Why Aren’t We Into The Prosperity Gospel? – or – some thoughts about wealth, greed, and God as Provider

If you're reading this blog from America or Britain or somewhere else:  Yeah, I'm Canadian.  And, yeah, our money is a bunch of funny colours.

If you’re reading this blog from America or Britain or somewhere else: Yeah, I’m Canadian. And, yeah, our money is a bunch of funny colours.

Last night, my wife and I were reading the Bible in bed.  (yeah, we do that)  We work our way through Luke were at Chapter 11:  And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Luke 11:9-13.  

That is a wonderful passage about asking, receiving, and the incredible generosity of Father God.  Having just read it to my wife, she turned to me – ever-wise – and asked “So then, why don’t we follow the prosperity Gospel?”

That was a good question!  Why, in light of the truth that God gives to those whatever they ask out of his generosity, do we not believe that we should have whatever we want?  Prosperity Gospel is shorthand for the belief that:  1)  blessing = financial/material blessing, 2)  God blesses those with faith, and so therefore 3)  faith = $$$.  Given what Jesus – Jesus Himself, mind you – says about asking, receiving, and God’s giving in Luke 11, doesn’t it follow that we should pray for whatever we want and get it?  Well no…  But why not?  Reflecting upon this, a few other truths 

1)  Greed Ain’t Good.  The Bible has other stuff to say about wealth other than ask and receive.  We flipped ahead and read 1 Timothy 6:5-10 where Paul, talking about false teachers says that they are:  imagining that godliness is a means of gain.  But godliness with contentment is great gain,  for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.  That is pretty heavy duty and kind of settles it.  False teaching will advocate material greed.  We ought to be content and not be greedy for wealth.  Desire to be rich is called a snare.  And the love of money leads to all kind of evil.  It is even a path out of true faith in Jesus.  The Bible is an entire revelation from God and many parts balance out others.  While many passages seem as though we can pray for whatever we want and ought to get it, others check us in our desires.  Greed ain’t good and any ‘gospel’ which encourages it shouldn’t be followed.

2)  But Money Ain’t All Bad.  Nevertheless, we shouldn’t be ashamed that God is a wonderful provider.  Money isn’t ‘the root of all evil’, the ‘love of it’ is.  Money arriving in your life, especially in unexpected and unusual ways, can be a great spiritual encouragement.  Money is needed to further God’s work in the world – both of mercy and proclamation.  And perhaps most of all, the God-Who-Is-Loving-Father ought to seen as One who provides wonderfully for those who seek Him.  There have been many times in my life where God has provided for me in amazing ways.  There have also been times where He has taught me to get over myself and ask Him for real, material things as I have found myself needing them.  “Father, I need some money, give me some money” has been a prayer that he has been pleased to answer several times in my life.  The Father receives glory when we seek Him for our needs and when we can testify that He has come through.  I have known some who, in scrambling to avoid name-it-and-claim-it type distortions, fall off on the wrong side of the horse.  And they forget the simplicity of Jesus’ teaching.  Need.  Ask.  Receive.  There’s a Father who loves you and is taking care of you.  We ought not to flinch from what Jesus teaches.  It is possible to ask God for $ without falling into the trap of:  more faith = more $ = we should have lots of $$$.

3)  There Is A Greater Treasure.  A final reason why we’re not into the Prosperity Gospel is worth mentioning.  Jesus teaches us that God gives us the desires of our hearts and where our treasure is our heart will be also.  And in Luke 11, he tells us what the greatest provision of Father God is.  He, being a good Father, will not withhold Holy Spirit to those who ask.  A Prosperity “Gospel” implicitly teaches us that wealth is the greatest thing, and so to be truly rich is to have more money.  The Gospel teaches us no such thing.  The greatest treasure is God Himself – Holy Spirit = God = Him.  When we have more of Him, it may actually lessen our desires for the comforts and padding of material things.  The greatest treasure (and our greatest desire) ought not to be what God gives but God Himself.  And that is Good News.

Why are Christians so worked up about homosexuality?

Have you ever had someone accuse traditional Christianity of being obsessed with homosexual sins?  Why aren’t they shouting from the rooftops about poverty?  Why aren’t they condemning other sins?  Why do they seem so fixated on a certain type of social and sexual behaviour?  Why do they make such a big deal about it?

