Name It And Claim It Theology, Or The Prosperity Gospel


profile_photo_of_benny_hinnI read an article today that the Washington Post ran, written by Dr. Michael Horton, a professor of Apologetics and Theology at Westminster Seminary, a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian graduate educational institution. Not something I’d expect to see in the Washington Post, I admit. But it’s a criticism of Donald Trump—or at least of the people he’s surrounding himself with—so I suspect that explains how the article made it into print, digitally or physically.

The title of the article is “Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy.” It takes a look at the “Word of Faith movement,” exploring it’s background, development, and theology. In the end Dr. Horton exposes how televangelists like Benny Hinn, Paula White, and Darrell Scott do not preach the good news of Jesus Christ, but a different gospel.

Some years ago, I wrote about this same topic. Hesitantly. I’ve written about other forms of false teaching, but this prosperity gospel, this health-and-wealth teaching, this Word of Faith movement, has influenced, if not infected, a lot of churches in America. People get defensive. So I’ve not said a lot about this particular gospel. Which is what it is—a different gospel.

This article should have been a beginning, but it wasn’t. Maybe I had hopes the false claims would themselves extinguish the movement. But now, with people prominent in the movement also becoming prominent in government, I fear we haven’t seen the real power of this false teaching. Consequently, I’ll re-post the article, with a few minor updates, as a way to jump start more thoughts about the topic.

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One of the things that makes the “health and wealth” heresy so wrong is the way it distorts Scripture. If someone actually takes the ideas espoused by the “name it and claim it” preachers to their logical conclusion, you’d have to say that the first century apostle, Stephen was a terrible Christian. I mean, if he really believed . . .

And what was Peter going on about in his first letter when he is telling the Christians of his day that their suffering meant they were blessed?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 1Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name . . . Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19)

A “fiery ordeal” was not to be considered a strange thing. The degree of suffering was to dictate the degree of rejoicing. Being reviled for the name of Christ meant you were blessed. Suffering as a Christian meant an opportunity to glorify God. And some suffered according to the will of God.

These things don’t sound anything like the belief system of these “word of faith” preachers who say, in essence, the promises from God have to first be “claimed” to become effective. So those first century Christians didn’t know this because . . . why? Jesus forgot to tell them? Or did they know, but their faith was too weak?

When Paul said he knew how to get along in humble circumstances, to live in want, was he too weak in faith to claim the promises the health and wealthers say are there for the asking?

I think too of the prophets, who James said we should look to as examples of patience (James 5:10). Those men and I suppose women, though we don’t have their record, suffered like no other group. They were, by and large, at odds with their culture, sometimes hunted down and killed, as they were during Ahab’s reign, and often asked by God to do things that were hard.

Take Ezekiel, for example. As part of his service as a prophet, he was rendered mute—except when he was prophesying. He also had to carry out some difficult assignments, one being the mock siege of Jerusalem. For thirteen months he had to lie on his side facing a brick. He ate only small portions of bread and had a limited supply of water. When the time was up, he flipped over and did the same on the other side for another forty days.

Where was his wealth? Or health?

Then there was Jeremiah who was thrown in prison and narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. Or how about Hosea who, by God’s instruction, married a prostitute who was unfaithful to him. Repeatedly. In what way was his life prosperous?

I said at the beginning that this word of faith system distorts Scripture, but it is wrong on so many levels. For example it elevates Man and makes God little more than a servant.

It also claims that this life now is when we are to experience the joys of our inheritance. As one writer says

Perhaps the root error of the gospel of health and wealth is that it seeks to apply a theology of future glory to the believer in the here and now. But the Lord Jesus taught a theology for here and now that both sustains believers in hard times and holds out hope for tomorrow.

The false claims of the word of faith proponents distort God’s true promises and raise doubts in the hearts of anyone who has prayed believing and NOT been healed.

Clearly, God, not the words some person speaks, holds power. No amount of “positive confession” is acceptable as an excuse to order God to do whatever a person wants.

This belief system is not all that different from the lottery. Lots of poor people are putting in their money with the hope of getting rich. Well, someone is getting rich all right, but it isn’t the needy.

The bulk of this post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in April 2013.

The Accommodation Of Hedonism


From what I read, Christopher Hitchens, the renowned atheist who passed away from cancer a few years ago, would not have shied away from the label hedonist. After all, Wikipedia notes that he referred to himself as an Epicurean.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hedonism as “the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.”

