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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Does God want us to be rich? Thoughts on the "prosperity gospel", and 7 Days of Heaven Day 2

Tonight, my heart has been a little heavy.  Not much, but I can't help but feel a slight twinge of fear.

I don't like to discuss religious differences. I have found that people often believe things that have been ingrained in them since childhood, and to attempt to tell someone that i don't agree is often futile.

I don't believe in stirring up strife, but I do believe in presenting ideas that make sense to me in a spirit of love.

I see denominations arguing all the time. This one is right. This one is wrong. Fingers point. Hateful words are sputtered. The gospel is largely ignored in the process.

Today, I was thinking of how Jesus dined with sinners. The Pharisees called Him a glutton and tried to use it against Him to make Him look weak.

But He wasn't weak. He knew how souls could come into the His Truth - with simply loving them and taking the time with them.
Jesus did not condone sin. Neither should we. If we see a brother in Christ sinning, it is our responsiblity to pull up a chair and dine with the same spirit of love as Christ and offer them the most brilliant light ever known to man.

I guess the fear part, for me, comes in, when I begin to express what I believe God is showing me...
But, I know that if I can speak what I believe in a spirit of love, then I may have helped someone who has questions....
I once read a phrase....Great people talk about ideas.
Average people talk about things.
Small people talk about other people.

So, today..I want to talk about an idea.....
Feel free to disagree with me....pull up a chair and let's eat....

Let me start off by saying... I have a good job. I worked hard to get it. Hard. Grueling hours of school. Long nights. I get a decent paycheck. I'm grateful. I have the ability to pay off student loans. God gives me the ability to give to those in need. I don't own a whole lot. I have a nice car. I'm grateful.  I don't own a home. I'm grateful. I get to go out to eat sometimes with my children. I'm grateful. Sometimes I even go on vacations. I try not to be self indulgent, but maybe to some degree I still can be. I'm grateful for what I have. I wonder, however, what if one day God would call me to give up my decent job to follow Him in a way that would touch more lives?  What if He required me to give up a very good salary to meet the needs of others in ways that money simply could not?   What if it would mean enduring hardship, financial uncertainty, and even luxury and comfort?
Could we do it? Could each of us, if we examined our hearts, give up a life of comfort for the sake of the gospel? I think we should all strive to come to the place where we know in our hearts that we could answer any call that  He puts upon our lives. ............We should all strive to know Him in such a way as to know that our treasures are in Heaven, He will never leave us, nor forsake us, and He will clothe us as the lilies in the field.......

                                                             THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
There are preachers that are teaching that God wants us to be prosperous and rich. It is a concept that, may seem harmless, but  is dangerous because it forces us to focus on what God can do for us, rather than cause us to ask the question, God, what can I do for you?
Does God want us to be rich?
The prosperity gospel teaches us that being rich is God's will for our life and anything else is foolishly "not tapping into His storehouse for our lives"

I believe that God provides for us, but I believe that His provisions come when we are in His will.
Recently, I read about the lives of two very inspiring men.
Hudson Taylor is a man who explemplies a true disciple of Christ. He faced hardship, poverty, and dangerous circumstances to bring the gospel to millions of people in China. His work opened the door to the gospel being spread in a country that would have otherwise not known about Jesus.
He lived a life of humility and the result of thousands, if not millions of people coming to know Christ.
If Hudson Taylor had fallen for the lie that God wanted him to be rich, then would he endured such misery for the sake of the gospel? I highly doubt it.
As I was reading the book, I could see the hand of God at work in Hudson's life. I saw how God provided the things he needed to accomplish his mission. There were days when food would run out. Hudson would pray and then you are allowed to see God's supernatural provision for Hudson. Food would show up minutes after praying. Supplies would come when they were needed most.  This happened time and time again.
I know of a family who has opened thier home to strangers. They allow strangers to come and stay with them so that they can receive and the healing hand of Christ. They take food to thier neighbors. They even drive an old car as an act of humility. And they are full of the the Lord's joy. I respect them deeply.

The other day I was surfing the web and I came across a website that was in favor of the prosperity gospel.
On the website they actually made the assertion that they thought it was silly and stupid for people to feel like they had to drive in an old car. The website boasted. God wants you to have new things, fine things, expensive things.. I became angry when I read the lie.
The fact is: I don't think that God faults us when we buy new cars, but I think that He greatly honors  humility and to insult someone for making the choice to be humble is unChristlike. Humilty is an act of love so that others can have more. We have to come to place such that we are ready to lay down our life for our brothers. If we haven't reached a place where we can share our things with them, can we say we have love in our hearts?

If the disciples had fallen into the lie that God wants to make us rich, where would Christianity be today?
Would the discliples have spent less time delivering the gospel,enduring hardship and suffering or would they be too busy worrying about how to tap into God's riches for themselves? Just some food for thought.

At large, the prosperity gospel has reduced the nature of God to a genie whose sole purpose is to make us prosperous. This is the opposite of who God is...God wants us to be humble, like His son.
I'm not saying it's not ok to have things..I think the danger is when having things leads to greed.
God said in His word that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter Heaven. Is it becaue the pursuit of wealth leads to greed and God knew that very few people could handle it?
I'm not saying that wealth is wrong. I  simply think it requires a lot of responsibility.

