" />
04. October 2017 · Write a comment · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

One of the benefits of being involved in ministry for a long period of time is that you see a lot of religious fads come and go.  In my time I have seen a lot of things appear “hot” on the religious scene, only to fizzle and fade away.  However, one aberration that does not seem to want to go away is what is known as the “health and wealth gospel” or the “Prosperity Gospel”.  The main thrust of this “gospel” which really is no gospel at all is, “God wants you to be healthy and rich” and if you are not, then there is something deficient with your faith or your beliefs in general.  The prescription for this malady, according to the proponents of this “gospel” is to follow the teaching of this or that televangelist, or better still send them “seed money” so that your wealth may be multiplied.

Now I don’t have the space here to do a full theological treatment, as I was invited to do during my 2015 visit to Kenya, where I spent an entire morning with a group of about 25 pastors at the Kapsabet Bible College discussing a “theological response to the Prosperity Gospel”.

Today all I can do is briefly show you how to recognize this error, and what is at the root of it. There are two main Scripture references that the prosperity preachers use to peddle their wares. One is 3. John 2 which says, Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”  (KJV). Note that the King James Version actually uses the word “prosper”.  But other more accurate translations say, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” (NIV) or “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” (ESV)

The problem with most prosperity preachers, including the most popular ones on TV, is that they lack any kind of theological training, let alone any knowledge of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting Scripture).  This means they can take a Bible verse (and yes, these verses are in the Bible!) and make them say what the inspired author of the verse never intended to say.  Did John, who penned these verses really intend to say that Christians everywhere and in all times should be healthy and wealthy?  Or was he passing along a greeting that is as common as something that we would say, “friend, I hope that you are doing well”?  These preachers don’t know, but they ought to know, that you can’t fashion a doctrinal truth that applies to everyone  and everywhere on the basis of one single Bible verse, a Bible verse that is open to interpretation!

A second favourite Scripture of the health and wealth preachers is found in 2. Corinthians 9:10-11 which says, Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (NIV)

The apostle Paul, who quotes an Old Testament Scripture before this statement is using the sowing principle that a little seed produces a great harvest, and then applies that to the virtue of generosity.  The context of these verses is that Paul is encouraging generosity. But the “spin” that these preachers put on this is “send your money to me, and God will increase your wealth”. The preacher will usually aim high, “make a vow of $1,000 even if you can’t afford it, just believe and then pay on it, pay on it till the vow is complete.” (Robert Tilton uses this line in almost every program). No worries that there is no mention of any sort of vow in this passage, he will use the passage and say, “God gives seed to the sower”. And if you really can’t afford the $1,000 why then just send me what you have.  And people do just that. During the audit of one televangelist who was investigated for fraud, the bulk of the millions of dollars that he raised did not come from wealthy people who sent in a thousand dollars.  It came from the many donations of financially desperate people who were promised that by giving up what little they had, God would make them rich.  This included widows and orphans who sent in portions or all of their pension to help that preacher pay for his 4 houses and cars, his $5000.00 suits, and his private airplane.

The true Christian gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ does not include a promise of health and wealth and prosperity.  Jesus never promised his followers anything remotely resembling what these preachers proclaim.  Jesus promised his disciples that they would suffer hardship, persecution, perhaps even death. But he also promised that He would be there with them through all of this.

So why, in our day do we see churches emptying, and at the same time stadiums filled by people listening to Joyce Meyers or Ken Copeland, people who have no ministerial credentials? There are several reasons.  One is that these preachers are excellent communicators, and another that they understand marketing (most invest in effective public relations professionals). But another, more insidious reason is that they have a message which resonates with what people want to hear.   In the case of illness or disease many are desperate because everything they have tried has been unsuccessful.  Why wouldn’t you go and listen to someone who offers you the possibility of healing? And then there is greed, one of the most base of human vices.  Why not pursue that “financial miracle”, especially if someone tells you that you have a right to it by virtue of nothing more than faith?  And if you don’t see the financial wealth, well sorry, I guess you don’t have the faith that it takes.  Said one televangelist who had a BMW, a Bentley, and a Cadillac in his garage, “I can’t help it if your faith only reaches to a Chevy or VW!”