Well, it is not traditional Christians who are the ones bringing the spotlight there.  Our culture has done an almost complete reversal on this moral issue.  Where once it was almost universally frowned upon, same-sex activity and the identity which flows from it is seen as a new civil rights issue.  In popular media, not only the condemnation of it but also the refusal to celebrate it is condemned.  The issue does not spring from Christians.

Why don’t Christians get all up in arms about poverty?  Well, the reason there isn’t much ink spilled over  poverty is because is isn’t a controversy.  Poverty = bad is a pretty well-established idea.  And where are traditional Christians on this issue?  Where they’ve always been.  Serving, giving, sacrificing, helping – always could and should be doing better – in quiet ways away from the spotlight.  Just like Jesus taught us.

Why are Christians making such a big deal about same-sex stuff?  We are because we’re just responding.  You get a Christian leader on a major talk show, they’ll be asked about it.  They don’t have to bring it up.  That is the same in our culture.  We didn’t bring it up.  The issue came to us.  We’re just responding to it.  Have we done a good job all the time?  Certainly not.  Christians have often been disgusted when they should have been compassionate.  But now a days Christians are often being quisling when they should be clear.  But the fact remains, in our culture hasn’t been brought up by traditional Christianity.

It bears repeating, the reason Christians are talking about homosexuality is because everyone else is talking about homosexuality. Strange coincidence that evangelicals did not become “obsessed” with homosexuality until about 40-50 years ago when the culture became obsessed with sexual freedom. If the Supreme Court finds a constitutional right to jab people in the kidneys with poison-tipped spears, we’ll get worked up about that too.*  Kevin Deyoung

These kinds of questions like are basically rhetorical shaming devices and smart people shouldn’t fall for them.  What this world needs is for the Church to be the Church – different, prophetically challenging, and counter-cultural.  We must do this all even at the risk of being misunderstood.  Because we will be misunderstood.  But I know Someone else who was too…

*  from But What About Gluttony!?! by Kevin Deyoung

A Gospel Oak – or – times change but the story is the same

The Crouch Oak in Addlestone, England.  Photo by Stephen McCaskell.

The Crouch Oak in Addlestone, England. Photo by Stephen McCaskell.

A friend just snapped this picture.  It is of the famous Crouch Oak.  I don’t know what it is about the English and trees but there are apparently quite a few famous trees in that country.  A little strange but also kind of cool.  Not only is this particular tree known for its age and all-around impressiveness; it is also famous for what happened beneath it’s branches.

Turns out that John Wycliffe, John Knox, George Whitfield, and Charles Spurgeon all preached the Gospel to crowds while standing under this tree.  That is a pretty impressive bunch!  If you don’t much about Church history you may want to briefly read about them.  What is also impressive is how their ministries span the centuries.  Check their dates:

John Wycliffe  (1320-1384),

John Knox (1514-1572),

George Whitfield (1714-1770),

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

So looking at my friend’s photograph is not just interesting in a passing way, it also gives me pause.  The Good news of Jesus – his deity, his humanity, his works and teachings, his Kingdom, his life, his death, his atonement for sinners, his risen and royal glory, and his free offer of salvation to all – is old news.  Old doesn’t mean bad.  Old in the sense of unchanging and ever-relevant.  In a culture full of passing fads and immediate gratification, it humbles us to know that the Gospel does not change.  We can’t improve on it, we can’t change it, and it does not belong to us.  It is a message both old and ageless that we – his Church – have merely been made stewards of.

How greatly has the world changed in the centuries since Wycliffe stood under this tree?  But the message we’ve been given to first receive, then to cherish, obey, and share has not.  It is of great comfort to know that Christianity is a faith which has buried empires.  Reflecting on this tree can remind us that times may change but the story – the Great Story – stays the same.  In some sense God’s message of grace is strong, steady, enduring, and able to outlast every trend and even every human life.  Just like an oak.

We’re All The Bride – or why both men and women are subject to a feminine biblical metaphor

 

Bride of Bethlehem by William Holman Hunt. A pretty good look at what ancient Jewish brides looked like.

Bride of Bethlehem by William Holman Hunt.
A pretty good look at what ancient Jewish brides looked like.

