“Everything happens for a reason.”
“God helps those who help themselves.”
Have you ever heard these sayings? Perhaps you’ve said them yourself. If you have I understand. They sound thoughtful, insightful, or inspirational – but in reality they do a lot more harm than good. Lots of familiar sayings that Christians throw around are not at all grounded in sound theology and when tested, they break down very fast. Saying that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” implies that God is the one who is causing that person whatever trouble, grief, or pain they are experiencing. To share that “Everything happens for a reason” again is like telling someone that they deserve whatever happens – good OR bad and that certainly isn’t true. And to say that “God helps those who help themselves” is to deny Jesus’ saving work by grace alone.
Adam Hamilton addresses these sayings and a couple more in his book Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things The Bible Doesn’t Say. Typical of Hamilton’s work, the book is filled with a caring touch and an easy-to-understand explanation of exactly how these sayings can be devastating to those receiving them. He deftly walks through the reasons why these “half truths” do more harm than good by even the most well-intentioned person, and he grounds it all in sound Biblical theology. A short book at only 169 pages (short both in stature and in length) this is perfect for a small group study, but is also useful for those who have been hurt by such sayings or for someone seeking deeper truth into how God actually works.
Title: Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say
Author: Adam Hamilton
Cost: $19.99 (only $10.99 on Amazon)
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Genre: Christian Life / Spiritual Growth
In our last sermon, I mentioned my love for musical theater so I thought I would share five great musicals you may never have heard of. Given that I haven’t seen as much musical theater lately, these are much older shows, but great ones that from time to time have been revived. If it happens to be performed in your neighborhood, give it a shot! I would love to know your favorites.
Starlight Express – The only musical I know performed on roller skates! Produced in the 1980’s in London and Broadway, it was a smash hit in the UK and even more so in Germany where it still runs today as the longest running musical in German history. However it was short-lived on Broadway, running only 761 performances. This innovative musical was the brainchild of legendary theater superstar Andrew Lloyd Webber and I found it interesting that ALW wanted to do a musical based on Thomas the Tank Engine but they folks who make Thomas wouldn’t let him. So he came up with something on his own and this was the result. The book isn’t as innovative as the staging and choreography, but the music is a delight. I saw it while it played in Las Vegas and thought it was terrific.
By Jeeves – Another ALW musical, this one is designed for small theaters. I saw a limited run of it in Westwood at the Geffen Playhouse and thought it was just fantastic. It didn’t get great reviews, but it was so different than most ALW stuff that for me it was delightful. I love the smaller, more intimate setting and the stage direction was brilliant (I loved the way they showed the gang traveling in an automobile on stage – it was like what a kid might do for a class project except life size). The plot was cute. It wasn’t grandiose as we see with most ALW musicals. Instead it was more befitting a quiet night at home watching a British comedy.
Buskers – Or as I saw it Stage Door Charley. This musical starring another legendary figure, Tommy Tune, only made it as far the touring stage. Slated for Broadway, the producers pulled out after Tommy was injured and it never made it. For Disney fans, this show was a treat since it was written by the Sherman Brothers. The idea was conceived back in the sixties and just never was produced until 1995 when Tommy agreed to be in it. It was a charming love story about two “buskers” or street performers. And with Tune attached it was a visual treat as he is such a gifted performer. I happened to see it when it came to the OC Performing Arts Center.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change – This show was cute, clever, funny, and touching. Instead of a narrative that continues throughout the musical, instead it is the story of people falling in love told in vignettes. Four people play all of the parts. I saw it originally at the Laguna Playhouse and if you’ve been there before it’s a great venue for a play like this. I saw it again in 1998 at the Coronet Theater with Jennifer Simard. I remember her specifically because she was part of the original cast and because after seeing it, I bumped into her at a local restaurant and told her what a wonderful job she did. It was a cool moment for me. If you want to see a cute musical about love, take your significant other to see this one.
Forever Plaid – The absolute best play ever! I’ve seen it about three dozen times and I’ve taken lots of friends with me to see it. One in particular, Sharon, came with me about 2/3 of those times. We went so often that for her birthday I got her the seat in the front row where the cast comes up and asks her what the date is. Very cool. Except for the fact that Sparky kept leering at her the whole show. Hey, buddy. She’s with me. During the show, they sing classic harmony songs from the 40’s and 50’s like “Three Coins in a Fountain,” “Heart and Soul,” “Sixteen Tons,” and “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.” They did make a movie of it, but like most shows adapted to film, there’s something missing. If you get the chance to see it live, go and check it out. Especially in a smaller theater. It also loses something in too big a venue. But it is amazing.
So what are your favorite musicals?
