That reminds me of what one member said to Benny Hinn which the latter recounted: “I've had people come to me and say, 'please, don't say it again, it's not working in my life.” 

Recall that Benny Hinn also said he had made similar promises just like JP did, and it “got out of hand” and he now has the good sense to  come clean and say, “I, myself, said [those things] and my heart was saying different.“ And this is where he also came forward to admit this: “What if that hundredfold never came back? What does that do to their faith? What does it do to his future and her future? And then, if it doesn't come, that life is damaged.”

I wonder, whether JP, who is still preaching about prosperity in its varied excessive and indiscriminate forms, did a poll, interviewed lives, one family at a time, and tallied the results so as to verify, if not justify, his Miracle-Seed-Sunday-esque promises? For I believe our faith should not be based on the roll of statistical dice, but on the sure foundation of His shakeable truths. 

Now, let’s be clear, I am not against prosperity, there are promises in the Bible that talks about wealth and health. There are also wealthy Christians who are exemplary gatekeepers of the conscience of society, making a deep difference in the lives of many. These are giants of faith, quietly planting seeds of change, which are aimed at prospering the soul and deepening the spirit, rather than appealing to our fleshly desires. And kudos to them all. 

Yet, no Christian worth his or her salt (and light) would disagree with me that if the soul doesn’t prosper first and foremost, bearing and demonstrating the authentic fruits of the Spirit in one’s life, then, on what foundation is a life prospering? To what ends then are we heaping treasures on earth? In other words, what is one’s prosperity based on? And shouldn’t that always be the first go-to inquiry we  make when we are confronting the inner recesses of our wayward heart? 

Let me end on a somber note from Lee Grady, ordained minister and editor of Charisma Magazine: -

"So much of what we call ministry today has been compromised by ego, marketing and man-made agendas. Some of our own "Spirit-filled" preachers are happy to sell a healing or a financial miracle for $29.95. Others claim spiritual superiority because they have the largest following on social media or because so many lined up to attend their packed conferences. We have exchanged honesty, integrity, purity and humility for hype, fake anointing, manipulated photos, inflated attendance reports, sensuality and boastful swagger. God forgive us.”

Alas, should we finally admit that we have come to the crossroad of our faith in this post modern world where what is most urgent in our calling and service of ministry and faith is to seriously examine the intention of the heart more than to be caught up counting the money in our coffers and/or the number of seats filled in the church? Soul food for reflection?

In any event, have a blessed Sunday of rest and reflection. 

Good Friday message - Notre Dame Cathedral restoration.

James puts it well about what pure and undefiled religion is: ”To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

This Good Friday morning, this is the call of Calvary. It is about a love so compelling that it pushes you to live beyond yourself to touch the lives of others. 

And it is quite ironic that early this week, we witness the all-consuming fire of a historical and iconic landmark of nearly a thousand years old, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It is ironic because the unfortunate destruction of a holy site dedicated to Virgin Mary in 1160 brought out the religiosity spirit in the many who are superrich in this world. 

Within hours, the donors and donations swept in like a wild fire. It was reminiscent of a Luke 6 out-giving exercise where the scripture reads with some relevant tweak of mine here: -

“Give, and the billionaires shall give. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, the close to a billion dollars within hours poured into the lap of the broken church. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, possibly either through fame gained or tax deducted, or both.”

Indeed, those who can afford richly afforded with hearts moved to save the church. 

Just to name a few of these donors in a largely secular and atheistic France is a pledge of €100 million from France’s second-richest man, Mr Francois-Henri Pinault. 

Then, not to be outdone, another wealthy scion Mr Bernard Arnault, a fierce rival of Mr Pinault and his father, “upped the ante with €200 million gifts a few hours later.”

And another rich donor, global cosmetics giant L’Oreal, also gave a pledge of €200 million to add to the bonfire of giving. 

As the fire reached beyond the skyline and can be seen from miles away, the donations from these wealthy folks also reached beyond the skyline and can be seen from miles away. All of which, that is, the fire and the donations, were well published for all to watch in trepidation and admiration. 

If you detect a tone of sarcasm in my description above with verses interspersed, pardon me, but that’s not my full intention. 

