Prosperity vs. Repentance

That might seem a strange title. Prosperity and repentance aren’t usually seen as conflicting ideas. But let’s take a closer look at how these two ideas appear together in God’s Word. In the book of Jeremiah, we read that God came to Jeremiah and commissioned Jeremiah as His prophet. God put His own words into Jeremiah’s mouth and sent him to God’s own people, the Israelites living in Judah. Jeremiah’s task was to warn the Israelites of their impending destruction at the hands of enemy nations as a consequence of their idolatry. Jeremiah implores Israel to repent of idolatry (13:15-16), but the people refused to heed his warning.

In Jeremiah 14, we find Jeremiah praying to God for mercy for Israel, but God will not listen or relent in His plan to destroy the land of Judah and send the Israelites into captivity because of their idolatry. Judgement on His people is part of His ultimate mercy for them. Experiencing the judgement of God will eventually turn Israel back to God in repentance. It is only in repentance that God’s people will experience His mercy. The false prophets and teachers, however, are preaching peace and denying the coming calamity out of the futility of their own minds (v. 14). These false teachers never talked about repentance for sin and obedience to God’s commands, only about God giving peace and prosperity. In chapter 15, God makes it clear that judgement must come because of the sin of the nation. Those listening to the false teachers will be woefully unprepared when they stand before the living God. They’ve pursued the wrong things. Their lives are only about themselves and God is their “genie in a bible.” In their minds He is only there to give them what they want, they are idolators, loving what God can give more than they love God Himself. They have listened to the toxic message of the false teachers, and it is deadly.

Is the current soft prosperity gospel not a living picture of this same denial of the reality of God’s holiness, commandments, and judgement? Today’s false teachers promise their hearers empowerment, recognition, self-confidence, peace, and strength to do their own thing. Of course, this softer prosperity “gospel” is not so crass as to ask for, demand, or claim cars, houses, and lottery winnings – that’s why it’s called the soft prosperity gospel. But the heart of such idolatry is no different than that of Israel’s heart in Jeremiah’s day, and so the consequences will be no different because God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We may give Him praise with our lips, but He who reads hearts knows exactly who we love most. And others who can’t read hearts CAN read actions, and they see the same disordered loves in our character. We love ME!! And we pursue anything that will give ME what I want. We ignore the fact that God says we will each reap what we sow as did Israel in Jeremiah’s day. The apostle Paul spoke clearly to the church in Galatia, “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” (Galatians 6:7-9). No wonder the world scoffs at pop culture “Christianity.” They can see right through it. False teaching never pays out what it promises.  A self-centered gospel will never bring anyone to the real Christ, nor will it ever satisfy the desire of our hearts. Peter described such false teachers: “These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness has been reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for people are slaves to whatever has mastered them,” (2 Peter 2:17-19).

The good news is, we don’t have to be captivated by the false teaching so popular in American churches today. God tells us how to avoid such entrapment. Acts 17:11 describes the Jews from Berea, as those “of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bible gives us what we need to become wise and discerning about what we hear from our teachers. It is up to us to apply ourselves to learning God’s Word, to check what we hear against the Word of God, and to submit to the Holy Spirit as He applies God’s Word to our lives. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Diligence to understand and obey God’s Word will guard us against false teaching and give us true spiritual prosperity.

Let us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ become frequent repenters, grateful and satisfied with God’s abundant mercy, forgiveness, and lovingkindness. Let us face the truth of our sinfulness and abandon the false teachers preaching a false gospel filled with false promises. Jesus didn’t come to give you your best life now and fulfill all your self-focused, earthly dreams. He came to buy you back out of the slave market of sin. He paid for you with His blood. He lived the perfect life you can never live so that His perfect righteousness can be credited to you. Jesus didn’t preach empowerment or prosperity, He preached repentance (Matthew 3:8; 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 24:46-48; 5:31-32). Repentance and faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross is the basis of your salvation, not getting everything you dream of on this earth.  If our purpose on earth was to be empowered for self-actualization and have our dreams fulfilled, God would not have left us on earth after salvation! God would have immediately taken us to heaven because He knows that our earthly desires and dreams are rubbish compared to what we will experience with Him in heaven. No. We are His, He owns us. We are here for His purposes. We are here on earth to love, enjoy, submit to, and serve Him. True believers in Jesus don’t chafe at that thought. True faith believes and embraces what Jesus said about trial and hardship in this life and peaceful ease in the next. True faith believes and embraces what Jesus said about humility here and glory in eternity. True faith believes and embraces what Jesus said about living as a servant here and being rewarded in heaven. If that’s not what you’re hearing from your teachers, you need new teachers (including your reading list). Let us live for what Jesus said is true, not what the popular but false teachers say is true. They are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds (Jeremiah 14:14). The only promises they can offer their followers are perpetual discontentment in this life and eternal destruction in the next. Jesus said repentance is now and glorious life is later. Let’s wait for that.

Father God, help us gain a heart of wisdom. Please meet with Your children and teach us as we study Your Word. Help us obey what You command. Grow us into good repenters, quick to confess our sin and live in Your forgiveness. And help us be joyful and content to wait until heaven for glory. Amen.

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An Idol For a Ministry

Trends in our culture are changing with ever-increasing speed. Technology, clothing styles, housing trends, entertainment options, education, and even the way Christians do church, are changing at a dizzying rate. But one thing seems to never change: humanity’s love of money. Money fuels our trend-hopping lifestyle, enabling us to lay hold of the next thing that promises fulfillment to empty souls. The hunger for more started in the garden of Eden and has raged through every generation since. Two of the Ten Commandments given to Israel by God reveal our desire to acquire, specifically forbidding coveting and theft. It’s no wonder God’s Word contains approximately 2000 verses which address the subject of money. Most Christians can quote at least a few Bible verses about money, and man’s inability to serve two masters, but we don’t live like we believe them, including me.

As much as I have inwardly and outwardly preached against the materialism of our culture, and of the church, I have been as resistant as anyone to give up my material dreams and aspirations for the sake of the gospel. Studying Philippians, seeing Paul’s willingness to give up everything, everything, for the furtherance of the gospel has brought needed conviction into my life. Not only did Paul give up everything, he did it with rejoicing! Paul knew what it meant to serve only one master. I have been trying to serve two.

Though longing for time to write, more time for study and prayer, and more time for ministry, I’ve been frustrated at how difficult it has been to set aside that time. With grown children and an empty nest, God has given me the privilege of time to pursue Him on my own schedule, yet, I put that privilege on hold in order to pursue money. Money, to help me gain my dream of a home that is larger than the one we have, and hopefully, newer. It didn’t have to be fancy, just more than I have. I thought I could have both my dream house and time for ministry. But working even part-time was giving away time the Lord gave me to do the very things I desired. In hindsight, it is quite apparent that discontentment and idolatry have marked my life for many years. What foolishness!

But what freedom there is in giving up an idol. It is only after surrendering our idols to God that our eyes are opened and we see how blind and foolish we have been. Faith does, indeed, become sight. It always seemed giving up the house dream would be sad, but that was Satan’s bluff. Liar! Reality is, the thrill over the opportunity God has given me to study, write, and serve Him full-time has far outweighed any sadness over my surrendered dream. Yes, there are twinges of wistfulness over the house. Woven into those twinges are threads of expectancy. Expectancy is not expectation that God will be so proud of my sacrifice that He will provide the house as a reward. There is no illusion that His request for my idol was just a test, and having passed it, I will receive the desires of my pre-repentant heart. Rather, I have expectancy that God will work His beautiful and perfect will into every twinge, changing the longings of my heart, cultivating contentment, and working in and through me in ways I have always desired, but have thwarted with my own idolatry. Those who have given up everything to follow Christ and preach His gospel have always captured my heart. The house dream was my primary stumbling block to being free to follow Him unreservedly (not that I am yet one of those people, but I press on). I knew God wanted me to give it up. I was like a child gripping a fascinating, fuzzy, striped bee he longs to possess, while it is stinging his palm and bringing pain. It is a difficult lesson to learn that bees are painful to hold, but delightful to appreciate when they are free to be exactly where God wants them to be. Idols are no different. God’s children are not to grasp for anything but to give our hearts and attention fully to God, knowing that He is a good Father who desires to give His us only good things. We must trust God to give good gifts, placing certain blessings where He wants them, knowing that what He desires to give us is unfailingly the most perfect gift, designed for perfect blessing of His child and for His greatest glory.

In Philippians 3, Paul has given up everything (status, achievement, worldly goods, and even freedom), counting it all rubbish, to know Christ in the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead. The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings would mean wanting the same things Christ wanted: God’s glory alone, such that He was willing to be absolutely single-minded in His pursuit of glory for God. Verse 15 instructs us to also have this attitude, and Paul is confident that God will reveal areas in which we are not like-minded and fully surrendered as Christ was, and as Paul was. That is exactly what God has done for me. At first read, that verse felt like a “done to me” verse, but His interruption has been a huge blessing and gift from God, a “done for me” event. Knowing the heartbeat of my Father God assures me that every interruption He brings is not done to me, but for me. God took away my idol, but in its place, He gave me an undivided heart, a clear mind, and time to serve Him. An idol for a ministry – what a trade!