Sadly, many of these religious hucksters and frauds are supported by Christians who are as unknowledgeable and as gullible as these preachers.  I’m not afraid to say that Benny Hinn has been exposed as a fraud in both the United States and Canada. The American network ABC revealed how he knows where the people who need healing are seated in the audience.  He receives transmissions to an electronic device in his ear from co-workers who interviewed people coming in about why they came, and then noted where they sat.  Hinn then tells the audience that the Holy Spirit has revealed to him that in “Section XYZ someone is seated in seat ABC who has cancer” or whatever.  The CBC has done an extensive investigation on him and the IRS in the United States has looked into his financial dealings.  And yet I know that people from Bible believing churches everywhere send him money, even when their own churches are suffering financially. And when Benny Hinn appeared at the Air Canada Center in Toronto some years ago, people spent thousands of dollars to fly to Toronto from all over Canada to fill the stadium (and leave some of their money there as well). Ken Copeland, when asked by reporters why he needs a private jet to “do the Lord’s work”, pointedly replied, “that’s none of your business.”  With his characteristic smile he turned his back and left.

Here in Africa, from where I am writing these lines, the Prosperity Gospel is doing very well. When I mentioned this in class the other day, one of my students reminded me, “but you know where that comes from, don’t you sir?  It comes from the West.”  Sad but true.  While this North American style Christianity has been imported here, Africa now has its own Prosperity Preachers. When one of the most famous ones comes to Nairobi for a shopping trip, the police cordon off streets so that his limousine can make it through.

The prosperity gospel will be around, not only in Africa and North America, but wherever there are opportunists, and wherever there are people who are either desperate or greedy. But I am confident that God, who has the last word over everyone’s ministry, including my own, will deal with them in His own time. For now how may we protect ourselves?  Read your Bible, study it, get with a church that teaches sound doctrine and that teaches you how to understand Scripture. May God give us open ears so that we may discern truth from error.

 

 

 

26. September 2016 · Comments Off on CALLED BY GOD ? · Categories: MINISTRY, SPIRITUAL LIFE · Tags: ,


images

There is a story about a man who felt that he had the call to preach.  Only nobody wanted to listen to him.  So he approached the elders of the church that he attended, and told them that while looking into the sky, he saw the clouds in a formation that looked like G.P.C. He felt a strong urge that this means “Go Preach Christ”. The elders were not convinced, but making allowance for the fact that God sometimes works in mysterious ways, they gave him an opportunity to preach once.  After the service one of the elders took him aside and said that he should reconsider if the G.P.C. didn’t mean “Go Plant Corn”.

Some bad humour  that shows that some people miss their true calling in life.  All of us have a true calling – God has a purpose and a place that belongs uniquely to us.  While for some that may include full time ministry or foreign missions, for others it may mean being the very best in some other vocation, profession, or trade.  But I want to discuss today the matter of a “call” to ministry, to preach, to be a chaplain, a counsellor or a youth pastor, or whatever.  How does God call people to such special tasks?

Our catholic friends call this process “receiving a vocation”, and they have a unique process in place to help men who are called to the priesthood or diaconate, or women who might be called to a life of religious vocation such as nun  discern if they have both the gifting, and the call of God on their life for that task.

As protestants, we also desire that people who enter our seminaries and Bible colleges in order to prepare for full time ministry have a sense of God’s calling in their life.  Often this requires that a prospective student submit reports from those who know them spiritually.  As a pastor, I have often been asked to fill out detailed questionnaires about applicants to various schools.  In fact, I have even filled some out for students who wished to enter police college or medical school.