My full intention is to give credit where credit is due. The billionaires are no doubt doing their part to put their money to good and godly use. That part is where credit is due to some extent. 

But there is a far more ironic part about the religiosity of generosity in this case. And it is not without my sympathies and understanding. 

With such money flushing in like the dousing of the flame in the cathedral, mind you, last count was close to a billion, thereby relieving the government of digging into its coffers if the pledges are made good, some people are however protesting that “the wildly rich were trying to wash their reputation during a time of national tragedy.” 

And mind you again, this comes quite untimely at the heels of the “yellow vest” movement, first ignited with fiery rage over income and social inequality in the country. 

“Can you imagine, 100 million, 200 million in one click! It shows the inequalities in this country,” Philippe Martinez, head of the militant CGT labour union, protested. “If they’re able to give dozens of millions to rebuild Notre-Dame, they should stop telling us that there is no money to pay for social inequalities.”

Ms Manon Aubry, a senior figure in France’s left party, called the funding an “exercise in public relations” and said that the donors’ list “looks like the rankings of companies and people located in tax havens.”

And last but not least, here’s a clever take from French philosopher and novelist, Oliver Pourriol. 

Considering that it was Victor Hugo’s hunchback of Notre Dame that revived national interest in the rebuilding of the Cathedral, philosopher Oliver said: “Victor Hugo thanks all the generous donors ready to save Notre-Dame and proposes that they do the same thing with Les Miserables.”

Lesson? Well, on a Good Friday morning, my lesson cannot be anything but Calvary-directed. And I return to James about pure and undefiled religion that God recognises, empowers and rewards, that is, “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Yesterday, I was having dinner with two young leaders of my church. Towards the end of it, one of them asked me this: “What does Good Friday mean to me?”

I thought for a while and said, “The heart of the Gospel is this, you can’t experience resurrection without the grave. You can’t have life without death. And you can’t overcome the world, without first dying to it”

That about sums up a living and true religion for me. It still returns to the heart of the matter, that is, my heart. 

And I would be the dumbest Christian ever lived on this earth if I for one second think that the one who offered Himself at the Cross sacrificed Himself so that I can claim that victory when he proclaimed “it is finished”, and conveniently forget how hard it was for Him to arrive at that last-breath of life. 

I therefore do not pick and choose to have the cup removed at will, and ignore the part about “not my will but yours be done.” 

So, Good Friday is as much about my Saviour as it is about me, the one He came to save. For it is about how I am changed by the message that makes not the day special, but His death and my life count beyond the superficialities of this world.

And the purest religion I know from His teaching is from the gospel. I shall extract it in full as I end this post.

“One day, Jesus was sitting with His disciples near the temple treasury watching people depositing money into the offering receptacles. The court of women held thirteen such receptacles, and people could cast their money in as they walked by. Jesus watched as the rich were contributing large sums of money, but then along came a widow with two small coins in her hand. The ESV calls them “two small copper coins, which make a penny” (Mark 12:41). The KJV calls the coins “mites.” These were the smallest denomination of coins. The widow put her coins into the box, and Jesus called His disciples to Him and pointed out her action: “Truly I tell you, 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”

At the end of the day, after the dust has settled, the millions offered to save the Church in Notre Dame makes a difference no doubt. But that is not even half the story of Calvary. 

Indeed, it is not about how much we give that matters, whether in mite, might or moments. But how much we are transformed to give that is the central message of the Cross. 

And a heart transformed by that message is one that always keeps itself undefiled by the world, as the latter grows strangely dim. Amen.

How the rich buy their mansions? The story of Shih.

It is interesting how the papers stack up the news in the Business Section today. It is the tale of two ultra rich families, but while one is buying up properties, the other is struggling to own one.

If you look to your far right corner, that news read “CDL chairman’s family, nephew buy two units at luxury condo.”

Mind you, it is not cheap. Billionaire property developer Kwek Leng Beng bought an apartment in Boulevard 88, his own company’s project, and it costs a whopping $9.8 million. His nephew, CDL’s chief strategy officer Kwek Eik Sheng, is buying his own at a more modest $4.3 million.

Then, if you turn to the bigger column on your left, you read, “HK tycoon’s children won’t inherit fortune.” 

In that news, “the heir to the biggest real estate agency in property mad Hong Kong does not own a house.”

