Good News, Prosperity, Decreasing and Increasing…

We recently had a guest preacher at our little church in Porto de Moz who spoke on the changes that one should expect when embarking on the Christian life.  He said that we become perfect in our attitudes and behavior, and that we prosper in every area in our life because of God’s Spirit living within us.  This teaching sounds appealing but is untrue.  The emphasis of the message is the clue as to its origin: me, me, me.

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His message is the central teaching of the “faith” and “positivism” movements which have influenced the Vineyard movement and virtually every other church and mission movement worldwide.  These are doctrines pickled with Bible verses, appealing to our flesh, based on western, linear thought (black and white, without paradox), and contrary to the heart and will of God (according to Jesus – God’s revelation of Himself to us).  It says that if I am serving God, my endeavors will manifest His “blessing”, I will succeed at whatever I do, my church/ministry will grow and its members’ lives will improve, my life will “prosper” and improve, I will be healed, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper”, etc.  If you give, you will receive; so give much so that you will receive much!  Me, me, me.

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All around the world today, Christianity is preached as a means to euphoria and personal gain.  Pastors and missionaries alike teach that our happiness is God’s primary desire.  Their message is emotional, superficial, earthly focused and those who preach it do not resemble the One they claim to follow.   It is a recent doctrine that would be sadly laughable to those of Jesus’ day and to virtually all people living throughout mankind’s painful history, to Stephen, to the thief on the cross, to John on Patmos and Paul in prison, to those born in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Calcutta slums, etc.  It is a fairytale doctrine which does not experientially co-exist with reality.  They preach healing and are not healed, they preach prosperity and happiness and live in obvious discontentment and frustration (they never have enough), they preach love and yet hate their brother with whom they disagree, and they preach about heaven while their lives demonstrate passion for the things of this world.

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I’ve even heard it said that if we had more “prosperity”, and performed more miracles (perhaps even raised people from the dead), there would be revival and more people would become Christians.  I guess this depends on our definition of “Christian”.  The gospel is presented like American advertising: “Do you want to have more, do more, believe more…?  You CAN!  Accept Jesus and all His gifts, blessings, and promises are yours!”  More and more, for you.

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Jesus talked about forsaking “more” and John spoke of becoming “less”.  Jesus spoke of certain suffering, that the world would hate those who were His, that we would experience much “tribulation”, etc.  The history of the Church supports Jesus’ prediction for those who choose Him – much difficulty, much suffering, and lack of prosperity.  The choice has always been between my comfort and prosperity OR following Jesus.  Consider the martyrs.  Was it their prosperity and self-improvement message that got them killed?  Up until the recent change in the gospel message, it was understood that to follow Jesus meant to choose to forsake self.  The martyrs preached this and lived it, making those interested in themselves, prosperity and self-improvement see that they were living contrary to God and His will, which then generated their violent responses.  We face the same choices but recanting our beliefs for comfort and success has become so prevalent that we don’t recognize our daily compromises.

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If we pursue success, prosperity, or anything other than our Father, we can speak, work and lead others “in His name” completely apart from His will.  Are we leading people to Jesus as Lord or are we leading them to prosperity, health, and self-improvement, using Jesus as the means to this end?  We are the modern money changers in the temple, using God’s call for relationship as a means to personal gain.

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How far we’ve come from “pick up your cross and follow me”, “seek first the Kingdom of God…”, “Not my will, but Your will be done”, and “I must decrease so that He might increase”.

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We had a leader’s retreat this past weekend where I led a discussion on what the “good news” isn’t and what the “good news” is.  My simple list follows this post.  One of our women leaders emphasized that she was grateful for the discussion as it helped identify her need for more discernment.  The current prosperity message (it IS evangelical Christianity in the Amazon) and other “biblical” lies are preached as gospel and we need to prioritize the pursuit of wisdom in our churches and in those we disciple.  Where is the pursuit of wisdom in today’s church?  There is much false teaching today and we must critically analyze what we hear (and teach) with the Holy Spirit and His Word.  As we read the various letters to the early churches, we realize that we face similar challenges today regarding false teaching.  There are a few intentional and many unintentional false teachers and it is up to us to discern (and to teach) the truth.  (Mt 15:14)  We must remember that false teaching thrives because of its appeal to “self”.  We must decrease…