In the Bible we have various examples of the kind of person whom God calls for a special holy task:

  1. Sometimes God calls those the Reluctant. A good example of that would be Moses.  Although Moses heard God speaking to him from within the burning bush, he had a litany of excuses of why he was not suited for doing what God was calling him to do, namely to lead God’s people out of Egypt’s slavery to the Promised Land. “Who me? (Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh); “Suppose they ask me something I don’t know?” (Paraphrased); “what if they do not believe or listen to me?”; “what if they don’t pay attention to the miraculous signs?”; “I have never been eloquent…I am of slow speech and tongue”.  After God had given a gracious response and promise of provision for each of Moses’ shortcomings, Moses pushed the envelope and finally said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”  While every church has a “someone else”, I wonder what would happen if God responded to everyone who asked him to send someone else in the same way as he did to Moses: “Then the Lord’s anger burned towards Moses”. (Exodus 3 and 4).  As we know, Moses turned out to be a great leader with God’s help, and his leadership techniques are the subject of study today in both the religious and the secular realms.  Other reluctant leaders in the Bible are Jeremiah, who thought he was too young (Jer.1:6-7).  And of course who can forget Jonah, who learned to listen to God in the belly of a fish?
  1. Sometimes God calls the Unlikely. When Samuel received the task of finding a successor to King Saul, he was sent to Jesse, who paraded 7 of his sons before Samuel. To Samuel, some of these seemed likely candidates, but in each case God said that this is not the one whom He had chosen, or more emphatically, “I have rejected this one.” Finally, when asked if these were all the sons, Jesse replied, “there is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.”  In other words, Jesse didn’t even bother presenting his youngest.  But that is precisely whom God wanted.  His name was David, and he became king in place of Saul.  We know that David also became an adulterer and a murderer, and yet still was known as “a man after God’s own heart.”  We get an explanation in 1. Samuel 16 as to why David was chosen, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1.Sam 16:7)
  1. Sometimes God calls the Unworthy. Here I am thinking of the New Testament Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle. Think about it.  If you had to choose a man who was to lead the expansion of the early Christian church into non-Jewish territory, in other words be a church planter, and on top of it author a large portion of what would become the New Testament portion of God’s Word, would you choose a man like Saul?  Someone who was instrumental in the persecution of the church?  But that is precisely whom God chose to call, to transform, and to empower with His grace for that task. Paul never lost sight of the unworthiness with which he came to God. To the end of his life he refers to himself as the “chief among sinners.”  When we think of who Saul had been, and who he had become, it becomes clear that God can call and use anyone whom He chooses.
  1. Sometimes God calls the Volunteer. In Isaiah 6, is an account of Isaiah’s vision of God, “seated on a throne, high and exalted” ; his awareness of being cleansed after one of the seraphim flew to him and touched his lips with the live coal from the altar, saying “See this has touched your lips and your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

When Isaiah heard the voice of God saying, “whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” he gave a response that changed his life, “Here am I! Send me!”.  Those words have been on the lips of countless people through the ages.  This story in Isaiah 6, has always been one of my favaourites in the Bible.  It was read on the occasion of my ordination to the Gospel ministry, and last year in Kenya, it was the text of my address to the graduates of the Missionary College in Eldoret.   I challenged the graduates that the prerequisites of anyone who wants to serve God in ministry are that they must have an encounter with God that includes being cleansed from sin, they must have an awareness that God is calling them, and they must have a willingness to be sent by Him anywhere.  I shared with the 1,000 or so people there that I had once said to God that He could send me anywhere but Africa!  (I can’t stand the heat or humidity or strange animals).  But there I was, preaching my first of several sermons on African soil.