Alex Shih is 30 and he is the vice chairman of Centaline Group run by his father. His father (Shih Wong Ching, 70) will pass him the business but his father’s share in Centaline Group, valued currently at US$400 million (S$543 million), will not go to the Alex because “it was donated to charity more than a decade ago.”

In fact, none of his three children will inherit the family fortune. 

Why? 

Well, Alex said: “He told us when we were very young and we didn’t have a choice. He would say that it’s better not to lead a life that’s too comfortable in one go. You’ll treasure it more if you gain things step by step.”

It reports that “while the firm handles millions of dollars of transactions a day, the soft-spoken Mr Shih said he earns only a regular salary.”

The aim of the Centaline group is to “alleviate poverty in rural China, from building infrastructure to supporting under-privileged children’s education.”

Alex said: “My friends who are working finance are making more money than I do.”

And the papers shed some light on his humble background: -

“A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, Mr Shih said he considers himself an average Hong Konger. His office is small and sparsely decorated, and he enjoys hiking and playing badminton - hardly the pursuits of the billionaire set.”

“His modest upbringing has also helped keep him humble. His father eschewed the elite international schools favoured by Hong Kong's wealthy and enrolled his children in local government-subsidised schools; from an early age, he instilled in them the philosophy that money should be used to help the less fortunate.”

Lesson? One.

Unavoidably, I return to how the super-rich spend their money. 

I always believe that it is their right to spend their money whichever way they want to. They only live once with their loved ones, and as long as they make good use of what they reap financially, harvesting enduring values over the long run that deepen humanity as a whole and their own lives and families collectively, whatever they spend on is really none of my business. 

Having said that, there is however always the issue of overindulgence, princelings’ reckless conduct, and conspicuous/extravagant consumption amidst glaring poverty and runaway inequality. 

But, those issues have been addressed in a thousand ways since the inception of our agrarian economy and the birth of private ownership more than ten thousand years ago, and I can’t possibly squeeze all that communistic and social activism’s angst into this short post. I have in fact said my peace about it in many other posts of mine. 

Today, to keep it simple, I just want to highlight young Alex’s trajectory and philosophy of life. Here is a sneak peek of it.

“(Alex) aims to buy a two-bedroom flat in a middle-class neighbourhood in West Kowloon, or the slightly more upmarket Ho Man Tin if his parents chip in, citing both areas' good public transport links and potential for price growth - a far cry from the multimillion-dollar mansions his agency sells.”

He ended the article with these words: “The first home may not be the one you want the most. But at least you get on the property ladder and then you slowly climb up."

Here’s my thot. 

I believe that some values or philosophy are timeless. One of them is in the words of Shih’s senior - “He would say that it’s better not to lead a life that’s too comfortable in one go. You’ll treasure it more if you gain things step by step.”

And I believe Alex inherited the best of his father’s “wealth” when he said - “The first home may not be the one you want the most. But at least you get on the property ladder and then you slowly climb up."

Sometimes, an inheritance (or indulgence) that is quick and swift can lead to a fall that is just as quick and swift. That is why it is said that if you give a beggar a horse, he is likely to ride his way to hell. 

Alex and his father taught me an important aspect of parenting, especially fatherhood. 

While money doesn’t grow on trees, most come with hard work, but the locust of a corrupt or spoilt character in the younger generation who come to untold fortune without industry and humility can result in the destruction of the entire family tree of wealth in just one or two generations. 

I caveat that it is none of my business how the rich manage or spend their fortune. But the way the Shih family do theirs is highly unconventional, radical even in this world defined more by what is seen than what is not. 

Some may frown at it, calling it many names; most of all, complaining that one should not let one’s son or daughter suffer and struggle when one is able to (almost effortlessly) provide the whole nine-yards of material comfort and financial buffer. 

But, the way I see it from Shih’s perspective is this invaluable lesson that maybe, the greatest misfortune in one’s life is possessing great fortune but missing out on nurturing one’s character to handle it; or worst, to allow it to handle us, to change us for the worse. 

And the reverse corollary of that is this, the greatest wealth a father can give to his children is a life lived by example, a life defined by character, and a life premised not on the material but the eternal, timeless and enduring. 