Not many people would quibble with the idea that it’s right and proper for a sane person to go about finding satisfaction of desires. I mean, are we supposed to look for unhappiness instead? Are we supposed to search out opportunities for slavery or deprivation?

Actually the fact that so few Americans would find fault with a life lived in pursuit of pleasure clarifies the guiding philosophy of our day. We are, quite frankly, hedonists.

I shudder at the thought because I remember studying hedonism in school in connection to ancient Rome where toga-wearing Caesars were fed grapes by scantily-clad slaves, where they would gorge themselves then throw up so they could continue “enjoying” the feast, where orgies were routine. Drunkenness and debauchery seem the most appropriate words to describe what I thought of in conjunction with hedonism.

And now, hedonism is us.

Little did I realize back in those school days that in my lifetime young girls would binge and purge, that drunkenness and debauchery would describe a lot of college life, that “threesomes” would become a TV joke, that “dating” would be replaced by one-night stands and marriage by “relationships.”

As if all this isn’t bad enough, I look at the Church, and I see many professing Christians accommodating hedonism. Some do so in an unapologetic, aggressive way, saying that God has promised His children good gifts so we ought to be holding Him to His word by naming and claiming what we want.

Others are more circumspect, involving themselves in political movements that would ensure a continuation of the privileges of living in a wealthy, capitalistic society.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not an advocate of socialism in any form, but neither do I believe the Church should take up the fight to preserve capitalism. The truth is, one system is built on laziness and the other on greed, so it’s a little like picking your poison.

Except, with our hedonistic beliefs these days, not so many people recognized the poison of greed—unless, of course, it’s corporate greed. Corporate, that great nameless monolith that we can blame for all the ills of society, because goodness knows, Man certainly can’t be to blame.

In a round about way, this brings me back to my beginning—that innocuous definition of hedonism in the dictionary, the one so few people would mind being associated with. It’s hard to call someone greedy when they are simply trying to satisfy their desires, the same as everyone else.

There’s an unspoken understanding that people should play fair in the process, and those who don’t such as Fanny Mae and Bernie Madoff, deserve our wrath. But those racking up millions by playing baseball or basketball in Southern California? Glad to have you here among us. And wouldn’t we like to be just like you!

The problem for the Christian in accommodating this attitude, even in our subtle ways, is that we no longer imagine satisfaction without the pleasures of life, as if somehow God isn’t enough to satisfy us—just He, Himself.

How ironic when Paul says that to live is Christ. In a short passage to the Colossians he refers to knowing Christ as wealth, riches, and treasure. I wonder what we the Church in America would name as our wealth, riches, and treasure.

Published in: on August 12, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (7)  
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Going Without


FamilyWhen I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money which meant that sometimes we had to go without. For me, that meant I mostly got hand-me-downs to wear, and I rarely got the latest, greatest toy that TV was advertising on cartoon shows.

Doing without didn’t mean we were hungry, though I guess there were a few times we came close to having no money for food. I seem to remember a time someone left a bag of groceries on our front porch, and my dad, a college teacher, took a second job as a door-to-door salesman.

We had days when our evening meal—normally dinner—consisted of spam sandwiches and cornmeal mush. I know it may not sound appetizing, but I personally liked it a lot. Only as an adult did I realize this was a meal we had because we couldn’t afford much else.

There were lunches when Mom fed the five of us from one can of Campbell’s condensed soup. Admittedly, the cans were bigger in those days, but still, that wasn’t a lot of soup. Some years ago I asked Mom how she managed it, and she said she just added more water. I do remember one time sort of whining when I realized she was going to open only one can: “Aw, Mom, can’t we please have two cans?”

But the bottom line is that I didn’t really realize most of the time that we were going without.

We didn’t have a TV for years, and when we did finally buy one, it was black and white (yes, they used to make those). We had that TV for years—maybe until I was a senior in high school, and we moved out of the country.

