Friday, 28 June 2013

Are prosperity preachers just misunderstood?

Here's a radical thought. What if there is nothing wrong with the prosperity preachers? What if they really believe what they preach and preach what they really believe? What if they are truly sincere in helping everybody to secure the hundred fold blessings from God in return for unquestioned donations to their already prosperous ministry? What if they are just misunderstood or vilified by envious church leaders who are less successful than them or stigmatized as commercial vultures for the flimsiest of reasons? Because if you see their life, their trappings of wealth, the mansions and the fat swiss bank accounts, you can't say that they don't walk the talk and talk the walk. Their industry (hard work) has paid off. They are a resounding success to be emulated. And unless they evade taxes or embezzle funds, they are no criminals in the eyes of the law. 

Have you ever seen any popular prosperity preacher being poor, deprived and begging on the street? If so, shouldn't they be rightfully called the poverty preachers instead? Maybe there's really power in confession. Scripturally, it's called the power of the tongue. You confess wealth, you get it. You confess health, you get it. You confess promotion, you get it. You get what you confess and you enjoy what you get. So what's wrong with a tongue that speaks things as if they were not and commands health and wealth to flow endlessly like a broken dam?

Are prosperity preachers really fleecing from their congregation? Is it really a pyramid scheme or some kind of multi-level marketing where the down lines are the unfortunate ones who get the short end of the stick? Is it a fraud perpetuated in the likes and style of the legendary crook, Bernie Madoff? I can't outrightly say it is. Can you? But why? 

Because stripped of the shenanigans, the lights, the camera and the action, aren't they all selling a product just like any secular salesman are selling a product? Aren't the congregation who swarm into their sanctuary of hope no different from the long queue of people you normally see when they are eagerly waiting to buy that papered hope of one day striking the big lottery jackpot? Whilst madoff was selling a product he didn't believe in and was crookedly discreet about it, these prosperity preachers are selling one that they believe in and are openly flagrant about it. So go figure.

Many will no doubt accuse them of peddling false hope, deceiving the gullible and taking advantage of the vulnerable. Some would even label them as blasphemous for using the Lord's name in vain and for self-profitting. Still many will call them con-artists and hypocrites. Basically, they are Madoffs of the religious world, so the vitriol goes.

But then, for every one who criticizes them, there is always another who will stand by them. The more vociferous the attack, the more tenacious the defence. It's the application of Newton's third physical law to the behavioral rule of social mobs: "When one body exerts a force on a second body, the latter exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body." So good luck turning the tide against them. The efforts, though noble, is as effective as trying to drown a fish in water. 

You can say that they are blind, stoned or brainless for supporting such outright crooks, greedy swindlers and shameless cheats. But then, wherever they go, these prosperity preachers will still attract a sympathetic, hungry and even desperate audience who will readily throw their life savings and even their life at them in earnest pursuit of the gospel carrot that the prosperity preachers dangle before their eyes, that is, the hope of prosperity, however remote.

Now here's a truism one should never forget. Hope is the elixir of existence, the panacea of what is deliverance from one's immediate misery, and the chicken soup for the vacant soul. So, if you build it, they will come. If you preach it, they will flock over. And if you bait it, they will bite. Dare I rock their boat? Dare I douse their fire? Dare I make light of their ethereal charm? Dare I go against the grain of self deception and unsatiable greed?

I am not saying that our effort to discredit these fraudsters will be in vain. We know that it will not be so. Because for every evil that raises its standard against us, God will raise a generation to overcome it. But still, I sometimes wonder, in a fallen world, the balance of good and evil will tilt in favor of one for a season and the other for another season. But it will not completely topple over until and unless the perfect comes. So, in the meantime, the tilting will go on like the proverbial giant seesaw, each having its go at the top and at the bottom. Each will take his turn as the wheel of fame and shame spins round and round.

As I end here, these words of the Prince of Preachers hit the nail right on its head: "The old covenant was a covenant of prosperity. The new covenant is a covenant of adversity whereby we are being weaned from this present world and made meet for the world to come." (Charles Haddon Spurgeon).