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So many of today’s ministers will marvel at the King’s opinion of their self-importance and their self-serving, achievement-based ministries (Jesus builds His church) as they bow before Him one day.  “Many in that day will say…”  Jesus said the greatest will be those who most serve and love.  Period.  Gifts, charisma, and ear-tickling and crowd-gathering messages are highly favored over poor in spirit, meek, and hungry in our polished, mega-church, made-for-TV, and very prosperous church culture of 2011.  We must decrease…

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“We should give because we will then receive.”  This is completely contrary to the Kingdom and yet it is being taught everywhere as Christian doctrine.  It is even the central focus in many missionary gospel presentations  “Come to (Accept) Jesus so that you will receive…”  “What do you want from Jesus?”  “Jesus wants to give you all the desires of your heart.”  You, you, you.  Are we to be salt or sugar?  We must decrease…

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Jesus could not have said more clearly that we cannot serve God and money (and those things that money provides).  He used a ludicrous image of a camel and needle for emphasis.  Paul even warned Timothy that love of money (and those things that money provides) would destroy us.   Yet we have a whole generation of Christians (in both the States and the Amazon) that believes that God rewards us with that which He said will destroy us!  Christians of today spend their time and energy pursuing money (and those things that money provides) while talking much about the Kingdom.  We must decrease…

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A jailed Romanian Pastor has said that 95% of the believers that he knows who have been persecuted have maintained passion for Jesus.  He also says that 95% of the believers that he knows who have experienced material prosperity have lost their passion for Jesus.  It’s no wonder that so many of today’s Christians struggle with a lack of personal passion for the Kingdom and lack of intimacy with their Father.  We must decrease…

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We spend millions just on our church buildings, soft chairs, sound systems, etc.  We somehow believe that this money (given to us by God to steward) is more appropriately spent on us than on children who have never heard of God’s love for them as they sleep on the ground at night cold and hungry.  We are to give it away, not spend it on ourselves!  This is the whole of Jesus’ life and message and yet church today is all about the church (our growth, our character, our peace, our assurance…).  We are so comfortable in our meeting places and yet God never primarily called us to meet together.  We are called to go, to serve, to die to our comforts and ambitions (for others’ sake), to love the unloved, to free the captive, to heal and comfort the diseased and afflicted, etc.  We meet together in order to become equipped to do the work of the Kingdom outside of our climate-controlled buildings.  Where, however, is the majority of the church’s money spent, on ourselves or on those in need who don’t know Him?  I wonder how many people we could genuinely help with clean water, one good meal/day, basic medicines, bibles, etc. if we sold all of our air-conditioned modern-day cathedrals?  Even in “third world” missions, I would love to have even a portion of what is spent on bricks and mortar to spend on real needs.  We would shock the world if we stopped spending money on ourselves (the church) and began spending it on them, no strings.  We must decrease…

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We don’t offend the world because we ARE the world.  We have the same desires for self-improvement, for success, for earthly security, for attention, for comfort, for pleasure.  We are as self-focused as those who claim no interest in God.  We must decrease…

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70% of the world’s population say that they do not believe in Jesus and His kingdom.  I wonder what the church would look like if this 70% became the focus of our love.  It’s been reported that < 3% of all Christian giving goes to the non-christian world (82% to pastoral care, 12% to home mission, 5% to foreign mission).  In order to love them as they are and where they are, we must decrease…

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Half of the world’s people live on less than $2.50/day.  One in four live on less than $1.00/day.  90% of world’s population live on < $1,000/month and the world median income is $1,700/year.  Life in the Amazon is quite simple materially, yet even a common laborer here ($10/day) is still richer than 37% of the world’s population.  This life is often so painful and desperate especially for those without adequate food/water, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc (more than 1 of 2 of the world’s people).  What can we do?  We must decrease…   http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/resources/how-rich-you-are.php