The prosperity gospel teaches that poor people are not in God's favor. This can be deceptive.
I want to include an excerpt from a book called If God is Good, by Randy Alcorn. He briefly touches on the subject of the wealth.

In America, a sharp-looking businessman stands up at a luncheon to give his testimony: "Before I met Christ, I had nothing. My business was in bankruptcy, my health was bad, I'd nearly lost my family. Then I accepted Christ. He took me out of bankruptcy, and my business doubled its profits. My blood pressure has dropped to normal, and I feel great. Best of all, my wife and children have come back, and we're a family. God is good-praise the Lord!

In China, a disheveled former university professor gives his testimony: Before I met Christ, I had everything. Then I came to Jesus as my Savior and Lord. As a result, I lost my post at the university, lost my house, and now work for a subsistence wage at a factory. My wife rejected me because of my conversion. She took my son away and I haven't seen him for five years. I live in constant pain from the injuries when police dragged me away from our unregistered church service. But God is good, and I praise Him for His faithfulness."

Both men are sincere Christians. One gives thanks for what he has gained. One gives thanks despite what he has lost. We should give thanks for material blessings and restored families. The brother in China would enthusiastically thank God to have them again; indeed, he gives thanks each day for what little he does have. And while the American brother certainly should give thanks, he and the rest of us must carefully sort out how much of what he has is part of the gospel and how much is not.

Any gospel that is more true in America than China is not the true gospel.

This post isn't meant to offend anyone. I just want people to see the dangers of the prosperity gospel. It places the promise of wealth above the ultimate will of God. God's will is ultimately the salvation of souls for His glorification.
The prosperity gospel causes us to focus on self rather than seek out the true will of God for our lives. If we automatically assume that God's will is to make us all rich...then why do anything at all? God may want us enduring difficulty and poverty to save a lost nation. ....if we think that God's will is to make us all  rich, then who is going to be willing to do the hard things?
Jesus told us to daily pick up our walk the hard walk of faith, ministering to those around us, giving to those in need....He didn't tell us to concern ourselves with riches.
He tells us to ask for our "daily bread", that sustaining nourishment that only He can give.
He wants us to rely on Him to provide what we need...not necessarily what we want. or what we think we want.
God wants us to kill our flesh because when we kill our flesh, we learn to operate in His Spirit..where there is peace and joy.  I don't think He wants us to cater to our flesh, storing up earthly treasures.
He repeatedly tells us that we are not of this world..nor should we strive for the things of this world...we should store up our treasures in Heaven.  If we have two coats, give one away. That is His commandment...He doesn't say...stand in front of your closet with your wardrobe of twenty coats and thank me for the blessing of abundance. He says to carry your cross, do the hard thing, and give some of them away.

Yesterday, I walked into the Potter's house. It is a homeless shelter for women and children. My grandfather told me that they are in desperate need of blankets. I called and talked to the coordinator and she confimed this....I asked her how many women are in her shelter...She told me that there are 25 women and 4 children and about 50 men in thier various shelters.

I went in the following day carrying a couple of blankets and journals for each of the women. When i entered, I saw the cutest little boy. He had the most gorgous blue eyes. He was sitting on the couch. I didn't see his mother anywhere around, but I learned from the shelter coordinator that he is three years old.

I was humbled that a three year old would have to live in a shelter for any amount of time. I was even more humbled when I began to think of children all around the world that are meting out thier days in trash dumps.
Children all around the world live in trash dumps.
Children go hungry every day.
Children die of starvation every day.
They die.

The other day I spoke with a girl who had never been to Starbucks and I selfishly thought that was a travesty.
We take so much for granted.
We call our wealth, "prosperity" and blessings....but on some level, if we look deep down....
can we call any of it greed?

I have a heart for people. God has given me a true love for all of His children.
There have been days when i have felt led to give away more than I was comfortable with. Bonus money has been reliquinshed. And, a few times, once my bills were caught up, I have felt led by God to give away entire paychecks..buying blankets, teddy bears for kids in hospitals, food to charities, etc, etc....I have felt led to often forego things I want, things I worked for, in order to do something for someone else.
I'm not bragging! God asked me to do it. I listened. He showed me that  I don't live for this world. We don't live to store up treasures for ourself on earth.  In asking me to give, He revealed His very nature to me...
Humilty. It's humbling being asked to give up... but it taught me what love truly is..He taught me love.

We live to store up treasures where one day they will matter and then we trust His Word that He will give us our daily  bread and because He clothes the flowers of the field, He will surely clothe us...
He will take care of us, when we heed His precious voice to give.

Giving is liberating. It's His healing love sprung into action.
It is being a Doer of the Word and not a hearer only.
It is how we grow roots.

I don't want to point fingers...but I can't help but question the authenticity of pastors, preachers, or people of God who live in mulitmillion dollar homes....
I know of several highly popular and touted evangelists who brag about, not one, but several mulit million dollar homes. I've heard tales of a very popular female evanglist that has a million dollar toilet in her home, private jets, swimming pools, several mansions, and the list  goes on......
"these are my blessings," they say...