However much I want to be prosperous in the Lord, to own big cars and mansions, to gain fame and lead an easy life, I guess I do not want to lose my soul along the way. True, there have been some who are rich in the Lord, both spiritually and materially. But theirs is a high wire act that requires constant balancing, sheer force of steel will and a heart of complete obedience. It is no less a treacherous road that many have fallen on the wayside. At most time, the temptation of this world  can take over and assert full control. No one is spared from this fate. And no one can boast that he is untouchable. Indeed, once we go on our knees in submission to our tempter, we are promised riches beyond our wildest imagination. It's all an exchange that is too good to resist. Yet, at the same time, it's too good to be true. Cheerz.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

When do you judge a life?

When do we judge a man? When he falls? When he succeeds? When he lives to a ripe old age? Or when he is dying on his bed? Because if success is not the end and failure is not final, then when should a man’s deeds be tallied, weighed or measured?

Here, I am bursting at the philosophical seams with these questions: What if it takes a lifetime to know yourself? What if it takes a lifetime to acknowledge your flaws? What if that which one calls true change or transformation is something that happens only after what seems like a lifetime of mistakes and regrets?

Here's more of the akin reflection: What if one's maturation is pre-maturation and he strives in all sincerity - but in the mistaken belief - that he is fully mature when his actions could have been more enduring and authentic had he experienced the right maturation that generally comes with time and age? Aren't the triumphs of experience (that which is gained only by age) more redeeming than the experience of triumphs (that which is gained at any point in life, mostly early in life)?

If "no man ever steps in the same river twice; for it is not the same river, and he is not the same man," can it be plausible that our fate/destiny is never determined by one or two events, celebrated or otherwise, but a lifelong convergence of inconspicuous and no less momentous ones?

So, I always wonder how do you judge a life? Where do you even start? How do you even know that it is reliable? Is success really success? Or failure really failure? Or maybe, it is better not to see success as success and failure as failure per se. Maybe, stripped of all the pre-canned labels, every event that happens to us is a test of our response to it. And every response from us brings about its own events and the mutuality of influences goes on and on. And we only get to peek at the report card at the close of our life's journey.

I know the scriptures forewarned us about judging others; especially not when we are no less blameworthy. But maybe what I am trying to say is that we should constantly judge ourselves on the aspect of judging others. Here, a touching quote comes to mind, "We must give a person what we give a painting: the advantage of a good light."

Here is another quote in French that deserves a pause for reflection: "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose". Translation: "People change, but they also stay the same. And the other way round." I guess the verdict is still out there. As uncertain as a life is, so too is its many twists and turns.

In any event, the irony of life is too multifaceted for enumeration. For example, many of us are more of an accidental hero than one of exclusive design. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people always make social celebrities out of ordinary folks. Some mistakes are in fact eureka successes! Some screw ups are in fact heads up to later victories. And what about random luck changing one's fortune completely, even from good to bad? How do you even judge all that?

Recently, one 84 year old Florida widow struck gold at the powerball lottery and won $740 million. No plan, no sweat; just like that. She bought the destined winning ticket when a customer gave up the queue for her. Lesson? Don't ever give up your queue for another? This case only goes to show that there is no such thing as random luck by design. And for those lucky enough to strike a generational fortune, wouldn't it be very tempting to retire into the oasis of self-indulgence for the rest of their life?

But then, I am not giving excuses for a life of social passivity, self indulgence or indifference. I am just trying to give a life a little more latitude to prove or redeem itself; because given time, many things can pleasantly surprise us.

If you think about it, most of us, at some point in our life, are more a victim of our circumstances than a creator of it, and whether we stay that way depends very much on how we respond to it. So, the rule of thumb here is this: you only tally up the scores when all is said and done. And when all is said and done, you will then know with confidence that a life and its destiny are truly one.

So, let me end with what Mark Twain once said: "The two most important days of your life is the day you were born and the day you find out why." The first condition is a given. We can only talk about lives born and lived and not those unborn and missed. It is only the second condition that, for some, has yet to be realized.

