Jesus will Return: A friendly reminder, in case nobody mentioned it recently

Do me a favor, and think really hard about the sermons you have heard preached in the last year or two.

Now, let me ask you a question:  How many of those sermons had the Second Coming of Jesus Christ as one of their primary topics?

Mmmm... not too many.  Oh wait... none at all?

But you've heard quite a few sermons about living your best life now, financial stewardship, finding joy, overcoming adversity, handling stress and depression, becoming a better you, discovering God's purpose for your life, and daring to dream big.  Right?

Oh dear.

There is this tendency in Christianity today to downplay the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  It's the position of "mature" Christians and serious thinkers after all.  Because if you've lived long enough as a Christian, you've heard just about every goofy thing there is to hear about the return of Jesus Christ.  And realizing that there are a lot of bizarre teachings on the matter, and realizing how bent out of shape people can get about their end-time theological systems, many have taken the position that the return of Jesus is just one of those things we shouldn't really talk a lot about.

Indeed, there has been some serious harm done in the name of Jesus over theologies centering around the end-times.   Every year there is some goofball that sensationalizes some sort of omen in the news that they claim points to the imminent return of Jesus Christ.  And of course, every year for the past 2,000 years, such persons have been proven wrong time and time again.  And of course, the media is always more than willing to run such headlines, which end up bringing a bit of shame on the church when such predictions prove to be false.

So, we have a tendency to respond to such things in one of two ways:  We passively downplay the topic of the return of Jesus Christ altogether, and try never to bring it up;  Or, we join the world in their scoffing.

But the more I've thought about it in recent years, the more I've become convinced that I would rather identify with those saints who are actively looking for the possible return of Jesus Christ in their lifetimes, than I would identify with more "enlightened" believers who shy away or scoff at the idea of Christ returning altogether.  I don't care how funky and misguided the theology of these saints might be.  I would rather be found looking for the second coming of Christ and Him not return, than to not be looking for Him and find out the hard way that He decided to return anyway.

Will Jesus return in our lifetime?  Well, He's not come back in the last 2,000 years, so there stands a pretty good chance that He won't return this year or in our lifetime.


Be that as it may, the faith we have received, that has been once and for all handed down to the saints, teaches us that as Christians that we are to be actively looking for the return of Jesus Christ, and His return to this world.  And not to look for Him to return in some far off distant future, but to think it a real possibility that He may return before we have the chance to die.

To not actively anticipate the return of Jesus Christ in our own lives is nothing short of apostasy-- a falling away from the faith.

And this is an apostasy that has overtaken "progressive" and "evangelical" Christians alike.

As a result, this has caused Christians of both stripes to become ever consumed with the ever present "now" of the kingdom.  Progressives get obsessed in social justice issues.  And, evangelicals get wrapped up in having their best life now schemes.

And why not?  Jesus isn't returning anytime soon after all.

So we might as well avoid preaching about those topics that talk about the return of Jesus Christ and the ages of come.  It's better to focus on the "already" than "not yet" aspect of the kingdom of God.   It's better to focus on the breaking of the kingdom into present than to take much time to think about things that are yet future.  We want to talk about practical matters.

At least, so we say.

Yet, as much emphasis as the Bible places on the "already" aspect of the kingdom of God, I can't help but notice the focus on Biblical teaching is still hung on the hope that Jesus Christ will indeed come again, and that once He comes again, all the things that the kingdom ushered into the world are nothing in comparison to the things His kingdom will yet bring.

The present aspect and reality of the kingdom is but an appetizer for the Supper that is still to come.

And knowing such things about the future, what manner of men ought we to be in the present?  Knowing this world is passing away, and that we've received a kingdom that shall not perish, how ought we to live our lives in this generation?  How much different ought our lives look, knowing that one day, everything we see will be tried by Divine judgment, and will be consumed by fire?

My guess is we would live our lives a bit differently than we live now, for when we realize that everything we hold near and dear to us will one day vanish, the things we truly learn to value in this world will change.  And if our values change, our present actions must change too.

Jesus Christ is coming again, and He's coming again soon.

This is a friendly reminder, in case nobody mentioned it recently.


Charity Without a Press Release

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." ~ (Matthew 6:1-4; NASB)

In just about every major city across America, without asking a single person who the most charitable person in town is, you could easily find out who that is simply by driving around a few blocks.

During your adventure, you will eventually discover a bunch of buildings with somebody's last name on them.  Where I live at in Charlotte, North Carolina, you'll discover the name "Levine" is all over the place.  They are a very generous family that has given hundreds of millions of dollars back to the local community.

And how do I know such?

Well, because they like to talk about their charity in the local news, such as the Charlotte Observer, and in more widely circulated news outlets, like the New York Times.  And in case any of those stories are ever lost or forgotten, the Leon Levine Foundation website will tell you on the very first page how much money he's given, and where he's given it.

