Saturday, December 26, 2009

Prosperity Gospel - The Lie

"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" Luke 2:6&7

I've attended, written, directed, acted in, sang in, and/or a combination of the aforementioned in dozens of Church Christmas Pageants over the years. Every one has been different, and yet strikingly similar in that the birth of the Christ child is ultimately the central focus of the pageant - the "reason for the season", if you please. It seems to me, however, that the focus turns away from Jesus and onto self so quickly and easily throughout the remainder of the year. Many clergy will take serious umbrage to that claim, and I get that. I know that the INTENT is to always keep Christ as the focal point in church, and that it would be politically incorrect to profess otherwise. But the truth remains, that "Christ" has been removed from "Christianity" in many of the mega-churches. Jesus was born in a no-frills environment, to parents who had very little. He didn't even have a cute little "going home from the hospital" outfit. Yet getting Jesus, along with "the frills", seems to be what a lot of the churches are selling these days.

Just before Jesus was crucified, He told his disciples to go from town and town and tell people what they had seen and that Jesus had died for their sins. He wanted as many as possible to know that He would come back for them. He went on and told his disciples they should have no personal belongings, but rather they should depend on the kindness of believers in each of the places they went. You can read Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in Matthew 10, Mark 6, and also in Luke 10.

Jesus does NOT say that having money or belongings is sinful. He does instruct us to refrain from flaunting our wealth, and to never draw attention to our giving. Matthew 6:1-4 instructs: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." The Bible does tell us that the LOVE of money, not money itself is evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but there is certainly nothing wrong with HAVING money. We should never ever, however, let anyone tell us that following Jesus will LEAD to prosperity, as that is NOT what the Bible teaches.

The "Prosperity Gospel" as taught by Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, and Joel Osteen does not have its foundation in Biblical truth. Jesus came to earth in the humble surroundings of what was most likely a cave. His mommy didn't even have a receiving blanket to wrap around her newborn son. She was sent home without benefit of a pacifier or a hospital gift pack filled with diapers. His mother didn't get bouquets of roses, or colorful latex balloons that pronounced for the world, "It's A Boy!"

On this Christmas day, I remind you that Jesus came to offer us the free gift of eternal life - of salvation from sin and decay! He didn't come to promise us fat bank accounts, fancy cars, and castles on a hill. He does guarantee us a mansion located on a street of gold built just for us in God's kingdom. Get off the pew and hold one another accountable to the truth. The "prosperity gospel" is NOT truth. Period. Get off the pew and make sure the weak do not fall victim to this lie. Put on the belt of truth and march out with the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit. You've got the armor - wear it! Get off the pew!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Hurting Stranger

Overhead at the local Japanese restaurant: "I thought we were friends. It never occurred to me that just because I no longer attended her church, that our friendship would stop. I didn't think she would consider my leaving a license for her to slander me."

I don't know that woman, but my heart broke for her. I wish I believed her story was unique, but my experience is that it is not. "The Church" of the Bible doesn't have walls. "The Body" of the Bible is made of Christ followers, and when one part is hurting, the whole of the body SHOULD rush to heal.


Monday, December 14, 2009

It's Time To Wake The Sleeping Giant

Shortly after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Isorku Yamamato, the Japanese fleet commander was speaking about The United States when he said, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant". His words proved to be true, as shortly after that attack the U.S. entered into World War II. We had become apathetic in our pride, and we needed to be reminded of the truths and values that America had been founded on and the fact that those truths were worth going to battle over. I see the church as a sleeping giant and I ask you today, "What will it take to wake you?”

Christianity is under attack, and it's ugly out there. That truth is absolutely evident during the holiday season. "Happy Holidays" has taken the place of "Merry Christmas", and school choirs are no longer allowed to include "Silent Night" or "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing" in their Winter concert repertoires. Churches are being burned to the ground, believers are being fired from their jobs, and God's values are being mocked. Christianity is being silenced all over the world in the name of "religious tolerance", or "political correctness", when in reality our freedom to express and worship is under serious attack and we are not defending ourselves. We have taken a very passive and peaceful position from our overstuffed pews under the roof of our mega-church. Jesus told us to take up the sword and fight, and yet we sit still.

In Matthew, chapter 10, Jesus tells his disciples that they should not plan on winning any popularity contests as long as they were carrying the cause of Christ to the people. In verses 17 and 18 He says, "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles." Jesus continues on in verse 34 with the admonition, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

I am NOT advocating violence like the crazy radicals that bomb abortion clinics, or chant anti-American slander outside the funerals of soldiers. Quite the opposite! Jesus isn't telling us to pick up weapons of mass destruction, but rather we are to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians, chapter 6). We are to take with us the sword of the spirit, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and we are to walk in peace and know that we are covered with the promise of salvation. If the people do not receive God's word as truth, then we are to simply walk away. Matthew 10:14 tells us, "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town."

Wake up church! Stand for truth, speak truth, and support one another in truth! We are a sleeping giant, and I don't know what it will take to wake us, but I know we need to wake up! If people refuse to hear the truth, then we are to walk away and continue on, covered in the armor and carrying the sword of the spirit. Shame on us for sitting passively in the pews of our newly remodeled sanctuaries! As disciples, we should be uncomfortable until the whole world knows. Wake up, get off the comfy pew, take up the sword! It's ugly out there! Get off the pew!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Grace is NOT an Excuse!