And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast…”  Matthew 9:15

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  Ephesians 5:25-27

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  Revelation 21:1-2

 

Even a quick look through the New Testament will show us that bride imagery for God’s people is a pretty big thing.  Yesterday, I wrote on how “son” – a thoroughly masculine image – applies to both men and women.  Not to be unfair or off-balance, the New Testament also has an image for relationship to God which is thoroughly feminine.  That’s right, guys!  You too are the Bride!

I once had a friend say that he didn’t like being “The Bride”.  He was a dude after all!  Whether it is right to decide which Biblical truths we like or don’t like aside, God’s people as “the Bride” isn’t going to go away.  Men and women both are subject to a feminine image.  Jesus (and God) are always the masculine, and the People are always the feminine without fail.

We are all feminine in the sense that we as God’s People – the  Church – are the objects of His desire.  We are the end of His great pursuit – Jesus came down from heaven for those whom he desired to be near to Him.  We also await something, a consummation at the end of all things where we will be with the Lord and He will be with us.  The intimacy of that can not be understated.  “Be with” like as in, you know, being with…  *wink*

That reality of love, desire, and future intimacy is something that all those who trust in God’s promises are a part of.  Whether male or female, we are “the Bride”.  If you’re a man, is that a little weird to think of a feminine image describing relating to God.  Well, weird or not, that is how He sees it.

We’re All Sons – or why both men and women are subject to a masculine biblical metaphor

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba!  Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.  Galatians 4:6-7

detail of The Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

detail of The Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

So if we believe in Jesus we are adopted into God’s family and become His child.  That is a great and wonderful truth of the Gospel.  But why is it that we are all “sons”?  Is “son” just a placeholder term for “both sons and daughters” in the same way “mankind” kind of stands for both men and women?  Is it a holdover from a more sexist age?  Is it weird for Christian women to think of their relationship with God in terms of “sonship”?

Well, turns out that “son” means son.  When we place our trust in the promises of the Gospel, we become ‘sons’ – whether we are male of female.  Is that crazy?  Why not daughters too?  It turns out that “sonship” is a controlling image for the relationship between us and God that is completely masculine.  Whether we are men or women, when we believe we enter into sonship.  Why?  Why are  both men and women subject to a masculine biblical image?

This doesn’t mean that we’re not also sons and daughters.  But “sonship” means more than just being a child of God – it means that we are set to receive an inheritance.  It is in the future and we are destined to receive it.  The fullness of the Kingdom, the glory that is to be, everything that God has prepared for us – that is the inheritance of the sons of God.  In olden days, it was the sons who received inheritance.  Modern ears might not like that but that the way it was.  That is why both sons (male) and daughters (female) of God are in this sense “sons”.  Because the inheritance is for us all.

It may seem strange to think of yourself in terms of a masculine image if you are female.  *not being female I couldn’t tell you!*  But the relationship to God in which we are his sons is open to all.  It is a masculine image which both men and women are subject to.  But for those who place their trust in God and His promises, we are “sons”.

 

*before we cry out “Not Fair!” remember that there is also a feminine image for relationship with God that applies to both men and women.  I’ll be writing on that tomorrow.  Here’s a hint!

Serve and be Served

 

Foot Washing

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”  Jesus answered him, “What I am doingyou do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you,a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.  John 13:3-16 ESV

The day before the day of his death, Jesus ate supper with his friends.  After supper he served by taking the lowest possible place – someone who washed their feet.  People wore sandals back then and streets were dirty – feet really needed washing!  This was one of the Lord’s last acts before the worst day of his life.  What should we see in it?

1)  We need to serve.  We need to see our example.  For I have given you an example…blessed are you if you do…  Jesus took the lowest place and so should we.  He is our master and we must be like him.  That means serving others with some of the most low-down and even dirty help that they need.  Those who follow Jesus are to be servants to one another and to the world. We are to alleviate pain, give help, and care in whatever ways we’ve been given.  We are to do.  We are to serve.  But that is not all…

2)  We need to be served.  Jesus serves his friends and disciples to show them a greater principle – The Son of Man cam to serve.  While he washes their feet, which would be very immediately helpful, there is something greater afoot.  If I do not wash you, you have no share in me…  Jesus came to do something far more than we could ever imitate – He came to live and die in our place.  That is the Gospel, that His life and death stand as our righteousness and atonement.  Belief in his that washes away all our sins.  That is not something we could do on our own.  We need to be served.

 

So as we remember the Story of this great week, remember both to serve in the ways we can.  And to be served in what we cannot do for ourselves.  That is the Good News.