Such a phenomenon is not unique to the world.

Such a thing happens even in the church.  In many older churches, you will often find pews that have tiny little name plates on the end of them, that tell you exactly who made it possible for you to sit in that pew.  Individuals known for their charity to the church regularly get appointed into important leadership positions.  And in churches that are more media intensive and tech savvy, there is this tendency to show short infomercials in church, where we videotape somebody handing a check to somebody else, and show it on a big screen... all in the name of Jesus of course.

There is something in our DNA that strongly loves the idea of charity, and helping somebody else out.  It's the stuff God has put in us as creatures created in His image.  God is a giver, and He has made us to be givers as well.

But in our fallen nature, something has crept into our humanity that is always looking out for number one.  We want to give, but we don't want to do so freely.  We want to give, but we want to know what's in it for us.  We want to give, but we want to attach strings to our dollars.  We want to give, but we want to be recognized for our giving.

Jesus blasted this sort of giving in His teachings.

We should give, and give generously.  But we should give in ways where we receive no recognition for it.  There should be no blowing of the trumpets in the synagogue or on street corners. We should not ask our name be put on any buildings; issue no press releases; and in God's holy name, we should never video tape ourselves putting money in somebody else's hands.

The only one who should be glorified in our giving is God.  And such giving requires no PR stunt on His behalf.  We should give secretly, like Jesus said, without drawing any attention to ourselves.  For if our giving is in anyway self-serving, then we are simply make-believe actors (hypocrites) who are not as selfless as we appear.

We may believe our own press, but God knows better.

And for all the philanthropists who make names for themselves in their charity work, I would encourage you to continue to do what you do and give.  There are people out there who desperately need your charity.  But when you give in such a way that somebody gives you a trophy for all of your giving, know such is the only reward you will ever get.  And what's that going to get you in the long run?

Rather, instead of giving in such a way that somebody gives you a pat on the head, give in such a way that the only person in this world who can reward you, is if God Himself rewards you.  And I don't know about you, but I would rather have a reward that came from God, instead of a case full of trophies.


How to Escape Poverty

The rich man’s wealth is his fortress, The ruin of the poor is their poverty. ~ (Proverbs 10:15; NASB)
In the world we live in, money begets money, and poverty begets poverty.  The rich have a tendency to get richer, and the poor have a tendency to get poorer.  Unlike the theories of Karl Marx, this is not primarily the result of the rich exploiting the poor, although that does happen a bit.

Rather, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is more like a law of physics.  It's akin to gravity and all of its forces. And whether you like it or not, it's just the way this world works.

Sorry Karl Marx and friends.

That's why it is so hard on individuals who are living in poverty, whether it be in America, France, or Calcutta, to escape poverty.  Poverty has a way of acting like quicksand.  The more you struggle in it, the deeper and quicker you tend to sink, and the harder it is to get free.  The only way out of it is either for somebody to help you out of it, or to make deliberate and carefully calculated moves until you eventually free yourself.

The Biblical author of Proverbs observed this phenomenon in his own life.  But instead of talking about it in terms of quicksand, he likened the entire issue unto a fortress.

Back in the early days of human civilization, there was a tendency for cities to build large walls around the borders of a town.  This was smart primarily for two reasons.  First, it kept wild animals from randomly wandering into your territory late at night, and eating your next of kin.  Second, it protected the citizens of your city from gangs and small armies looking to pillage and to loot.

Wealth is like this fortress.

If you are wealthy, that is, if you have more than the basic resources needed to sustain your life and provide for some simple creature comforts, your wealth becomes like a fortress.  Your wealth protects you from "random" animals from wandering into your village and eating you, and it also keeps others from randomly pillaging your possessions.

For example, if you are wealthy, when your car randomly breaks down, you can afford to get it fixed.    Fixing your car is still expensive, but because of your wealth, getting it fixed becomes a mere inconvenience.  But when you are poor, if your car breaks down, and you can't afford to fix it, what alternatives do you have?  You might be able to take a loan out.  But what if nobody will give you a loan?  Then you might find yourself without transportation.  And if you live more than a few miles away from work, all of a sudden your job is in jeopardy if you no longer have reliable transportation to get to work.  And if you can't get to work anymore, how will you afford to pay for food and shelter?

Likewise, while being wealthy can make you a target ("Hey, look at that nice big city over there!  I bet they have a lot of food and gold!") those who are wealthy have a way of protecting themselves from those who are looking to "pillage" them.  If they are faced with an ethical dilemma at work, or are being harassed by superior, then if one has saved up enough money, one could easily just quit their job and look for work elsewhere.  Or, if somebody decides to terrorize you with a frivolous lawsuit, being able to afford "umbrella insurance" and an attorney will protect you against something that would destroy and otherwise ruin many others.

So, what can be learned from all of this?