Some lessons I learned over my life and career are these.  NEVER say “NO” to God.  If God is calling you to go, then you must go.  And if he is calling someone you know or love, don’t get in the way.  Don’t try to discourage or dissuade that person from following God lest you get in trouble with God.

unknown

29. March 2015 · Comments Off on GOD BLESS YOU ON PALM SUNDAY AND HOLY WEEK · Categories: Easter, Heaven, LITURGICAL CALENDAR · Tags: , , , , ,

TITLEToday is Palm Sunday, also known as the Sunday of the Passion.  It marks the beginning of Holy Week – the week that is very important to Christians, because it commemorates the events in the last week of Jesus’ life.  Events that form the basis of our salvation, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Interestingly enough, the events of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter are things that all Christians agree are important.

The first Palm Sunday occurred when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, with the people waving palms and shouting “Hosannah”. In many Christian churches this tradition is observed today also. As worshippers enter the church, they are given a palm branch to wave during the singing of praises to God.  This morning in my sermon I made a facetious remark that this would be a stretch for us “stiff starchy Baptists”.  Actually, I served a Baptist congregation some years ago where an interesting tradition was followed.  The service began by the congregation being invited to stand and face the back of the church.  The Palm Sunday Gospel was read from the entrance to the church. After that, the opening hymn was sung, while all the children, entered down the main aisle with waving palms.  Sometimes the children’s choir sang the opening song and did the palm waving thing.

Imagine my surprise when I got home today, and watched a televised Catholic mass on the German TV channel.  It took place in my native Bavaria.  The people there also gathered outside the church, and the priest began by reading the Palm Sunday Gospel. Then palms that had been blessed were distributed to the congregation, who entered the church singing and waving palms. Inside, the liturgy of the Word, the first part of a mass, included various readings of Scripture, interspersed by wonderful choral music that touched me because of the words in my native German.  The Homily was a wonderful exposition of Scripture, and I was amazed to hear some of the same ideas that I had expressed this morning also.

Palms, in Hebrew tradition were a sign of deliverance and victory.  During the Old Testament feast of Tabernacles, where the people lived in booths made of vegetation in memory of their nomadic life in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, palm were used as the people prayed for rain.  In another dark time of Israel’s history, as they returned to their homeland following the Maccabean revolt, about 200 years before Christ, palms were also used as a sign of God’s help and deliverance.

For us, the Easter week reminds us of our need for God’s deliverance from eternal death.  Jesus came to provide us with just that.  He died for our sin, and rose from the dead, so that we can live forever.  Of course, we still need to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. As I write these lines, I have a funeral to prepare for tomorrow, for someone who suffered immensely in that valley.

But I believe, like the priest in the televised Homily of today, that for us as Christians, death is but a door.  A door that we all must pass through.It is a door that we must go through alone…No human hand, and no human voice even can follow or accompany us there.  We will be humanly alone.  But when we get to that door we will find it marked by Jesus’ cross to remind us that He had already been there.  Those who know Jesus, will in fact not be alone; Jesus has promised never to leave us.  He will go with us through that door, and lead us to what is beyond that door.

A week from today is Easter Sunday.  But we need to remember, that Good Friday and all that it represents must come first.  There is no resurrection without a death first. And the road that Jesus took to that awful death on the cross was a lonely one, where those who were closest to Him were not helpful but rather fell asleep, betrayed Him, denied Him and in the end all ran away.  Jesus suffered the injustice of the kangaroo court trial before the religious leaders, and stood alone before Pilate who declared Him innocent but sentenced Him to death. He suffered the indignity of the Roman scourge, the weight of the cross, and the humiliation of naked crucifixion, and the spiritual loneliness of being forsaken by God the Father.

I think it is best that we not pass too quickly over these events.  They were agonizingly slow for Jesus.  Our salvation was expensive and we should cherish it in all gratitude.

I won’t say Happy Easter yet.  But I will wish you a blessed Holy Week.

19. February 2015 · Comments Off on WORSHIPPING GOD THROUGH OUR SORROW · Categories: Dying, Grief, JESUS, LIFE AND DEATH · Tags: , ,

Today’s guest post is written by Caleb Wilde (see bottom of post for more about the author).