I want to shout out..This can't be right. I want to tell them....My blessings...are in Heaven..where they belong.
And that is where I want to keep them. 
I think back on the experience at the Potter's House. They are begging for blankets. It's sad when we live in a world where people have to beg for blankets. I don't think too many people donate to the Potter's house, and I can't help but wonder what all of the rich Christians are doing. Why should this little three year old boy spend his nights in the shivering cold? Are we too busy counting our blessings to hand out blankets?
It's a sad thought, but it's true. Nothing has turned more people away from Christ than Christians, self loving, Cross denying Christians. We live in the richest country in Ameria. We proclaim that we are Christians but when we see a suffering person, we often turn a blind eye...It's not our responsiblity, we say.... "They brought it upon themselves" We point fingers of condemnation and ignore the teachings of Christ in the process.

The beauty of the Cross is the sacrifice. It's where the joy lies. You would think that one would be miserable carrying a cross. Sure, it's hard work...but the beauty is that, when you carry the Cross, you carry pure love on your back...and it doesn't even feel like a burden...It feels like a purpose.

The other day I imagined Jesus walking to Calvary. He is gushing blood out of his temples. He has lashes from last night's beating..and yet, as He is walking...even though He knows He is about to experience pain in the worst possible way...I can almost see Him admiring the flowers along the way..thankful for the beauty around Him, confident in His purpose and His mission. He is walking humbly towards death. He could've chosen to be on a private yacht in the middle of the Red Sea somewhere. He could've gone to his nice, lavish home and his expensive things. He could've slept in a nice warm bed that night.
But He didn't. He could've claimed whatever eartly treasure God had in store for Him. But He didn't.
He knew that the beauty in the walk towards His death was in the sacrificial nature of it all.
He knew that beauty emerges with the giving up....
He knew that...why is it such a hard concept for His children to grasp?

His mission wasn't to make us rich.
His mission was to make us lowly. Like Him.
Because when we are lowly, we can look up...
We can look up into His loving eyes, ask Him for our daily bread, and KNOW that He is God, when He provides it....

It is my experience that the more we give to Him, the lower we go, and the lower we go, the more we can see.
When you are lying on the ground, your eyes can see the sky in it's entirety.

These are my thoughts on the prosperity gospel for what it is worth...God doesn't want to make us rich. He wants to mold us to be more like Him, through the sacrifice of giving.
He will take care of us..
I'm not perfect. None of us are. My purpose isn't to offend. I just want people to understand what Jesus meant when He said to carry the cross and realize that our comfort and luxury is not what God is really about.
He tells us in His Word that our wealth will count against us on the day of judgement. in James Chapter 5.
Read the next verse, IT is a call to be humble.

"Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. 3 Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh in hell. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment. 4 For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every whim. Now your hearts are nice and fat, ready for the slaughter. 6 You have condemned and killed good people who had no power to defend themselves against you. 7 Dear brothers and sisters, you must be patient as you wait for the Lord's return. Consider the farmers who eagerly look for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They patiently wait for the precious harvest to ripen. 8 You, too, must be patient. And take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Don't grumble about each other, my brothers and sisters, or God will judge you. For look! The great Judge is coming. He is standing at the door! 10 For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We give great honor to those who endure under suffering.

Well, these are my thoughts on the prosperity gospel for what it is worth....what do you think? We are dining together after all...and meals are a place for conversation ...

We we stoop low, we become love...and bring a little heaven to this dark earth.  We can't pick up a cross if we are standing too proud amongst our things....we have to stoop to pick up the cross....



After dinner thought:

I read something the other night that I thought was a very interesing thought.
The night before Jesus died, He wasn't out searching for the ultimate experience.
The King of Kings was washing the grime from the feet of His disciples.

another after dinner thought:

reflecting on Steve Jobs..
Steve jobs was a self professed agnostic or athiest..can't remember which ..
He said that when he was a child, he went to a Sunday school meeting.
He was shown pictures of children from all over the world who were hungry.
Steve said that he thought..How can there be a God with all of those hungry children?
The gospel of Jesus calls Christians to feed the hungry.
The problem isn't with the gospel.
It's with Christians who don't take it seriously.
How can we gloat over blessings when there are children living in dumpsters?
We are called to be the blessings.
Blessings are in the sacrifice.
Sacrifice is shaped like a cross.

“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”
Mother Teresa

You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.

Some links on the dangers of the prosperity gospel:

If we all took God's commands seriously, there wouldn't be hungry people.

The point of this simply to tell others to be the will of God above all else.
Just because someone tells you that God wants you to be rich..doesn't mean that it is in line with His will. The disciples weren't rich. Jesus wasn't rich.
Jesus said the path was narrow....
are we in line with His will?

It's strange, but the more humble I become..the more I feel as if I am...
It's a difficult process. It's a painful process. It's a stripping away of self.
It hurts deeply. But during the process, things begin to make sense.
Love makes sense.
Love is humble.
Giving up more and gaining less should be our goal....
more time, more resources, more love...
more obedience to God..

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