But as long as one is still alive and searching, it is never too late to come to full realization - even if it takes a little longer than we would like. Because, if for any reason and any reason at all, it is in this quote: “Desires make slave out of kings and patience makes kings out of slaves.” (Iman Al Ghazali) And it is this royal patience that is required of us to see another life through to its rightful, fitful and fruitful end. Cheerz.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Living and Dying for God

Hi all, this is a life truly dedicated to living for God. His name is Kenny. And a friend, Vincent, posted this short narrative of his life below:-

“Kenny was diagnosed with cancer in December 2009. A few months later he wrote:

“It did not paralyze or frighten me, thinking that I might die. I did not think, ‘Why me?’ nor was I tempted to blame God. My focus is to be Christ-like. In the midst of physical limitation there is still the assurance that God can be glorified through weakness.”

Kenny had a rough introduction to life. His father left the Singapore police to join the triads, he was smoking at the age of five, brought up with gangs and drug dealers. Thrown out of the house, he slept in cemetries.

In December 1977 he gave his life to Christ through the Hiding Place’s ministry in Singapore, the same day the Doulos began her maiden voyage. Two years later Kenny was on board, serving initially in the deck department, as evangelism coordinator and in line-up.

Bee Lee joined the Doulos in the same batch. They were married in 1985 and rejoined the ship together. Debbie was born two years later while Kenny was busy with line-up in Singapore. In the following years they lived some time in Singapore where Kenny worked with his home church and then six more years on the Doulos.

In February 2002 the Gan family moved to England. Kenny served with George Verwer in Special Projects as co-Team Leader — spending increasingly lengthy periods away preaching and teaching in Iceland, Canada, Cambodia and many other countries where his ministry and testimony touched many lives.

In 2010 Kenny discovered he had nose cancer and the family returned to Singapore for radio therapy.

Though increasingly weak and in pain, he had the joy of seeing Debbie married to Jacob in June 2012. He continued to preach, returning from Australia and the Philippines shortly before he died in November 2012.”

Below is my thoughts on Kenny’s life:-

“... and Nietzsche said that there isn't any interesting people in Heaven. He was dead wrong. Kenny was not only interesting, to put it mildly, he was also deeply inspiring.

I always ask myself, we will die one day, that's a safe bet. The question is: will we ever start to live? And if we do, what do we live for? Here’s where my musing took flight.

The godly live for god. The ungodly live for themselves. The romantics live for love. The lost live one day at a time. The optimists live with hope. And the hopeless live without. Every life live in its own way, on its own terms. So many ways to live, but only one way to die. The heart ceases to beat and a life returns to its pit.

Surely, if there's only one way to die, there must also be only one way to truly live. But what is it?

People like Kenny holds the key. In living, he stayed hopeful. And in dying, he remained faithful. In the words of Bill Clinton, as he paid the highest tribute to mother Teresa, "how do you argue with a life so well lived?"

I guess St Francis of Assisi was spot on when he said, "Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words." Maybe we talk too much about living and live too little on our talking. Maybe Nike has a point, "just do it." In our context, it is "just live it."

I am deeply inspired by Kenny's life because there's something about his life that makes a difference in mine. I guess people like him leaves behind a legacy for us to follow, a template for living. One martyr for God said, "you need our faith to find your own."

That is our common hope and strength. You see, I can watch a 30-mins sitcom and laugh for a while. I can listen to a heartfelt rendition and be touched for days. But I cannot learn about common folks like Kenny with uncommon faith, even to the end, and not feel a lack in my spirit or a surge of hope in my soul.

I recall one church leader was asked this, "Why does God allow so many of his people to be persecuted?" The reply, accompanied with a smile, was this, "Maybe so that people like you can see what true Christianity looks like."

Honestly, I have seen what true Christianity looks like and I tremble at its cost. But as one Chinese pastor consoles, "We may not all sit on the same thorn, but we all sit on the same branch."

I guess that's what it means by a life well lived. It is not only in our willingness to die for God. It is also in our willingness to live on for Him. I know it's obvious but many forget that living for Him is as hard as dying for Him. We stand in awe of the dying and wish to emulate them but we forget about those who have to live on because dying is not even an option.

The fight to live and the fight to die for God is what true Christianity is all about. And I quietly respect Kenny for winning on both fronts, for completing the race, and for spurring us on. While his work on earth is done, ours is not and this should be cause enough for us to fight on.

I end with Romans 14:8 as I continue my own fight to live for Him, "If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." Cheerz.