I never cease to be truly shocked and saddened by the way believers treat one another. We say cruel things, we make rotten choices, and we gossip about and judge our brothers and sisters more harshly then any 12 men on a jury ever could. It is my belief that we forgive these infractions because "grace" dictates we do so. We study bumper sticker theology and we believe such truths as, "forgiven, not perfect". If we complain about mistreatment by a fellow parishioner, we are admonished to "show grace".

Christians are not expected to be perfect. We are, however, expected to always be in pursuit of holiness. We are expected (and rightfully so) to be Christ followers who are doing our best to be Christ LIKE. John 13:31-35 gives us wisdom as to how others will know we are Christians. They will know not by our actions, not by how much money we give to the poor, and certainly not by the size of the mega church we build or attend. But rather, they will know us by how we love each other. Read it from God's word; "When he was gone, Jesus said, 'Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him,[c] God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.'"

"Forgiven, not perfect" people like us should not be given a free pass to behave badly. Showing grace to our brothers and sisters does NOT mean that we turn a blind eye to sin, or even just plain meanness! I have seen example after example of Christians who say and do the most horrible things, but it is so often the one who calls attention to the bad behavior who gets the boot. The "whistle-blower" is seen as "intolerant" and "lacking grace".

Get off the pew and LOVE ONE ANOTHER! Holding one another accountable is not a sign that we cannot show grace, but rather it is the most loving and graceful thing you can do for someone we love. Telling the truth in love is what we are admonished to do. Ephesians 4:15 (New International Version) "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." Get off the pew and do not be afraid to speak truth in love!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Truth and Prophecy

In January of 1987, Oral Roberts preached a sermon in which he claimed that he would die by March if he did not raise $8 million dollars. Interestingly, his prophecy had been tweaked a bit. He had said in 1986 that God showed him that he would be dead by the end of that year if he did not raise the money.

When the money didn't come and Oral Roberts didn't die, the prophecy changed. I don't remember if the faithful donated all the money, but I do know that Oral Roberts is, as of today, 91 years old and living in Newport Beach, California.

The "death" vision was just one of several revelations by Reverend Roberts. In 1977 he claimed to have seen a 900 foot-tall Jesus who told him to build his City of Faith Medical and Research Center. I wasn't there, so I certainly cannot speak to the validity of the visions, but I can say that it is no wonder that unbelievers are so skeptical about these prophecies

It doesn't do the cause of Christ any favors to use grandstanding and fear tactics as manipulation tools with which to garner money from trusting followers.

You know, nothing pleases satan more than to keep raising doubts about God's existence in the minds and hearts of the unbeliever. One of satan's best tools is the Christian zealot, who (let's be honest) can come across as kind of crazy!

My cousin has given me a number of God-told-me-to-tell-you visions and prophecies. I love God and I want to hear from Him, so I'm always open to hearing His voice. If He chooses to speak to me through my cousin, I'm willing to listen. So, far, I am confident that God has quickly debunked everything my cousin has insisted is truth. In fact, some of her "visions" have been downright nutty.

God's ways are always orderly, with purpose, and never crazy. Get off the pew and weigh carefully what you say. Are your "visions" self motivated, or are they REALLY spirit guided? If they are God inspired, they will always be true and selfless.

Before you share that which you believe the Spirit has shown you, check it out with The Word, with trusted mentors, and bathe your words in prayer before you share them. Then, do it all again until you are sure! Get off the pew and be seekers of truth IN love! Get off the pew!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Integrity in Business

I am a committed Christ follower. I'm far from perfect, but I desire to be more like Jesus everyday. I absolutely love being around other believers, and I especially love being around transparent and "real" Christians. Confession: I will not do business with a company just because they prominently display the Christian fish on their logo or business cards. I also know many companies who are VERY hesitant to offer their services to a church or ministry because churches often expect a discount, or for the services to be donated. On the other hand, I'm personally acquainted with lots of people who will only work with someone they know to be a Christian. Their reasons are varied - everything from wanting to support a Christian venture, to desiring to work with friends, to a distrust of non-Christians. This post isn't about discouraging people from working with Christians, but rather to ENCOURAGE transparent honesty and integrity in and through your business.

My friend's elderly parents hired a Christian friend and contractor to remodel their vacation home. Three years later, the project that should have taken 9 months was still not done and the contractor was charging the elderly couple by the hour! But he was "a friend" and a believer. The contractor was taking advantage of a friendship and a shared faith. The project was eventually completed, but it went WAY over budget, and the elderly couple will likely never recoup their investment in their lifetime.

A co-worker shared with me the other day that she was struggling with how to help her parents. She had just learned that they had paid a friend and church member a great deal of money to perform a service for them and he had yet to deliver on his end of the contract. Mom and Dad had no idea what to do, as they believed they should not take the fellow believer to court. The contract they had with the gentleman consisted of little more than a handshake.

Many years ago a family member worked for a Christian run company. There were many weeks when the paycheck was late or didn't come at all. My family member would frequently have to ask the boss whether or not he could actually expect a paycheck on payday. It seems unconscionable to me that a professing Christian would run a business that way. Leviticus 19:13 says, " 'Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. " 'Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight." Withholding wages that have been earned is the same as defrauding and stealing from them! When the paycheck didn't come and the employees asked for their money, they were told they didn't have "enough faith". All the employees of this small company were even required to watch training videos which taught them the importance of tithing. Now, I'm certainly not discouraging tithing, but for a boss that wasn't paying his employees, that seems a bit hypocritical!

Come on Christian business owners and leaders - get off the pew and set an example of integrity and honesty for your community! Costumers should be drawn to us, not because of the fish printed on our Yellow Pages ad, or emblazoned on our business sign or letterhead, but rather because of our integrity. Get off the pew!