Despite going without as a kid (and not realizing it), I lived an adventurous life. And a secure one. We moved with some frequency, but we had a home base in Colorado where we owned some mountain property. My dad and brother, with help from Mom and us girls and anyone who wanted to visit and help, built a real log cabin. We sort of camped out at first, then Dad put up a one room building we fondly called the shack, which we lived in until the cabin was ready. Neither place had electricity or running water or indoor “facilities.” We had a mountain stream where we got our water and an outhouse where we did our business. 😉

But none of this was part of going without. This was all a part of being so blessed we enjoyed adventurous living. I could tell stories about hiking to a fire tower a few miles above us, to the beaver dams below us, or to rocks we named (Alan’s Rock, Armchair Rock, Bed Rock). Then there were the cook outs we had at the Peak or pine cone fights with my brother. I could tell you about the bear that visited and the evenings spent reading stories as a family.

Yeah, none of that had anything to do with going without.

Going without was picking up furniture second hand and driving old cars. But really, that’s not going without.

The point of all this reminiscing is that I think going without taught me the value of stuff—none of it is worth as much as we think. I was happy growing up with less. Not because of what we had or didn’t have but because stuff didn’t rule our lives. We had an old couch, so never thought about putting plastic covers over it like my uncle did with his new, matching living room furniture.

On top of that, God provided (see above the paragraphs about adventurous living).

Who else has this whole forest to play in? Part of the play involved hauling water and helping to bring in firewood. We got to unpack the barrels where we kept the cabin stuff and to wash clothes by hand. There was a sense of family pulling together to survive—everybody chipping in, everybody bringing something important to the table.

There we were, no telephone, no car—we had to hike in because the road was too rough and at that time we were too poor for a jeep. Only a kerosene lamp, a lantern, and flashlights. We heated water to wash, used the cold mountain stream as our refrigerator to keep food cold. And there was only a sense of adventure, a joy in the everyday tasks.

Sure, this was short term. We didn’t live in the cabin year-round. But the value of going without is priceless, and lasting. Because it was abundantly clear that we didn’t need a TV to be happy or entertained. We didn’t need a lot. We needed each other, and that was probably the most important take-away for me.

Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 6:04 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Poor Church That Is Rich


Painting of the Gulf of SmyrnaIn delivering messages to the angels of seven first century churches, Jesus generally confronted them about problem areas. But there was one church that didn’t receive any “here’s what you’re doing wrong” counsel: the church in Smyrna, known today as Izmir, Turkey.

Jesus first lets them know that He’s aware of what they’re up against. He starts by telling them He knew of their trouble and their poverty. Instead of stopping there, though, He contradicts the statement:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) (Rev. 2:9a).

They’re poor—Jesus didn’t say this was untrue. But they are rich. This could possibly be a comparative indicator similar to what we experience in the US: in comparison to “the one percent” most of us would say we are poor, but in comparison to the majority of the people in the world, we are rich.

More likely, I think, the statement shows the spiritual conditions versus the physical. The believers in Smyrna were in fact poor, but because of their relationship with Christ they were simultaneously rich.

God’s riches do not negate the conditions of this world. Our brothers and sisters who fled Mosul may be poor now. They’ve been forced out of their homes, have only the belongings they could carry, may not have a way to make a living in whatever refugee camp they’ve landed. They are poor and are suffering tribulation physically in the truest sense.

And yet they are still rich. They are heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him. They have the Holy Spirit who lives in them, guides them, seals them, intercedes in prayer for them.

They have Christ whose work at the cross provides them with forgiveness of sins, redemption, the cancellation of their debt, who clothes them with righteousness, bears their burdens if they cast them on Him. In every spiritual way conceivable, they are rich.

The second thing Jesus said about the church was that He knew “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b). Apparently pretenders were among them.

Jesus then moved to a prophetic message introduced by a command: Do not fear. They were about to suffer, Jesus said, and “the devil” was about to cast them in prison, they were about to face tribulation, though it would be for a specific, limited time.

He concluded with a command too: Be faithful until death.

Wow!

I’m not sure this message inspires me to not fear, and I’m not the target audience of this message. Or am I? I’d have to say, of course I am, as are all Christians who make up the body of Christ.

The details vary in our circumstances, but we are all rich regardless of our outward conditions. And we all have to cope with pretenders. We all are up against Satan’s attempt to imprison us in sin and guilt and the law.

Clearly, God does not promise us a Better Life Now here on this earth. He simply does not do so. This passage, written to the church in Smyrna, is still written, like all other Scripture, for all believers to receive doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.