Biblically speaking, we should make sure that when it comes to our personal finances, that we try to save as much as we possibly can.  I know, saving money can be a very difficult thing to do.  But like giving, saving is something we must all do.  And even as the poorest amongst us can usually find something we can give to charity, even the poorest amongst us can usually find something we can save and set aside for the future.

And we need to do such, because we know we live in a world where "life happens."  Life happens to the rich, and life happens to the poor.  Life happens to those who trust in God, and life happens to those who do not.

But when we do all we can to muster up some money to save, dollar by dollar and brick by brick, we begin to build a fortress in our lives.  It may take many years to complete a walled fortress.  It's a slow and labor intensive process.  But it is something we must all do.

Look at those who have built fortresses in the past.  Why did they do such?  In the past they built fortresses because they knew their lives depended on it.  Likewise, you and I should save money like our lives depend on it.

How much should you save?

The answer to this question is going to be different for every person.  But you should save like your life depends on it.  If all you can muster is five or ten bucks a week, you should save what you can, and put it in a place where you can't easily access that money.  If this means setting up a second bank account that's not linked to your checking account, then do it.  If this means getting a piggy bank and stuffing money into it every now and then, then do it.  If this means grabbing a shovel and burying your savings in your backyard, then in God's name, do it!

You may never become very wealthy in this life.  And that is perfectly fine.  Don't try to become wealthy.  The Bible has a ton of warnings about pursuing wealth.  Trying to get wealthy may damn you for all eternity!

But there is a big difference between trying to pursue wealth and getting rich, and merely looking to build a barrier of protection in your life.  Of course, we cannot make our lives bullet proof.  There are some things that enter our lives that no amount of wealth will protect us from.  Ten out of ten people will ultimately die, as death comes for us all.

But simple things like replacing a flat tire or two should not be something that has the power to ruin the vast majority of our lives.  If we use wisdom to do things like work hard, make a budget, live within our means, and save whatever we can, then the vast majority of us should be able to create some sort of buffer between us and "life happenings."  We need to build fortresses in our lives.

We may still be poor at the end of the day.  But that doesn't mean we have to allow our poverty to ruin us.   Like escaping from quicksand, we can escape the destructive forces of poverty by slowly and carefully working our way out of it.


Albert Einstein's Poverty Equation: Why the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer

 "Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.  He who understands it, earns it... and he who doesn't, pays it." ~ Albert Einstein
Have you ever wondered why the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer?

Marxist and free market capitalist theories aside, it's really a pretty simple matter of understanding the above quote by Albert Einstein.  If you can grasp this idea, you can feel free to ignore just about everything a politician says about the issue in the up and coming presidential election in America.

The reason the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is a simple matter of arithmetic:  Rich people get richer, because they have math working on their side.  Poor people get poorer, because they have math working against them.

Simple enough, right?

Consider Bill Gates.

He has an estimated net worth right now of about $89 billion dollars.  Imagine if all this money was sitting in a savings account, earning 1% of annual interest.  That means without doing anything except letting his money sit in a savings account and earning interest, Bill Gates would earn $890 million dollars in one year alone.  That means he would make more than a million dollars every day before it is even lunch time.  His situation goes from great to greater, and all because of simple math.

Now consider the average poor person.

They live paycheck to paycheck, and are never able to save much of any money.  While driving to work one day, their car breaks down.  Not having enough money in the bank to pay for the repairs, but needing to make them because their car is the only way they can get to work, they sign up for a credit card at the auto repair shop in order to finance $2,000 to get their car fixed.  And at the end of the month, they receive a bill in the mail from their credit card company saying that they need to make a minimum payment of $60 a month for the next few years.  Living paycheck to paycheck as it is, they aren't really sure how they are going to squeeze another $60 out of their budget this month, let alone next month, and every month thereafter for the next few years. They try hard, but eventually "life happens" and they miss a couple payments in a row.  And suddenly they discover their balance of $2,000 has grown to $2,200, and they now owe $75 a month.  Their situation goes from bad to worse, and all because of simple math.

Albert Einstein was onto something.  Compound interest is an amazing thing.  It has the ability to make the rich even richer, and likewise, it has the ability to make the poor even poorer.  Compound interest impacts everybody in this world.

Compound interest impacts the rich, it impacts the poor, and it impacts you.  

Rant and rave all you want about economic and social injustices, real or imagined, at the end of the day rich people get richer, not because they are busy screwing over poor people, bribing politicians, and exploiting the working class.

The rich get richer simply because they have learned how to put the money they have to work, and to take advantage of the simple law of compound interest.  The poor individual, unfortunately, experiences the devastating impact that compound interest has on his life.  What turns out to be a positive experience for the rich ends up turning out to be a negative experience for the poor.  What creates wealth for one person ends up creating poverty for another.

As Einstein said, he who understands how compound interest works will earn from his understanding.  But he who does not understand how compound interest works, will pay for his understanding.