The (Prosperity?) Gospel

There are many manmade adaptations of the true Biblical gospel, and some of them are quite popular today. Among these false gospels is one, often referred to as the “prosperity gospel,” which basically teaches that if you follow Jesus, He will bless you with financial, social, and physical wellbeing. The idea is that if you will follow God the way He wants, He will give you all of the earthly blessings you desire.

This prosperity gospel is completely incompatible with scripture itself. Many have spoken out against it in no uncertain terms, insisting that in fact life often becomes harder, rather than easier, when we follow Jesus.

In some sense there is truth to the idea that following Jesus makes life harder. Look at the life of Paul as a prime example. He was a promising Jewish Pharisee with a bright future as a leader of the people, yet when he gave his life to Jesus, he traded all of that for a life full of beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and all manner of hardship.

But let us make sure that we do not overreact to the prosperity gospel so extremely that we insist that following Christ is worse than it actually is! Paul, even after all he went through, stated plainly that he was happy about his decision to follow Jesus. In the ways that mattered most, following Jesus still made his life better, not worse.

“If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3)

I would argue that the quality of Paul’s life did not go down, but rather it went up as a result of his dedication to Christ. He may have given up a lot, but he would do it all again in a heartbeat, for what he has gained is something of “surpassing value.”

Did not Jesus Himself say “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”?

Maybe there is some truth in the prosperity gospel after all… Not because God will make our way prosperous from a worldly standpoint in terms of material health or wealth, but because God will indeed teach us to prosper in our souls.

In his third epistle, John stated: “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”

In 2 Corinthians Paul said: “though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”

Will following God make you physically healthy and materially wealthy? It might. Or it might not. But what we do know, is that following God is the pathway to a prospering soul, full of the fruits of the Spirit.

“Better a little with the fear of the Lord
Than great wealth with turmoil.
Better a small serving of vegetables with love
Than a fattened calf with hatred.”
(Proverbs 15:16-17)

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Jesus can Help You Escape the Malaise

On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered an address live from the oval office that would soon become known as “The Malaise Speech.” Here is an excerpt from that address:

“It’s clear that the true problems of our Nation are much deeper—deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession… In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

Carter is certainly not alone in his observation that “The American Dream” of nice big houses and cars has been unable to fill the holes in our hearts. Addiction specialist Johann Hari puts it this way: “We’ve traded floorspace for friends, we’ve traded stuff for connections, and the result is we are one of the loneliest societies that has ever been.”

So what are we supposed to do, when nothing that we try works? What if I buy new gadgets, and I still feel… bored? What if I binge-watch Netflix, but my own life still feels empty? What if I go to work day after day, but I can’t help but wander if what I do really matters to anyone, anyways?

A new year is beginning. Do you find yourself hopeful that this year, things will be different? Maybe that feeling of emptiness that so many of us feel is telling us that we are missing out on something vastly important.

I cannot tell you how many times I have resolved to make changes in my life. “From now on, I am going to do the dishes every day. I am going to eat healthy. I am going to pray for an hour each morning. I am going to live a life with purpose, making the most of every moment.”

But then that “malaise” that Jimmy Carter warned about comes creeping back in. I find myself turning to “stuff” instead of to meaningful human connection, against the advice of Johann Hari.

But as cheesy at it may sound in a society so traditionally steeped in religious tradition, Jesus has answers.

He told us that He came to give us a new kind of water that would not simply leave us thirsty again. He told us that He came to teach us how to live abundantly. He modeled a life of intentionality and passion.

In Ephesians 5:26-27, we are told that Jesus died for the church “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory.”

To be sanctified is to be set apart as something that is special and different. Do you want to get out of the rat race and start living a different kind of life, one with true meaning? To be washed in holy water is to have a fresh start in life, day after day, as His blood continually cleanses us. Do you think you could use a new start now and then? To be presented to God “in all of your glory” is to unlock that potential that always seems to get snuffed out by “the malaise.” Do you want God’s help to live abundantly?

Jesus says those things happen in the church. Yes, as cheesy as it sounds in a nation as traditionally religious as ours. Yes, even though the church is made up of human beings who, by their very nature as human beings, often seem pretty insensitive and dimwitted. Yes. Jesus says those things happen in the church. Will you join us?

Living with Passion

A few years ago I read “Miracle in the Andes,” written by Nando Parrado, one of the 16 passengers who would ultimately survive a plane crash and 72 days of isolation in the Andes Mountains at high altitude. After two months stranded, Parrado and another man named Roberto Canessa trekked ten days through the mountains to ultimately find help.

The most moving part of Parrado’s account, which I will never forget, is the feeling he had very early into that ten day trek, when he finally got to the top of a high ridge, expecting to find Chile, and salvation, on the other side. Instead, there was nothing but more mountains as far as the eye could see.

All of the anxiety, the anticipation, the crushing weight of responsibility for the other passengers, and the desperate hope for the preservation of his life, was lifted from Parrado’s shoulders, and he describes an immense feeling of joy and relief. Parrado says that in that moment, he became certain that he would die in the Andes, and in that certainty he found a peace and a freedom.

Of course, Parrado was wrong. He went on to find help. But that feeling of peace never left him. He describes living each day to the fullest, with complete gratitude for the time that he has. In Parrado’s case, the old adage is true, life can only be truly and fully lived in view of death.

Another account of a terrible situation that has affected me deeply is a talk online by Journalist Sebastian Junger that seeks to understand “Why Veterans Miss War.” Junger personally spent time in heavy combat, and describes the paradoxical, but common scenario in which a soldier comes home from war, only to find him or her self longing to go back. His conclusion is that the connection of brotherhood felt by men in combat is a force of incredible power, and is so unequaled by the petty connections that dominate modern society.

Both of these accounts, and so many others like them that are based on true events, emphasize to us the reality that sometimes the most dramatic circumstances draw out from us something very deep and powerful. Deep within ourselves, men and women long to be a part of a cause that matters, to have an important reason to get up in the morning, and to feel the full depth and weight of a life lived to the fullest.

Contrast that with much of what goes on in the Lord’s church today.

Friends, the Bible tells us that we are at war (Ephesians 6:10-17). The Bible tells us that we have an adversary who stalks around like a lion eating people (1 Peter 5:8). The Bible tells us that we have the opportunity to save souls from death (James 5:20). The Bible tells us that we will suffer and be reviled (1 Peter 4:12-14), and hated my all (Mark 13:13), as we strive for a prize that far outweighs our afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Do the problems of social or economic or political injustice that fill so many with passion not have their root in the necessity for the hearts of the world to find and savor Jesus Christ? Do the family problems that tear lives apart and leave so many so deeply and tragically wounded not fall under the authority of the Divine Author of the family itself?

Is there not a war raging in your heart over whether life is even worth living, and if so, what it is worth living for? Is the world not full of suffering that God calls us to address? Do you actually believe even a fraction of what you say about how much of the world is lost and truly hell bound?

Jesus came that we might live life and live it to the fullest (John 10:10).

If God in Christ is not drawing out from deep within us the strivings of hearts that are truly living and fighting with passion, it is not because He has not issued a call to arms. It is only because of our pathetic, hypocritical apathy.