So, like Smyrna, we are to face what’s coming our way, unafraid and faithful until death.

The cool thing is, we, like Smyrna, have the promise for that faithfulness: the crown of life and, if we overcome, the escape from the “second death.”

Do I know what the second death is? No. But I figure it’s more important that I know how to overcome so that I won’t have to worry about being hurt by it.

But now I wonder if Christ isn’t the One who has already overcome. We know He has. And we know we who are in Christ will be like Him. So are not believers in the redemptive work of Christ already those who have overcome? Again, I think that’s the most logical understanding of the admonition.

In short, despite the way the world might look, with Ebola in Africa and tornadoes in Boston, with flooding in Las Vegas and bombs flying back and forth between Gaza and Israel, with Russian-backed terrorists fighting to divide Ukraine and ISIS attacking Christians, with Nigerian girls held captive by Muslim terrorists, the believer in Christ can laugh because we understand Jesus Christ has won and is winning and will claim His victory one day soon.

It’s not really complicated. We aren’t to fear, and we are to remain faithful for as long as God gives us breath.

Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 5:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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What God Says About Wealth


Worship the dollarFriday, because of a verse in Scripture I’d been thinking about, I wrote my post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about greed. Then Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preaching from Luke 6 talked about what Jesus meant when He said those who are poor are blessed. Today I reviewed a portion of 1 Timothy which contains some pointed words about wealth.

I tend to think, when God brings the same topic to me from various sources, He’s trying to get my attention. Often I can figure out why, but not this time. So in all honesty, I’m writing this post (as I do a number of others—I just don’t usually announce it) to explore the things I’m learning about wealth. I have no end game in mind, so this article could come to an abrupt end at any moment. 😉

As I look over 1 Timothy 6 again, I’m reminded that the passage about wealth is part of a warning against false teaching, something Paul brought up in both his letters to “his son,” the young pastor he was instructing. People who advocate for a different gospel, one not in agreement with the words of Christ, are conceited, Paul says, but are raising up controversies and stirring up strife for one main reason: they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5b). The implication seems to be, financial gain, as if these false teachers could preaching godliness as a means to get rich. That idea is born out by what comes next:

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But flee from these things, you man of God (6:6-11a)

Contentment, Paul says essentially, should replace the desire to get rich. If we have food, if we have “cover”—clothes and shelter—then what’s to keep us from being content? After all, we came into the world with nothing, and we’ll leave the same way. So if our needs are met right now, why do we work so hard to get rich?

Here’s where my pastor’s sermon kicks in. I can’t trace the path through Scripture he took us, but the conclusion he brought us to is this: Poor and poor in spirit are not the same thing. Those poor in spirit are the contrite, the humble.

Zaccheus, a chief tax collector, was undoubtedly rich, but when he encountered Jesus, he humbled himself and repented. The rich young ruler, on the other hand, went away in sorrow.

Both men were rich, both sought Jesus out. One was changed, the other unchanged. The issue was not their money. It was their heart. One released his riches, the other hung onto them for dear life.

Pastor Mike’s point is that wealth can become the thing some people look to as that which makes life work. Instead of God.

Paul picked up the thread about wealth again in his letter to Timothy:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Clearly Paul is implying the rich can become conceited and can fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches rather than on God who gives us what we have for our enjoyment.

But they don’t have to.

Being rich doesn’t equate with ungodliness, and poverty isn’t the answer to an inappropriate dependence on wealth. News flash: poor people can be greedy too.

I saw a short clip on a TV show, something about What Would You Do or something like that. They had an actor go to a place where pizza was served and move from table to table, asking if he could have a slice of pizza. Not a person gave him a slice. Then he went to a homeless person who had a pizza (I wonder how that man got a whole pizza!) and the actor asked him if he could have a slice, and the homeless man gave it to him at once.

The conclusion the show wanted us to draw was that people with little are more generous than people with much.

Except, that isn’t necessarily true.

Poor people can be generous, surely (see the widow who put her last coin into the temple offering), but so can rich people. Poor people can be greedy (see Elisah’s servant who lied to get money from Naaman the Syrian Elijah healed of leprosy), and so can rich people.

Money, riches, wealth, then, is not the problem. Rather, it’s our attachment to it.

