The Prosperity Gospel and the Problem of Pain

I’m frequently asked, out of all my travels, what is the #1 thing I learned when learning about Christianity around the world. The answer can pretty much be summed up in this excerpt below from Coffee, Tea and Holy Water.

Book excerpt:

Britain’s #1 question for God is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” C. S. Lewis famously called this “the problem of pain.”

After visiting Brazil, where the prosperity gospel seems to have mushroomed into false teaching and Wales, where disillusionment with God has all but snuffed out church attendance, I feel it is time to address a common trend.

“God wants you to be happy, God wants you to be healthy. God wants you to be blessed.”

True or false?

The answer to that is probably determined by how you feel about the “prosperity gospel.”

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Prologue: Wandering

Some of you may know, a few years ago, I took a trip around the world to Brazil, Wales, Tanzania, China and Honduras to get a traveler’s perspective on Christianity around the world. Back in the U.S. afterward, life slowly started to return to normal. You soon forget the lack of hot water, sporadic electricity, internet and indoor plumbing (well no, let’s be honest, you don’t forget that), and are right back in the middle of mundane details like paying bills, answering emails and ironing your pants.

It was a great trip, but something was missing, like a conversation with something still left unsaid.

When I wrote Coffee, Tea and Holy Water, I was often asked why I didn’t include the country of India. The answer was simple, “India could be a whole other book by itself,” I would joke.

Somewhere along the way, this answer became real.

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I Have a Dream – a note for godly dreamers

“I have a dream” – four words made famous by Martin Luther King Jr. Words that broke down the walls of racial barriers. Four words we all declare over and over in the secret places of our hearts.

Everyone has a dream, a secret hope or longing. As Americans, we are taught early how to dream. As Christians, we are further inspired to dream. Sometimes that silent dream is to be used by God – a prayer for a life of significance.

We pray with good intentions. We really do want to be used by God for his kingdom.

So many of us pray, “God give me a dream – give me a purpose!” but we don’t really mean it. We want a dream that fits tidily into our idyllic future.

When God says no to a job you love, where you’re living, or calls you to be single, removes someone from your life you can’t live without,  or allows a disaster to happen that will later turn into a ministry, we pitch a fit.
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Pilgrims, Presidents and Soldiers

Last year, I posted a part of George Washington’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation, posted at the request of Congress on Oct. 3, 1789:

“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…

I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness…the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed… and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”
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Be Kind

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

I’ve never heard truer words.

As children, one of the first things we’re taught is how to be kind. Why is it that as we grow older we forget?

I don’t think we really forget – it’s more like an erosion. We live in a culture where negativity chips away at us every day. Desperate housewives screaming on TV. Columnists and media make their point with visceral prose. Twitter erupts with instant gripes, opinions, and many times, knee jerk reactions.

It chips away at us like a sculptor with an ice pick until we’re so whittled down that our thoughts become:

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Chinglish (continued)

[Continued from previous post]….

For some reason “Chinglish,” as the translation from Chinese to English is jokingly called, tends to lend itself to especially bad translational grammar. Some can perhaps be blamed on bad translating, but part is the taxonomical difference in the way the Chinese and Americans speak. Whatever the reason, it is a hilarious source of amusement to Kyle and Holly, who collects photos of exceptionally poorly translated menus and signs.

Some examples:

The ancient building is renovating. Please excuse me for bringing trouble to you.

The act of smoking, eating and drinking the drink and staying on for a long time become troubled of other users and stop it, please. (sign on subway)

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Book Excerpt: Chinglish

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an update on the book.  Today’s post is an excerpt, “Chinglish,” from the Coffee, Tea and Holy Water China section:


When my stay with Lisa is over, I travel to another province to visit Kyle, a good friend who has been working in China for two years. When the time comes to go to the airport, I am picked up by a no-nonsense woman taxi driver who glares at me warily and spits on the pavement. The Chinese believe in a flow of energy throughout the body (qi) that must be kept in proper balance. As a result, they are a matter-of-fact about expelling bodily fluid like mucus, and it is not considered rude to spit in public. She nods as if agreeing with the words of Shrek, “Better out than in, I always say.”

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Blog of the Week

Great post by Dan Bouchelle of Walking in the Reign, Why It’s Hard to Be Christian In America:

“What is difficult about being back in The States?” I asked as I sat across from a couple who have grown accustom to life on a mission team in a developing country. They are nearing a time of return to the US permanently and their recent visit “home” has been grueling in many ways.

The wife shot back without any pause to reflect: “Church, over-stimulation, and the frantic pace.” They had obviously been talking about this a lot during this visit as they prepared themselves for long term re-entry on their next trip back. To consider, “This is going to be our life,” is a scary thought….”

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Definitely food for thought. Thanks to Molly Goen for sharing!




Back in the Saddle

I haven’t posted in awhile – some of you know I’ve been on a 90-day break. But I’m back in the saddle now and I have some exciting news to share!

Coffee, Tea and Holy Water is going to be published by Abingdon Press later this year! No word on the exact date yet – it will probably be late 2014.

A special thank you to everyone who has contributed toward or prayed about the project. I understand the analogy now that writing a book is like birthing a baby…it’s been a long process. The past few months have been consumed with edits and there will probably be many more.

Details to follow later…

Things Taken for Granted in the U.S.

One question I’m asked most often about my trips is, what are some of the differences you noticed about other cultures…or more specifically, what are some of the things people in other cultures have a hard time believing about the U.S.?

The link below has a pretty good list — it’s a compilation of 16 individuals describing things that are unbelievable to foreigners / taken for granted by Americans (by Michael Koh; Thought Catalog):

One of the things that sticks out most in my mind about America is how homogenous the laws are from one part of the country to the other, and how orderly things are in general — especially traffic. I could go on, but the list above highlights them all better than I could.

Happy reading!