When I was little, my dad used to take me fishing all the time. We used to go lake fishing when I was younger, usually to Anaheim Lake for trout, and then deep-sea fishing as I got older. I always loved it. To me, nothing beats a nice, juicy, greasy hamburger while waiting for the fish to strike. But the best part was just hanging with my dad and reeling in those fish.
I remember one time in particular when he took me to Puddingstone Lake in San Dimas for some trout fishing. I must have been all of 10 years old at the time. The fish were biting extremely well that whole day and my dad let me reel in all of them. He would patiently prepare the poles, stake out the spots, put all of our gear out on the lake shore, bait the hook, and help me cast the line out there. When the fish would bite, whether it was on my pole or his, my dad would let me reel it in. In total, we caught 10 fish that day! I was so proud that as soon as we got home, I yelled to my mom, “Guess what? I caught 10 fish today and dad didn’t catch any!”
The truth was my dad had more to do with catching those fish than I did, but I got all the credit – and was happy to take it. But looking back, I realize that I couldn’t have done it without my dad, who never took any of the credit for himself. He just let me relish in the triumph of those fish. Our heavenly Father is like that. He does so much for us and asks for so little in return. In the end, he simply hopes that we love him, we believe in him, and we share the love and grace he gives to us so freely with others.
This month we celebrate Father’s Day – one of my favorite days of the year. I am so grateful to be a father myself and I pray often for God’s guidance in my own struggles with parenthood. I hope that I will leave a lasting impression upon my children as my own father has done for me. Do me a favor and if you are at all thankful for what your fathers – your earthly and your heavenly one – have done for you, let them know it. And don’t just wait for Father’s Day to do it either.
I am proud to be an American. I’m a sansei or third generation Japanese-American kid and although I don’t love most Chevrolets, I do love baseball, a good hot dog, and apple pie ala mode (remember that commercial?). More importantly, I love the fact that we live in a country where we can worship freely, we can vote freely, and we can grow up to be President. So you can only imagine the kind of hurt I felt the first time I heard that awful racist kids’ poem, “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these!” I cried. I was only six years old at the time and in the first grade and I don’t cry very often in public. I just don’t. But I cried that day. And every once in a while, although less often than before, I still meet ignorant people who insult me because of my ethnicity – an ethnicity I am very proud of. And it hurts.
I remember one time in particular that I was standing on the street corner on the way to high school and this guy leans out of his car window and yells as he’s driving past me, “Go back to China you chink!” And it made me so mad. Partly because he was gone before I could respond, but mostly because if you’re going to insult me at least get my ethnicity right. And even not that long ago while I was a pastor at a small church in Washington, GA, I encountered the same kind of racism. That cowardly, drive-by-and-insult-you kind of racism that lets me know there is still racial hatred in the world. I stopped at the local Radio Shack, which also doubled as the local newspaper publisher to get the paper. The girls were in the car with Cassie as I walked around to the newspaper machine and as I was about to put in my 50 cents, this big shiny charcoal gray pick-up truck came by, and this guy who must have been in his early twenties start shouting out, “Ching, chong, ching, chong,” to me at the top of his lungs out of a rolled down window. His friends were just laughing behind him. But unlike that little six-year old that I used to be, I didn’t cry. I was upset. Upset that in the 21st century, I would still find the racism I was hoping to leave behind. Upset that even almost 150 years after the civil war that people still carried around these old prejudices. Upset that 2000 years after Christ, people still haven’t got the message we should treat our neighbor with love.
But what made me the most upset is that my little baby girl, Emma, is likely to face that kind of racism as she grows up. I don’t have to worry about Eve, she’s as All-American as they come with her blond hair and blue eyes, but Emma has enough of her daddy in her that she might be the victim of some cruel kid’s joke. I just wish I could spare her that kind of hatred and fear. Many people are fond of calling America a Christian nation, and if that’s the case we should live up to those ideals. Bigotry, prejudice, and hatred of any sort just have no place in the heart of a Christian and by extension in the heart of America. Instead we should replace those feelings and attitudes with ones that more closely resemble Christ who called on us to love our neighbor as we would ourselves. Prayerfully consider how it is that you can add to the great chorus of those who have gone before to make our country not only what our founding fathers had in mind, but what our Father in Heaven had in mind, too. God bless us all.
How many of you like meatloaf?