That kind of inheritance, that kind of fortune will never be stolen. Neither is it corruptible - because it is about a life that will prevail and overcome in all circumstances, whether rich or poor.

A father Bully.

“Just because you are bigger in size, you can bully others. Since you can bully my son, I can bully you.”

That’s a 43-year-old, adjunct teacher, telling a 10-year-old classmate of his son off. Here is the backdrop as reported. 

“After lessons ended on July 7, 2017, the boy was walking towards a gate at his school in the northern part of Singapore when Tan (the boy’s father) confronted him.”

“He grabbed the boy’s bag handle, causing him to move backward, and push him to a nearby rubbish shed. The victim was pushed onto a wall while the accused scolded the victim.” 

That’s where he talked about bigger size and issue a bully’s threat on the school bully. 

“The victim sought medical treatment around 9:30 pm that day and was discharged about two hours later.”

Tan “pleaded guilty to an assault charge yesterday and was sentenced to seven weeks’ jail.” Maybe two bullies does not a right make?

In mitigation, Tan’s lawyer said that his son was bullied by the young bully every day since early 2017. The boy would push Tan’s son and abuse him with vulgarities. 

His lawyer Cory Wong said: “Mr Tan had previously gone to the relevant school teacher to report the bullying but, alas, nothing concrete had materialised from his reports.”

“Tan was instead told that the victim had anger management issues, and felt that his concerns were being brushed aside. True enough, the school remained ineffective in doing anything to stop the bullying.”

So, from Tan’s account, he said that near the school gate, he “tried to verbally engage with the victim, but the victim had very cockily ignored him.”

“In the heat of the moment, and being a loving father who would staunchly protect his son’s interests, the above drove Mr Tan to act out of character.”

For all that, Tan was convicted and sentenced to 7 weeks’ jail. His lawyers had asked for a fine. 

Lesson? Well, the lesson here is about thinking and/or acting “out of character”. 

Trust me, when pushed to a corner, when the torment becomes unbearable, we all break. 

Some break and end up with self-destructive results. Some handle it with an emergency level of self-restraint, thereby confining the damage within limited impact. 

Either way, you can be sure that acting with reason is always the first to be let go when we break. 

In any event, I trust Tan as a loving father and an adjunct teacher at that time has learned his lesson.

Although he said it was not premeditated (as he had gone to school to pick up his son that day), I felt that it was nevertheless preventable. And it is more so in this particular situation since Tan was an educator in his own rights and he ought to have been exposed to similar situations. I even figure that he might have handled such situation before with other unruly kids. 

But I guess when it comes to your own son, things can turn out to be less idealistic and arm-length to more visceral and blood boil. That accounts for him acting out of character. 

Here, I recall a time when our son came to us and told us that he had been bullied by a bigger boy in his primary school. My wife then went over to the school and reported the bully. The school told us they will monitor the situation. We told our son about it and we left it as it is. 

As our son did not feedback to us after that, we thought all was well with him. However, in our weekly sharing as a family (many years later), we talked about it, and he shared that the bully still carried on his demeaning ways for some time after we reported him to the school. 

We asked him why he didn’t tell us, he replied that he did not see a point. The school could not do anything about it. We can’t be there for him all the time. He said he might as well adapt and avoid the bully until he finds another target. They often do after some time when the fun and novelty dry up.

That led me to reflect about the raw reality of being bullied. My daughters experienced it. I experienced it. Even when we become adults, working in the office, we may at times become target of bullies. 
No doubt we have to stand up to them. Report them, draw the line, challenge them, and let them know we are not afraid of them. But at times, things are more complicated than that. Not all bullies get the just desserts they deserve. 

At times, things do not change and we have to change. We have to adapt and keep a distance. We have to walk away and leave it behind us. We have to find our own resolution and go forward with our own life.

I believe it is an impractical and imprudent advice to tell our children that they must always expect the world to bend to their expectation or their sense of justice. 

Sometimes, it is about retreating to confront another day. Sometimes it is about accepting that it is not your fight. And sometimes it is about going all the way. 

Most times, it is a judgment call, and I am glad my son dealt with his situation in the best way he knew how then. It may not be ideal to some. But he is nevertheless able to move on with it and I believe pick his own fight when the time for him is ripe.