August 7, 2018

Thank you, Publishers Clearinghouse!!!

For thirty-three years I entered the PCH sweepstakes and nothing. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Disappointment after disheartening disappointment!

I can’t possibly remember how many trips to the mailbox I made, floating on a cloud of hope. Confessing every sin that I could remember—along with a blanket confession to cover all those I couldn’t remember! Claiming God’s promise, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to PROSPER you….'”And praying. Yes. Praying that God would make good on His promise.  All. All to no avail.

Then I read somewhere that creating a mental image of some good thing that you wish to happen has the potential to bring it about. So this year, I decided to take this little vehicle for a test spin.  As I was walking toward the mailbox—confessing, claiming, and praying, I focused my mind on a vision of opening the letter and discovering that I was the big winner.

I approached the mailbox with nervous agitation. “What if the letter didn’t even come today?” I thought. But when I opened the mailbox and saw the distinct PCH envelope, my heart began pounding with anticipation. I ripped the envelope open and immediately my eyes fixed on the large bold-faced letters:  “YOU HAVE WON!!”  I’d swear my heart skipped a couple beats.

My first thought was “WOW! This ‘vision to provision’ stuff really works!”

But this was hardly my first PCH “rodeo.” I’d seen similar letters in the past, so my skepticism reared its ugly head. I began to scan the rest of the documents in the envelope to see if the tantalizing headliner, “YOU HAVE WON,” was merely informing me that my name was in another drawing for the “GRAND PRIZE.”

As I was nervously fumbling through the document, I discovered that the paperwork, processing directions, and special forms were all entirely unique, and I was left with one compelling conclusion:

I had just become the richest Rob Starner that I ever could have imagined.

I stood there. Stunned. I mean, it was totally surreal. After all those years of confessing, claiming, and praying, I simply could not believe that it had actually come true!  So you can imagine my utter shock (and dismay!) when I discovered that the letter was actually addressed to my neighbor!!!!!  I had inadvertently and unwittingly opened someone else’s mail.

The story you have just read is not true. The name was not changed to protect the innocent, because the culprit (i.e., me) is guilty. But before you follow through with your plans to cart me off in a Dragnet (old TV show—sorry!), allow me to use this fictitious story to illustrate an important truth.

Suppose this story had actually happened. Do you think for a single nanosecond that I would have a legitimate claim to that prize?  This is simply too much to imagine, even granting that we live in a greed-saturated, gold-digging litigious world. No one has a legitimate right to claim ownership of a document addressed to someone else.

May I be so bold as to suggest that many who read the Bible do something very similar: they claim ownership of the promises found in someone else’s mail.

Take, for example, the Scripture I “claimed” at the beginning of my story:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you . . . ” Jeremiah 24:11

In its context, this verse is a promise of the restoration ancient Israel delivered through the prophet (“mailman”) Jeremiah. It is not a blanket promise to every individual Christian that she or he is guaranteed a life of luxury. We are reading someone else’s mail.

The promise was not spoken to Winfrey, Osteen or anyone else in between. It was spoken to ancient Israel, and it concerns her national future.  Even for its intended recipients, this verse is not necessarily a promise of material abundance (as we are so prone to understand the English word “prosperity”).

The general meaning of the Hebrew word “Shalom,” translated “prosperity” in the NIV, is “completion and fulfillment, entering into a state of wholeness and unity, a restored relationship.” It is used in various Biblical contexts to mean “peace,” “well-being,” “health,” “safety,” “prosperity.” Again, context is the critical guide for meaning.  The verse continues “. . . and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Nothing in these expressions requires us to think of material prosperity.

Using this Scripture verse as a kind of “faith-formula” in an attempt to bring material prosperity into one’s life, is a dubious (dare we say, sinister?) practice far more akin to Greco-Roman magic than authentic Biblical faith.

Speaking from the demanding posture of a spoiled 2-year-old has a very low rate of return from our Heavenly Father.  You may have heard it said: “But God, You said in your word . . . .”

Well, God may indeed have said “it,” but there are several critical questions we must ask: Precisely what did God say?  To whom did He say it?  In what context did He say it? What did He mean when he said it?  And, how does what He said to them way back then apply to li’l ole me today?  These questions are necessary if we are to “rightly divide (understand/interpret) the Word of Truth.”

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