Go ahead. Raise your hands (I know I’m not there to see it, but I am in spirit). I love it. Meatloaf is one of my favorite things to eat. I have lots of good memories about it. And of course, no one makes meatloaf like my mother. Isn’t that true? Aren’t there just some dishes your mom or dad makes that no one else makes just like them? Meatloaf is one of those dishes for me. When I go to a new restaurant if they have it on the menu, I usually order it so I can compare it to the one I used to get at home. It’s sort of my barometer for restaurant quality. If the meatloaf is good, the restaurant must be good. If it’s not…well, I probably won’t be coming back. But meatloaf is one of those dishes where there are always leftovers. It’s a leftover dish. And I like it that way. As a kid, I used to love making it into sandwiches for lunch. It was one of the fringe benefits of having meatloaf. Put a big chunk of it in-between two slices of bread with some mayonnaise on it. Yum. The funny thing is even though it’s good enough for me, I would never serve leftover meatloaf to a girl I was dating. Or anyone for that matter. And it’s not because of what it is or how it tastes because obviously I love it. It’s because it’s a leftover.
Now, leftovers might be okay for us, we might even like it, but would you ever serve leftovers to someone who was a guest in your home? Someone you were hoping to date? Would you serve leftovers to your boss? There’s something about leftovers that people associate with being “not worthy of my time.” Leftovers are for “other people” once we’re done eating what we want. Leftovers go in the “doggy bag.” Think about it. The “doggy bag.” Because it’s leftover scraps of food that goes to the dog. Before the invention of the doggy bag, most people wouldn’t even THINK to take the leftover food home. It was considered in poor taste even as late as the 1970’s. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love leftovers, too. But there is something about leftovers that people associate with unworthiness. So the question needs to be asked, “Are you giving God your leftovers?”
When we give to God, we’re supposed to give from our “first fruits” meaning the first portion of our crops. This idea comes from the very beginning of the Bible in the story of Cain and Abel. In that story, God was very pleased with Abel’s offering because Abel gave of the firstborn of his flock. God was not as happy with Cain because Cain withheld his best from the Lord. Cain only gave “some of the fruits” to God compared to Abel’s “fat portions of the some of the firstborn of his flock.” Apparently, Abel gave to God first and only then took some for himself while Cain seemingly did the opposite. It didn’t matter to God that Cain brought fruit and Abel brought meat. Each brought as he was able. What mattered was their attitude and trust in God – Abel had it and Cain didn’t. Abel recognized that without God he would have nothing and so he first gave back to God the very best. He trusted that even if he gave it away, that God would provide for him. Cain, however, did what many of us do. He held back. Either Cain didn’t recognize God as the one to whom he owed everything or just wanted to keep the best for himself figuring that God didn’t need it and he did. Cain didn’t trust that God would give him enough. And so he took portions for himself first. The stress on willful giving is found throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. The story of the widow’s mite comes to mind or Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Having the proper attitude is more important than the amount you give. Too many of us give God the leftovers.
Whether you give to your local church or to the Red Cross or to the homeless guy on the street, give of your firstfruits. Designate a portion of what you make each month to God and give it away quickly to where you feel God is leading you. Don’t hold on to it “just in case.” Put your faith in God and God will look after you. Giving after all is a sign of thankfulness and in this season of giving thanks we should remember to give thanks first to the one who made our lives possible.
What do you think Jesus looks like? When you hear the name “Jesus” what image immediately springs to mind? Whatever image pops up probably came from a picture or painting or description of Jesus from somewhere other than the Bible because nowhere except for a few vague references in Isaiah (who wasn’t even around when Jesus was alive) does it say what Jesus looked like. We’ve all seen the pictures of Jesus with blue eyes and long, flowing, almond colored hair – almost blond in some pictures – probably wearing a white robe (who wears white in the desert?), a sash of some sort whether rope or cloth, and sandals (at least THAT was probably correct). But scholars pretty much agree that isn’t likely to be an accurate representation of Jesus. COULD Jesus have looked like that? I guess the person who created the universe can look like whatever he wants, but is it likely? No.
I was thinking about this because in my research for one of my sermons (How to Make A Chocolate Chip Cookie) I came across a quote from Senator Robert Kennedy who had gone on a tour in South Africa after his brother President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. It was 1966 and Sen. Kennedy was championing the anti-apartheid movement twenty years before that effort became popular and after the tour, he spoke to LOOK magazine in an interview and said, “At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve. ‘But suppose God is black’, I replied. ‘What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?’ There was no answer. Only silence.” (from Wikipedia and other sources)
But suppose God is black? That is one of the most powerful statements I’ve read because its implication is so profound. Too many people in the world today make sweeping assumptions about what the God of the universe wants when in fact, if they only actually READ and LISTENED to what God wants, they would find that it is far distant than their moral presumption. For centuries, slavery was sanctioned because “that’s the way God wanted it.” It’s not, but people would use Scripture to justify it and twist around the meaning of the Bible to suit their own needs. Women were treated as inferior because “God created women that way” when in fact, Jesus held women in high esteem and even Paul had women disciples who taught about Jesus with men and to men. Children were treated no better than slaves and sometimes like property or tools because they were supposed to “honor their father and mother.” I guess those same people never read the parts of the Bible where Jesus warns against harming the children or causing them to sin or to get in the way between him and the children. I guess they never read the parts of the Bible that tells fathers to raise their children well and admonishes parents to raise their children up in the way of the Lord (mind you, that’s not just TEACH them about God, but raise them up in his ways by MODELING a Christ-like / God-like pattern of living). Racism, sexism, ageism, and pretty much every kind of morally negative “ism” out there has been justified in the Bible. Take a look – a real look – at the Bible and you will find that the Bible is both more complex and more simple than that.