I wonder if any of us can know what riches would do for us. Or to us. We can think, Money won’t change me, but is that true? How can we know? How do we know how strong our love for God is, how deep our trust, how great our commitment, how total our dependence?

Have we ever stripped down to the bare essentials and walked forward in obedience to God, saying as Queen Esther did, If I die, I die. Or do we have to hedge our bets, have a fall-back position, craft a Plan B?

Paul had two options: to live is Christ and to die is gain. His attachment in both was to God, not to “fleshly lusts that wage war against the soul.”

That last is from Peter in his first letter. Interesting that his focus was also on the heart attitude—the fleshly lusts.

But back to the pizza story. If I’m right, the TV producers gave the homeless man a pizza. He was willing to share what he’d been given because all of it was an unexpected, happy provision he didn’t deserve. So of course he was willing to share what he didn’t actually perceive to be his.

That, I think, might be the place God wants His children to come to in regard to wealth. Whatever we have isn’t ours. It’s a gift from our good God, so of course we should freely share what we’ve been freely given.

Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Idolatry Masquerading As Greed


Durga_idol_2009“Consider your earthly members as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” So said Paul in Colossians 3:5. But as I read that verse this week, I saw a little footnote next to “amounts to” I’d ignored in the past—a simple, terse statement, actually: “Lit., is.” The literal translation of the Greek which appears in the NASB as “amounts to” is, “is.”

The verse, then, would read “. . . greed which is idolatry.”

So I started thinking, in what way is greed, idolatry?

Well, that didn’t take long. Idolatry is putting something or someone in the place God alone holds. The people of Israel coming out of Egypt worshiped God, but they also held onto the gods they’d been bowing to for the last several hundred years. Even after they got the Ten Commandments that said, No other gods, no idols, they did not put away those false gods.

They worshiped God, no mistake. But they did not hold to Him exclusively as the One True God.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus told the crowd of people listening to Him, You can’t serve both God and wealth (Matt. 6:14). His statement was a reminder of the requirement of exclusivity God demands, but it also revealed the nature of idolatry. Serving wealth puts it in the place of God in the exact same way the Egyptian gods had taken God’s place earlier.

For some reason, western Christians don’t seem too concerned about greed and its true identity: idolatry. Just this summer I read an article in my alumni quarterly magazine in which the author referred to himself growing up as a greedy little kid. Granted, he called himself greedy in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way, and the point of the article was how to teach kids NOT to be greedy.

But I can’t help but think, we would not be so cavalier about other sins: I was a snarky little racist growing up or I was a spoiled little baby killer at age five. Such admissions of sin would not be great opening lines for a cute little childhood anecdote.

But greed is?

It ought not be. Not if we truly understood it to be idolatry.

Honestly, it’s pretty much the perfect idol for a capitalist society.

We Christians have Biblical admonitions about being good stewards and working with our hands that fit nicely with the concept of earning more to make more to earn more. Consequently we can be greedy and believe we are doing what we ought to be doing—investing wisely and saving for our children’s education, for the down payment on a bigger home, for a second honeymoon, for retirement.

All the while, we’ve also accumulated a second car, two or three TVs, a laptop computer and a tablet and an iPhone, closets filled with clothes, rows and rows of shoes, a collection of DVDs, books, games, and music. In fact, most of us have so much stuff, we have to store some of it in a garage or shed or basement or storage facility.

And yet we want more.

When the next cool techno gadget comes out, we want to be in line. When the newest style replaces what’s in vogue today, we’ll shop til we drop. When the upgrade becomes available, we have to have it.

In fact, our entire economy is built upon “consumer confidence”—the idea that people feel secure enough to keep spending money on stuff they may not need.

In what way, then, are Christians choosing to serve God and not serve wealth?

Don’t get me wrong. God has placed us in the culture we’re in, at the time when greed is rampant. I don’t think the solution is for Christians to sell all and move to the desert. Not unless God calls someone to make such an extreme move. I don’t think He’s done that in His word, surely.

I do think we need to see greed for what it is: idolatry. We need to unmask it, shine the light of truth on it, see it as the tool of the enemy intended to unseat God from the throne of our hearts. We need to hate it—as much as we do racism, murder, child abuse.

We need a little holy jealousy on God’s behalf—we should be angry that loving stuff has wormed its way into our lives so that our first love, our love for God, isn’t as strong as it once was.

Most of all, we should repent.