My blog is read by people of all religions and none.  I love that!  And I continue to look for guest bloggers who are willing to share how their religion (or lack of) influences their understanding of death.

I come from the Christian tradition.  I actually hold a Masters Degree in Christian theology.  This post, while specifically situated in the Christian tradition, has some value for those who hold some view of God, Christian or not.  Many of us have a view of God that’s unfeeling and impersonal.  That perspective of God can often directly affect how we allow ourselves to grieve and how we view death.  Here’s how:


van Gogh's "Old Man in Sorrow" Note the posture of sorrow is similar to the posture of worship

van Gogh’s “Old Man in Sorrow” Note the posture of sorrow is similar to the posture of worship

We’re familiar with orthodoxy, which is “thinking like God”.  And many of us hope to be “orthodox.”Few religious people are familiar with the term “orthopathos.”Some of us have heard of the term orthopraxy, which is “acting like God”. But orthopathos, which means “feeling the feelings of God” is an idea that few of us are familiar with because so few of us believe that God actually feels.

*****

It’s said that we become like the object/person we worship. And when you worship God, you become like who or what you think He is.

Do you worship God as patient?

Do you worship God as just?

Do you worship God as love?

You will eventually become all these things if you believe they are apart of God’s character.

What happens when you see God as immutable … as unchangeable?

What happens when you see God as impassible … as emotionless?

So many Christian and religious traditions believe that God is utterly unable to change and utterly unaffected by emotion. Should it be a surprise that so many of us become unmoved and emotionally repressed?

So, when we say “orthopathos” most Christians think that the “proper way to feel like God” is to feel nothing at all.  To never grieve, to never have joy, to never get angry … because the One they worship, the One they are trying to reflect has no emotion Himself.

******

The ultimate example of orthopathos is found on the cross. The prophet Isaiah, in what is perhaps one of the more powerful prophetic utterances of the Old Testament writes,

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,

a man of suffering,

and familiar with pain. …

Surely he took up our pain 

and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,

stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities ….

This laying on of the iniquity, bearing of our suffering, this taking of our pain, this familiarity with pain, this man of suffering who took so much of the world’s grief into his heart that it’s recorded in Mark 13:34:

“”My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”.

Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.

This wasn’t Jesus being punished by the God per se, but Jesus taking the heart of the God in human form by seeing what God sees, acting as God would act and ultimately feeling like God feels. It was the ultimate act of representing God in human form!

And then, I believe, Jesus died, not from the wounds of the cross, but from the wounds of the heart.

Sure, we can begin to understand right thinking, we can begin to understand right action, but who can feel the heart of God and live?

*****

Why don’t Christians feel sorrow?  There’s a couple reasons: 1.) our theology doesn’t allow for it and so 2.), we think it’s unlike our God if we do so.

Wendell Berry’s famed literature character “Jayber Crow” states this:

I prayed to know in my heart His love for the world, and this was my most prideful, foolish, and dangerous prayer. It was my step into the abyss.  As soon as I prayed it, I knew that I would die.  I knew the old wrong and the death that lay in the world.  Just a good man would not coerce the love of his wife, God does not coerce the love of His human creatures, not for Himself or for the world or for one another.  To allow that love to exist fully and freely, He must allow it not to exist at all. His love is suffering.  It is our freedom and His sorrow. ….  And yet all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart.

Some of us will feel God’s missional love for the world, but all of us will feel the sorrow of death.  And it’s time that believers believe it’s okay to sorrow.  It’s time we believe it’s okay to weep, for when we do so we aren’t becoming unlike our God; we are, in fact, worshiping.

calebwilde2 About the Author: Caleb Wilde is a sixth generation funeral director at a family owned funeral home in Parkesburg,      Pennsylvania.  He also has a Masters degree in Christian theology, and his blog  “CONFESSIONS OF A FUNERAL DIRECTOR” at www.calebwilde.com is widely read.  You can follow him on TWITTER at  @CalebWilde.

 

%d bloggers like this: