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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Failing the Test

Have you ever had something you said, or worse say often, come back to haunt you? I got a little taste of that a couple of weeks ago. The statement I have made multiple times in the past is this: “Laying down my life for Christ in John 15:13-14 is obedience to Christ’s commands TODAY, not just allegiance to Christ at the point of martyrdom. If I am in the habit of dying daily through reverence and obedience to Christ, I won’t have to worry about allegiance. I’ll be well-practiced at at dying for Christ if that day ever comes.” So how am I doing at dying daily? Well friends, not very well. I failed the last test. And I didn’t just fail it, I made a royal hash of it. Here’s what happened.

A few weeks ago, my husband was diagnosed with COVID-19. This precipitated daily calls from the state health department, beginning with instructions that I needed to quarantine for 14 days from my last day of exposure to him. To get my quarantine completed as soon as possible, we were instructed to sleep in separate areas of the house, use different bathrooms, wear masks, and stay six feet apart when in the same room. We had to take our temperatures twice daily and keep a written record. I had to sign a statement that I would voluntarily quarantine and acknowledge that I would be under mandatory quarantine if I refused. Every day the health department called to ask if either of us had fever or other symptoms. All of this felt very invasive to me. Just informing us of the state guidelines would have been sufficient. We had no intention of exposing others to the virus, but it seemed like government nannies were treating us like disobedient five-year-olds. In addition, the health department ignored my husband’s statement about the onset of his symptoms and set his onset date four days after his symptoms began, which extended our quarantine period. I felt violated in my health privacy and in my own home. And I responded with anger. For several days I felt unsettled, irritated, and resentful. And my behavior was rather prickly. My sinful self was in control.

Then the Lord reminded of about my own admonition about dying daily, considering every trial as coming from the hand of God, and an opportunity for practicing faith, all the while considering it all joy as James exhorts us. Really, Lord? How did this sneak up behind me? I, the preacher of dying daily to self and being prepared to give up everything for the name of Christ Jesus, discovered I am not as prepared as I thought I was. Why did I fail to recognize this as an opportunity to practice reverence and obedience to my Lord? Two thoughts come to mind. First, my thoughts were more on my circumstances than on my Lord. And second, is the warning, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Because I wasn’t on guard, I had failed to heed the warning light of rising internal stress over the 2020 election and the future of our country, coupled with the disappointment of canceled trips to celebrate our anniversary and to visit my mom in another state, missing friends and family, and interrupted ministry due to the pandemic. I didn’t take all those stresses to the Lord, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ when they first appeared. I wasn’t tending my confidence in Jesus to keep it growing and strong. I needed to re-center my heart and mind. I needed to remember the promises of God: that though Christ’s followers would have trouble in this world, Jesus Christ has already overcome the world; promises that Jesus will never leave or forsake us; promises to provide everything we need; promises to shepherd us through our deepest valleys; and the reminder that our citizenship is in heaven, not here on earth. I also needed to remember that when I bowed my heart to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, I gave up all my rights, including the “right” to be offended.

So what to do? How could I grow my confidence in Christ and His promises? How could I be more willing to give up my “rights”? How could I move my preparations from theological theory to theologically-driven actions? After taking these questions to the Lord, I realized there are no new answers to these questions. God has already given me what I need in what are often called, “the ordinary means of grace”- the Word of God, prayer, and the sacraments. The Word reminds me of God’s promises and His faithfulness to fulfill them (2 Cor. 1:20). Prayer brings me boldly before the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper remind me of my identification with both the death and the resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-5). But these ordinary means of grace must be intentionally practiced. Thinking further about turning my heart’s focus to my Lord, I have found that the music of hymns helps plant rich theology deep in my heart and then brings it to mind and tongue again and again (Eph. 5:17-20). Corporate worship and fellowship encourage me through the faith of sisters and brothers in Christ and remind me that I am not alone (Heb. 10:24-25). I can ask the Lord to help me recognize opportunities to practice death to self while waiting for His eternal kingdom, and I know that when I ask according to His will, He will give me what I ask (1 John 5:14-15). Finally I can remind myself often that nothing comes into my life without my Father’s sovereign oversight, and I can say with my Savior, “Not my will, but Yours, be done,” (Luke 22:42).

I suspect there will be many opportunities in the coming days to practice trusting Christ’s promises, opportunities to submit to government authorities without grumbling or being resentful, and opportunities for many other little daily deaths. Practice makes better. Thank You, Lord, for Your grace when I fail. Help me lay down my life today.


towel & bowlWe are now eight days into January 2019, and the freshness of the new year is already wearing off for some who are struggling to keep their newly minted resolutions untarnished by neglect . If you’re already there, take heart! I’m just getting started hashing out my resolutions and goals for 2019, so you’re way ahead of me! Hashing out seems like an unusual way to describe the setting of admirable new goals. It’s a messy, hard-work word, nothing like the shiny, idealistic goal-setting I’ve done in the past. Honestly, for the last few years, I’ve just carried over my resolution from year to year and set new small-step goals to achieve my ultimate goal: balance. Year after year I go at it from a different angle, with a new plan and fresh energy. Year after year I never get there. And year after year I feel defeated. A quote attributed to Albert Einstein comes to mind, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” That’s an uncomfortably accurate description of my past resolutions. It’s time to reconsider my goal. Why do I want balance in my life?  What is it about the idea of balance that is so appealing? Is it the culture’s call for balance? After all, magazines, blogs, self-help books, and podcasts tout balance in all things. Is it my pride calling for the display of something admirable in my life? The answers to those questions remain elusive, though in some measure I should probably answer “yes” to the last two. But there is another question I cannot answer with a confident “yes.”

I have begun to wonder whether true balance is even the ideal in a Christian’s life. Does God command balance in the lives of Jesus’ followers? I have yet to find any such reference in the Bible. A quick internet search turns up numerous articles from Christian authors and publications recommending balance. But after reading them, they really seem to be encouraging a life sold-out to God, cultivating a sound mind by knowing Scripture, and taking care of our God-given responsibilities. Maybe it’s just semantics, but that sounds to me more like surrender and obedience than balance.

Balance would feel like a wonderfully secure spot for me: ordered, predictable, stress-free, and manageable. I think I would be pretty happy with myself if I ever achieved it because it’s an illusion of control. And boy, do I like control. However, to maintain said “balance” would require some rigidity and diligence. I am certainly capable of rigidity – it goes hand-in-hand with control. But how can I say, “Yes, Lord,” to God’s interruptions in my life if my focus is on maintaining the static state of balance?

A number of years ago, I heard a pastor say, in reference to the prompting of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-7), “You haven’t lived until you have lived at the mercy of the Wind.” That stuck with me. I am learning, slowly, to be intentional with my time and energy yet alert and ready to respond to the wind of the Spirit of God. I can’t do that and maintain “balance.” I’d rather be moved by the Spirit, available to be led and used for the purposes of God. Not flighty or drifting, but responsive to His leading, praying for discernment to recognize His call, and a willing heart to say, “Yes, Lord,” when He interrupts my plans.

As I pray and plan for this new year, the idea of balance won’t be my target. I will not retool and make another run at achieving the dubious trophy of balance. The resolutions that come to mind are not achievements but character qualities: humble, obedient, intentional, mindful, available, and servant. I want to be obedient to God’s commands with a humble heart, seeking His glory, not my own. Such a goal will require intentional and sometimes hard choices about how I spend my time, my energy, and my influence. Regular evaluation and accountability are good ways to stay mindful about my goals and make needed course-corrections. And then there is that ‘available’ word. The one that puts self to death. The one that says, “Not my plans, Lord, but Yours.” The word that upsets balance for sold-out. That word needs to go on my bathroom mirror, I think. Because available is a serving word. Available implies being prepared for action at any time. Available means being ready to put my plans and desires aside when the Spirit of God calls. Available will be costly. But I am, after all, His servant. So with Mary, I say, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word.”

Just For The Joy Of It

pexels-photo-66100.jpegDo you appreciate encouragement? Isn’t it nice to hear words of thanks and know you have made a difference in someone’s life? Does positive feedback give you an added boost of energy to continue in the task at hand? Are those silly questions? Of course they are, because appreciation and encouragement are universally positive. Gratefulness and encouragement are both common themes in the Bible, and should be significant qualities in the life of a Christian.

In his New Testament letters, the apostle Paul frequently urges his readers to encourage one another, and in Hebrews 3 he even adds “daily” to his instruction to encourage other believers. The church would benefit greatly from more gratefulness and encouragement. I know I can do more to encourage others, such as writing letters to thank those who have helped shape my faith and my walk with Christ.