Then we should lay our wealth before God. We should give it all to Him. All of it. Every dime. Then we can ask Him what He wants us to do with His stuff.

Published in: on July 11, 2014 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on Idolatry Masquerading As Greed  
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Weren’t First Century Christians Strong Believers?


Kenneth_and_Gloria_Copeland_hosting_Believer's_Voice_of_Victory_-_2011One of the things that makes the “health and wealth” heresy so wrong is the way it distorts Scripture. If someone actually takes the ideas espoused by the “name it and claim it” preachers to their logical conclusion, you’d have to say that Stephen was a terrible Christian. I mean, if he really believed . . .

And what was Peter going on about in his first letter when he is telling the Christians in the first century that their suffering meant they were blessed?

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name . . . 19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19)

A “fiery ordeal” was not to be considered a strange thing. The degree of suffering was to dictate the degree of rejoicing. Being reviled for the name of Christ meant you were blessed. Suffering as a Christian meant an opportunity to glorify God.

These things don’t sound anything like the belief system of these “word of faith” preachers who say, in essence, the promises from God have to first be “claimed” to become effective. So those first century Christians didn’t know this because, why? Jesus forgot to tell them? Or did they know but their faith was too weak?

When Paul said he knew how to get along in humble circumstances, to live in want, was he too weak in faith to claim the promises the health and wealthers say are there for the asking?

I think too of the prophets, who James said we should look to as examples of patience (James 5:10). Those men and I suppose women, though we don’t have their record, suffered like no other group. They were by and large at odds with their culture, sometimes hunted down and killed as they were during Ahab’s reign, and often asked by God to do things that were hard.

Take Ezekiel, for example. As part of his service as a prophet, he was rendered mute–except when he was prophesying. He also had to carry out some difficult assignments, one being the mock siege of Jerusalem. For thirteen months he had to lie on his side facing a brick. He ate only small portions of bread and had a limited supply of water. When the time was up, he flipped over and did the same for another forty days.

Where was his wealth? Or health?

Then there was Jeremiah who was thrown in prison and narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. Or how about Hosea who, by God’s instruction, married a prostitute who was unfaithful to him. Repeatedly. In what way was his life prosperous?

I said at the beginning that this word of faith system distorts Scripture, but it is wrong on so many levels. For example it elevates Man and makes God little more than a servant.

It also claims that this life now is when we are to experience the joys of our inheritance. As one writer says

Perhaps the root error of the gospel of health and wealth is that it seeks to apply a theology of future glory to the believer in the here and now. But the Lord Jesus taught a theology for here and now that both sustains believers in hard times and holds out hope for tomorrow.

The false claims of the word of faith proponents distort God’s true promises and raise doubts in the hearts of anyone who has prayed believing and NOT been healed.

Clearly, God, not the words some person speaks, holds power. No amount of “positive confession” is acceptable as an excuse to order God to do whatever a person wants.

This belief system is not all that different from the lottery. Lots of poor people are putting in their money with the hope of getting rich. Well, someone is getting rich all right, but it isn’t the needy.

When All You Have Is Now


Junior Seau had a smile that could light up a room even from the television screen. He was a hard-hitting, ferocious defensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers for twelve years before moving on to Miami and then New England. Successful, well-liked by fans and other players. Dearly loved by his family. And yesterday he was found dead, presumably the victim of a suicide.

The media is at a loss. He wasn’t doing drugs or out of money. In fact he was involved in the community, had his own foundation, was giving back to his school.

There was that little incident a few years ago when he was arrested for domestic violence and shortly thereafter drove his car off a cliff, but he said he fell asleep, so no red flag there! 🙄

In an effort to make sense of this tragedy, the media finally grasped the idea that maybe, just maybe head trauma was causing depression which could lead to suicide. The salient fact was the number of football players and hockey players (also a violent sport, we’re told) who have committed suicide within the last few years.

Interesting that no corroborative numbers were presented from the sport of boxing.

But here’s the point. The members of the media were grasping for an explanation. From their perspective, Mr. Seau had it all: fame, good looks, money, health, love, respect, usefulness. He was only 43, so hardly over the hill. He had all kinds of time to enjoy the life he’d worked so hard to create. It just doesn’t add up. Unless there was a medical reason for such a sad outcome.