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As Jesus’ body, we must decide.  Will we seek to die for another’s benefit or seek to live better for ourselves?  Pastors, missionaries, ministers and all Jesus followers, we must evaluate our hearts, to see if we are seeking His kingdom first.  We say that God is first in our lives, yet our energy, money and passion are spent on ourselves.  Even a missionary can work very hard and live completely for himself, focusing on achievement, “success”, and esteem.  Is it our will or His will that we are pursuing?  Let us pick up our cross (choose to serve and suffer) for His sake and for the sake of another.  We must decrease…

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I believe that our Father is (still) looking for imperfect people who will choose to forsake temporal security, pleasure and comfort in order to serve those hurting and unloved.  He seeks people who choose to abandon earthly rewards, who give away their lives, their work, their wage, their comfort, their name, their reputation, and their security, as did the One they follow.  He seeks a people who will give up any regard for return, reward, appreciation, etc, because their passion is to see others blessed and to know their Father’s pleasure.  He must increase…

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What is the Good News?

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Father, I’m so sorry that we have made your Good News all about “me”.  I’m sorry that we are such spoiled children who have no regard for anyone else, let alone You.  I’m sorry that our relationship with you has “me” at its center.  I’m sorry for our gross lack of concern for those in the world that you dearly love.  I want to give myself to you again to use and to spend.  We must decrease.  You must increase…

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Consider:

What would the church look like if it had complete disregard for its own comfort and was completely preoccupied with loving, serving and blessing those who don’t know Him?

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The Good News of the Kingdom is not:

A better life – Look at the life of Jesus, Peter, Paul, Stephen, the historical Church

A genie who will grant our every prayer request

Prosperity

Good health, a cure

All of the answers

Understanding

Mistake-free, error-free, sin-free behavior, perfection

Words

The Bible – It is our revelation of God; not God

A religion, a church, a place

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The Good News of the Kingdom is:

Our Message

The Cross, the Resurrection

Grace – We are washed, loved for ever, and nothing can separate us…

Relationship with God

God came to earth

Freedom

God’s wrath forever satisfied in Jesus

We are loved, precious, created and saved with purpose – Love

He is our Daddy

We can surrender to (follow) our Father, who so loves us

We can participate in His work to bring others to our Father (we are His body, his instruments)

God is God – He is sovereign

A perspective focused on the eternal, the unseen

The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)

6 comments

  1. Tim, This has challenged me more then anything else has in a long time!! I love that. I think I will go and spend some time with God now. Bless you Kim

  2. Thank you Tim for this post. It is a great way to start my day. Very thought provoking. Hope you are all doing well.

  3. WOW…. i’m seriously stunned. It’s been a while since I’ve heard this message. Thank you for your boldness, for unfortuneatly having to go against the “Christian” grain. I am really going to have to go before the Lord open minded and open hearted with this. Thanks Tim!

  4. Dear Tim, Betsy and “kids”, WOW. I was so blessed by the blog. I finally managed to get onto my e-mail for the first time in literally weeks, since my laptop died the first of February. No time. The Lord was as always, bang on the mark, this time through you Tim, in your blog content on false teaching, prosperity, etc. in the evangelical church in Brazil. I lived and dealth with it for 13 years there and I know exactly what you mean. God is faithful though and people are STILL coming into relationship with the Son in SPITE OF/apesar de that stuff. Praise his name.

    Hang in there in spite of mourning what feels like a death as you move in the direction He is leading you, and away from where you have been. It was your training ground. I’m still trying to figure out why He brought me back to the USA, other than family reasons. I still am asking Him what he wants me to do now. He WILL lead as you all well know. Someone once said he gives us just enough light to see the next few steps in front of us, not the whole path; so we remain dependent on Him. Doesn’t make it easy though! Love and Blessings from Columbus, Ohio. Janette Ryan

  5. You so aptly put into words what has been an ongoing concern of ours with respect to evangelization on the mission field. Very challenging observations, and ones that need to be brought to light if we are to engage in “pure and undefiled religion”. Thank you for writing. Heidi & family

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