Recently, I was blessed to receive such encouragement. It came in the form of a message from a younger woman who had been a faithful member of a Bible study group I help lead. Now on the women’s Bible study leadership team in a church plant, she is unable to attend our weekly Bible study. She thanked me and wanted me to know that, “Your investment in my heart is now being poured into a new group of young mothers.” Wow! I was (and still am) so excited to see discipleship in action, exactly as the church is supposed to function! How thrilling to see God at work through this godly younger woman. How delightful to be part of that work. It makes me want to roll up my sleeves, study my heart out, and go explore God’s Word with these faithful women. What a recharge! Who knows what may come of it?

Then another thought followed. What if NOTHING came of it? What if there were no grateful updates, no new leaders launched, no visible results? Would I be so excited to study God’s Word, prepare lessons, be at the church every Wednesday morning? Could I see myself doing the same thing year after year without encouragement until God redirected me? Could I approach each study session with equal enthusiasm? Or would I eventually suffer discouragement and burnout? And maybe even drop out? Such a thought is sobering, because I know how easy it is for me to become discouraged over slow growth or no growth in people I am pouring into.

So what’s the answer? Focus. The object of my eyes determines the state of my heart, regardless of circumstances. If I am focused on results, I have set myself up to be discouraged. Serving the god of results is a sure path to burnout. But if I am not focused on results, what is to be my motivation? Who is crazy enough to work hard for no visible results? I’ll tell you who. It is those who know the living God as Father. It is those who serve Him simply for the joy of obedience to Him. There can be no higher motivation than to return the love of our gracious, merciful, loving, heavenly Father by obeying His commands.

Obedience is an overarching Biblical theme from Genesis to Revelation. In the New International Version, “obey” is used 143 times, and “obedience” 34 times. That doesn’t include all the biblical synonyms for obedience such as do, walk, follow, heed, keep, fulfill, or observe! That’s a lot of obedience! Scripture shows us obedience comes with blessing (James 1:25; Luke 11:28; John 14:23) and disobedience comes with cursing (Deut. 11:26, and the entire Jewish history found in Kings and Chronicles). But the threat of dire consequences does not bring about heartfelt obedience. No, it is love that moves a heart to obey. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15 ). Even Jesus said His obedience showed the world that He loved the Father (John 14:31). A heart moved by gratitude and love finds joy in obeying the object of its affection.

In 2 Chronicles 29 and 30, under the leadership of King Hezekiah, the Jewish kingdom of Judah finds great joy in heartfelt obedience to God. Immediately upon taking the throne, twenty-five-year-old Hezekiah led the nation to return to faithful obedience to the Lord their God after years of apostasy. He opened the long-shut temple doors, and repaired them. He gathered the priests and the Levites and instructed them to first consecrate themselves, and then to set to work purifying the temple. In just sixteen days, the work was completed. Early the next morning, Hezekiah gathered the city officials and went up to the temple to offer sacrifices to God according to the Law of Moses. As offerings were being made, cymbals, harps, lyres, trumpets, and voices filled the air with praise to the Lord God. The king and his officials, the priests, the Levites, and everyone present knelt before the Lord in worship. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for His people, because it was done so quickly (2 Chron. 29:36). Then Hezekiah issued an invitation to all of Judah and Israel to come to the temple in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover as the Lord had commanded. Scripture tells us a very large number of people came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover. All the preparation, sacrifices, and travel to Jerusalem had been a lot of work and expense. But after the prescribed seven days of offerings, celebration, and praise to God, the people weren’t ready to stop. So they decided to celebrate for seven more days! Obedience had brought long-lost joy to Judah and to those who had come from Israel. “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place” (2 Chronicles 30: 26-27). God’s people found great joy in simple obedience. Not in promises of what the results might be, but in faithful execution of the Lord’s commands. Their obedience was its own encouragement.

I want to obey and serve my Lord just for the joy that comes from obedience. Christ has set me free to obey. He set me free from the bondage of sin to be able to say, “Yes, Lord” to whatever He asks. Just to live in obedience is it’s own joyful reward, to be pleasing to God, simply available for Him to use me, whether to bring results in the lives of others, or only in my own life. It would be an added bonus to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In our feedback-centric culture, I need to remember that “well-done” does not imply “highly productive” or “well-received.” It just means I did exactly what my Father asked with a happy heart and left the results up to Him.

Yes, I do appreciate the gratefulness and update from my Bible study friend. It IS a recharge to be able to see the results of service to the Lord. But I pray, in the presence of gratitude and encouragement, no matter how much or how little, that my motivation, my hope, my joy, will never be transferred from obedience to results.