Of course I’m no doctor and I didn’t know Junior Seau, so I’m not pretending that I have inside information or that I understand what went through his mind. I have no knowledge whatsoever about what was behind his death.

I do know that the media wouldn’t be at such a loss for influencing factors if they believed in something more than the good life. Did it never cross their minds that maybe, just maybe Mr. Seau had accomplished all his goals and found that he had nothing? Or perhaps he’d been living for football for so long that when it was gone, all the other things he tried to fit in its place left him empty?

Our Western culture doesn’t want to consider that the thing we idolize might actually fail to satisfy. So few people actually “make it,” so we hold those up as our role models: Oprah, Magic, Bill Gates. And when someone breaks into that elite group, we think surely they have attained happiness — the thing the rest of us are still pursuing.

I wonder if that might not be some of the fascination with celebrities — how does it look to have it all, how does it look to be in position to be happy?

Because the rest of us have Monday mornings and car payments, mortgages, laundry, and not enough time to work out. We have doctor bills and angry bosses and loud neighbors. The rich and famous — they can simply buy peace and quiet. Or party til the drop if they’d rather. Surely that’s the life. Isn’t it?

That’s sort of like saying life is good if you can eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of your life. As much as I love chocolate, I still know that I would not be satisfied if my steady and exclusive diet was something so lacking in nutritional value.

But our culture doesn’t look at “the good life” in such terms. The sad thing is, ninety-nine percent of the world looks at those of us in the US as having the good life. We actually illustrate the fact that having cars and smart phones and laptops and iPods and flat screens and houses and twenty pairs of shoes and, and, and … doesn’t satisfy. If it did, we’d stop trying so hard to get the next gadget, the next goody. We’d be content and start living within our means. We’d be more generous and worry less about losing what we have.

But no. We want our now to be better than it is, because that’s all we’ve got. If we die young or die poor, then we haven’t made it.

Sadly, that philosophy misses the mark because this life is not all there is. It’s much easier to be content in want or in plenty, as Paul said he was, if you know you have eternal riches stored up for you in heaven. The good life here or the suffering life is really one and the same — training camp for the real dance.

Published in: on May 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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The Accommodation Of Hedonism


From what I read, Christopher Hitchens, the renowned atheist who recently passed away from cancer, would not have shied away from the label hedonist. After all, Wikipedia notes that he referred to himself as an Epicurean.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hedonism as “the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.”

Not many people would quibble with the idea that it’s right and proper for a sane person to go about finding satisfaction of desires. I mean, are we supposed to look for unhappiness instead? Are we supposed to search out opportunities for slavery or deprivation?

Actually the fact that so few Americans would find fault with a life lived in pursuit of pleasure clarifies the guiding philosophy of our day. We are, quite frankly, hedonists.

I shudder at the thought because I remember studying hedonism in school in connection to ancient Rome where toga-wearing Caesars were fed grapes by scantily-clad slaves, where they would gorge themselves then throw up so they could continue “enjoying” the feast, where orgies were routine. Drunkenness and debauchery seem the most appropriate words to describe what I thought of in conjunction with hedonism.

And now, hedonism is us.

Little did I realize back in those school days that in my lifetime young girls would binge and purge, that drunkenness and debauchery would describe a lot of college life, that “threesomes” would become a TV joke, that “dating” would be replaced by one-night stands and marriage by “relationships.”

As if all this isn’t bad enough, I look at the Church, and I see many professing Christians accommodating hedonism. Some do so in an unapologetic, aggressive way, saying that God has promised His children good gifts so we ought to be holding Him to His word by naming and claiming what we want.

Others are more circumspect, involving themselves in political movements that would ensure a continuation of the privileges of living in a wealthy, capitalistic society.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not an advocate of socialism in any form, but neither do I believe the Church should take up the fight to preserve capitalism. The truth is, one system is built on laziness and the other on greed, so it’s a little like picking your poison.

Except, with our hedonistic beliefs these days, not so many people recognized the poison of greed — unless, of course, it’s corporate greed. Corporate, that great nameless monolith that we can blame for all the ills of society, because goodness knows, Man certainly can’t be to blame.

In a round about way, this brings me back to my beginning — that innocuous definition of hedonism in the dictionary, the one so few people would mind being associated with. It’s hard to call someone greedy when they are simply trying to satisfy their desires, the same as everyone else.