I think Jesus sums it up best when he tells us in John 13:34-35 to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” The Lord of the universe said it three times in two verses. Love one another. Must be pretty important. Here’s the thing. If you feel God is calling you to do something that goes against this simple moral directive, question it. QUESTION IT! Is it coming from God or from man? Is it coming from our Heavenly Father or is it the result of fear, hate, or prejudice? Because the great story of God in the Bible is seen through the lens of love and to see it any other way is to twist the narrative around. Love one another. That’s ultimately God’s message for us.
I like STUFF.
Not for the sake of having it, but there are certain material things I enjoy. I collect comic books, certain LEGO sets, and Disney pins. They add to my life in different ways. Comic books remind me of my dad and the stories, when well written and drawn, are a great diversion from the stresses of life. I love LEGOs and especially the ones with comic characters, Star Wars, and now The Lord of the Rings. It’s fun to build something concrete since most of my life deals with things in the abstract or the untouchable. And I love Disney pin trading! Certain pins remind me of times I’ve had with my family, others remind me of when I used to work at the Park (Disneyland that is), and I like the camaraderie of the folks who collect. They are for the most part a great group of people. But in each of these hobbies, there are some people who turn it into an obsession. To them, having it all and having it first makes their life meaningful and I think that any time we define our lives by the material things we possess or have we are in grave danger of losing our souls. We become fixated as much as if we were taking a drug and end up with that same distorted view of life – that it all amounts to STUFF. We know it doesn’t. Watch this clip below. I think you’ll hear some interesting ideas.
The clip above is from the show CSI and when I saw it, it really made me think.
It was from an episode about a woman who suffered from disposophobia or compulsive hoarding. If you’ve even seen someone like this, or you’ve watched one of those reality shows about it, you know how bad it can be. Just STUFF everywhere! Just this constant accumulation of STUFF! Piles and piles of it in every nook and cranny possible. And it becomes obsessive to the point where the hoarder doesn’t even realize what’s going on. They just keep getting more STUFF that most of us would consider junk or trash, but for them there is meaning to it all. It becomes ridiculous how the hoarder begins to justify every scrap of paper and every piece of food. It just makes me wonder what in the world drives people to this point. And then I watch TV. Or read a paper. And I can see how we are constantly bombarded by the message that we need more STUFF. We really do have a society focused on material things. Our identity is shaped by our possessions. Our social status, our sense of identity, our acceptance into social circles – all often has to do with “things.”
As the clip said, the philosopher Erich Fromm had a theory that we have two basic human orientations: having and being.
Having and being. It does seem that our culture is dominated by the “having” orientation, doesn’t it? But as Ray said in the clip, it doesn’t have to be that way. WE don’t have to be that way. To change it, we have to learn to get into the habit of giving, on focusing not on how much we get but on how much we give to others – and not necessarily giving material things either but giving our time and our talents and our resources away for free. Because by giving, we get rid of the barrier of STUFF between us and God. We let go of the material world and instead embrace God’s world. And that’s where God wants us to be. He wants us to live in HIS world instead of the material world. He wants us to focus on our relationship with Him and with those around us and that’s hard to do when we are surrounded by a barrier of stuff. That’s why God talks about all the time. That’s why Jesus says it’s so hard for the rich to get into Heaven. Not because they have money, but because they keep getting blocked by all the STUFF in their way. I’m convinced that the story of the rich young man in the Bible (Mark 10:17-25) is told to us for exactly this reason – to help us understand that the material world gets in between us and God. That’s why Christ tells us to get rid of it! So we can learn to rely on God instead of our STUFF. If the world were filled with people primarily focused on “being” instead of “having” wouldn’t this be a better place?
There’s nothing wrong with STUFF in and of itself. Like there’s nothing wrong with money in and of itself. But when we let it take over our lives, we risk the things that are truly important – our family, our friends, our very relationship with God. All for a bunch of stuff we can’t take with us in the end.