There’s an unspoken understanding that people should play fair in the process, and those who don’t such as Fanny Mae and Bernie Madoff, deserve our wrath. But those racking up millions by playing baseball or basketball in Southern California? Glad to have you here among us. And wouldn’t we like to be just like you!

The problem for the Christian in accommodating this attitude, even in our subtle ways, is that we no longer imagine satisfaction without the pleasures of life, as if somehow God isn’t enough to satisfy us — just He, Himself.

How ironic when Paul says that to live is Christ. In a short passage to the Colossians he refers to knowing Christ as wealth, riches, and treasure. I wonder what we the Church in America would name as our wealth, riches, and treasure.

Published in: on January 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm  Comments (9)  
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Knowing How To Get Along … With Or Without


The Apostle Paul was an amazing man. Not perfect, mind you (there was that little tiff he had with Barbabas over John Mark, for example), but still a remarkable example of how a Christian should live. One thing in particular stands out to me, however — his contentment.

I’ve been thinking about his statement in Philippians about his attitude toward his financial situation. “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Phil. 4:12).

When I’ve read that verse before, I’ve been thinking primarily about how Paul learned to get along with humble means, how he dealt with going hungry, suffering need. Today it dawned on me that he was also saying he had to learn how to deal with prosperity, how to handle being filled and having abundance.

So what are some characteristics of getting along in each of these conditions? These are the first things that came to my mind.

Getting along with humble means, a person would need to remain generous, not penny-pinching. He’d also need to deepen his trust in God’s provision. Third, he’d need to foster a spirit of joy and rejoicing when others are blessed in ways he is not.

I think of people in Scripture who exemplified these traits. The widow who gave her last coin in the temple collection is one of the most generous persons on record. Her poverty did not stop her from worship and service, though it cost her all she had.

The widow of Zarephath that God sent Elijah to was generous in the same way. She was about to prepare a final meal for herself and her son when Elijah asked for a drink of water and a bite to eat. She didn’t turn him away but informed him of her meager provisions. He said, fine, make the last of the flour and oil into bread as you planned, but make me a little cake first. And she did, based on his promise that her supplies would not run out.

In that regard, she’s also a great example of someone trusting God to provide, but then so was Elijah. He’d just come from the brook Cherith where God fed him by sending ravens to bring him bread and meat. But this was a time of drought, so eventually his water source dried up. No trouble. God sent him to Zarephath where he found the widow with … practically nothing. So together they trusted God to replenish the flour and oil day after day.

King Saul’s son Jonathan seems like a great example of someone rejoicing in the success of someone else. Never mind that David would be taking the throne instead of Jonathan, he gave David his armor and sword, protected him from his father’s jealous rage, and essentially blessed his future rule.

Learning to get along in humble circumstances is only half the story. We are also to get along in prosperity. The characteristics I see that are required include not hoarding what we have, not squandering it, and not loving it more than we should.

Jesus addressed these issues. He told the parable about the prosperous man who decided he should deal with his great wealth by building a bigger barn. He didn’t see the light of the next morning.

Jesus also told the story about the prodigal son who squandered his money in riotous living. He’d been given a generous inheritance, but when famine came, he’d used up all his resources. When he came to his senses and returned to his father, he repented, not for squandering his wealth but for going his own way. The way he handled his money was only a symptom of the breakdown of his relationship with his father.

But Jesus told another story that reinforces the idea about not squandering our prosperity — the parable of the talents. Three servants were given money to invest. Two were praised when their master checked up on them. The only one who was rebuked and punished was the one who had squandered what he’d been given to invest.

Mark 10 tells about an encounter Jesus had with a rich young power player that underscores the importance of not making money into a god. This young guy was conscientious and diligent. He played by the rules. He was scrupulously religious. But for some reason he felt compelled to ask Jesus what he was missing. Jesus told him he needed to sell all his stuff and come on the road with Him and the other disciples. Mr. Very Rich couldn’t do it. He loved his stuff too much.

Getting along with humble means, getting along in prosperity — they both have their challenges. How remarkable that Paul navigated through the waters of both extremes to be content in whatever circumstances. Ah, but not remarkable. I forgot to add the key verse (one we use out of context more often than not). “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

Published in: on November 18, 2011 at 6:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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