Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Purpose of Prosperity is Provision, Not Self Indulgence (Part 2)

Ok. So if you are back after the last post, thank you.  That post, if you have not read it deals with several misconceptions surrounding scriptures and thought processes about prosperity.  I encourage you to go back and read it.  In case there is any doubt, I am not opposed to the idea that God prospers us.  Prosperity is absolutely a biblical principal.  It is the manner in which it is taught sometimes and the way that the church body understands this truth that I am striving to address.

Too many in the church want to stand on Kingdom principles and claim all kinds of things in the name of Jesus. This, while the lives of hypocrites in the church and even well meaning Christians are not reflecting a Gospel-centered lifestyle.  I have been guilty of it myself.  Jesus, his brother James, John, Paul, Timothy, Stephen, and many others in first century Christianity lived a Gospel-centered lifestyle.  The early New Testament church was very eternity minded.  Everything about their lives revolved around the Gospel.  Paul built tents for a living, Peter and some of the other disciples were fishermen.  However, they did not fit Jesus into their schedule.  No, their schedule revolved around Jesus and the spread of the Gospel.  Their resources were dedicated to their basic needs and the cause of Christ.  And, they walked by faith in obedience and not by sight. 

Today, in America, we do good to squeeze in fifteen minutes of Bible and prayer time a week, much less a day.  It is as if following Jesus were an obligation vs. the number one desire of our hearts.  We cannot expect God to truly prosper us in every aspect of our lives unless every aspect of our lives revolves around and is completely surrendered to Christ and his purpose.
In Luke 16:10-12, Jesus says to, wrap up a parable, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?"
God rewards faithfulness, obedience, and good stewardship in every area of life.  It is important to remember, as I have said before, the manifestation and timing of that reward is up to God.  He knows your need and he knows the condition of your heart in regard to when you receive the reward or increase.

In 3 John 1:2 the apostle/disciple John states, "I pray that you would prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers."  An indication from a respected man of God, who was trusted by God to pen God-breathed words as scripture, that if our soul prospers, then it is more likely that we will be in health and prosper in other areas of life.
  I want to be careful because that is exactly the kind of thought process that people use to claim divine health and create doubt of faith or relationship with God in those that don't experience divine healing or financial abundance.  As I stated in the first part of this two-part post, even Paul suffered afflictions that never resolved themselves, that God might show himself strong and get the glory.  In this life, which starts now and goes on for eternity, the promises of God may take place here on earth or in Glory but at some point, if we are believers, we will see all of God's promises come to pass.
 With that said,  the fact remains that the best possible path we can walk and story we can live here on earth will be one that is wholly surrendered to God, centered on the gospel, and purposed for His glory.

Here are a few scriptures that speak to prosperity in the word.  The parts about prosperity and wealth are often quoted without the rest of the context that speaks of the cost required to have God's favor resting on you.
Deuteronomy 8:18
"But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today". 
 Now, it is important to realize that this scripture is in the context of a long reminder from the Lord to Israel instructing them not to forget that all of their blessings were because of His provision lest they become conceited.  So if he felt it necessary to warn them about pride regarding blessings and prosperity then perhaps we should heed that warning as well.  In fact, I think it's worth mentioning that if you start at the beginning of ch.8 and continue through ch. 11 of Deuteronomy, you will see time after time that God is tying in the blessings and prosperity of his people with their faithfulness and obedience to his commands.
Joshua 1:6-8
"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.  Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful."
Again, a continuing emphasis on knowledge of God's commands and obedience to them in regards to his blessing and his people's success.
Genesis 13:2-3
"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.  I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you."
Of course, this one is referring to the call of Abraham as the Father of many nations.  A call containing a promise of blessings and prosperity in relation to a man who is known for having great faith and radical obedience more often than not by the grace of God.  A promise that was not completely fulfilled in Abraham's lifetime.  It was not fulfilled completely until Jesus was born through lineage leading back to Abraham.  A promise that, before it was fulfilled, saw many detours containing a lack of blessing and prosperity courtesy of disbelief and disobedience on the part of the Israelites.
Psalm 1:1-3
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither.  Whatever he does prospers. 
Delight and meditate in and on the law of the Lord, prosper, bear fruit.  Need I say more?
2 Corinthians 9:7-8
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
What is your motivation for giving.  Are you giving to obey or giving to receive.  Give with a willing, obedient heart. Give out of love for God, not obligation to God and he will bless abundantly so that you will have everything you need to accomplish his purpose in your life.
Matthew 6:33
Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.
This of course is in reference to not worrying over your needs being met.  If you are putting God and the advance of his kingdom first, he will ensure that  you have all your needs met.
Luke 12:16-20
And Jesus told them this parable:  "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, What shall I do?  I have no place to store my crops.  Then he said, This is what I'll do.  I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I'll say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.  But God said to him, YOU FOOL!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself."
Matthew 6:19-21
Jesus also said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Both of these scriptures call clear question to the topic of exorbitant savings or investments.  You might not live tomorrow. Personally I would rather leave a spiritual legacy for my children that says, "nothing that you have belongs to you, so instead of hording it for a rainy day or retirement that may never come, spend it on eternity now because you may not have tomorrow."  I want them to clearly understand that God will judge their hearts by what kind of stewards they were of what he gave them.  

All of these along with any other scriptures on this topic are stated in light of two ideas.  1.) that the prosperity and blessing of God is contingent upon obedience and a heart that desires God's glory.  2.) that the reason for God's blessing and prosperity is to accomplish his purpose.  
That purpose is the spread of the Gospel and the glorifying of His Name.  If we do not obey him we will either miss out on the blessing all together or experience trouble because we were poor stewards over that blessing. 

 Now, on to the next part and really, the primary thought of this two-part post.  What is the purpose for God's prosperity?  Why does God bless us?  Is it so we can have the house we always wanted?  Is it so we can have the newest car on lease, or the latest piece of technology?  Is it so we can eat out a whole bunch in the name of fellowship?  The answer is a resounding NO!  This begs the question: Are these things bad in and of themselves?  Also, NO!  What is bad is that we allow these things to take priority over the purpose for which God put us here.  That purpose is to glorify His name through fellowship with Him, by spreading the Gospel to the world, and by taking care of those that are desperately in need of being helped all over the world.

So how do we do that?  Well first we have to realize that this purpose is the command from Jesus to every believer/disciple that walks this earth today.  There are no exceptions.  Then we have to realize that the prosperity talked about all through the bible is not for our own personal gain.  It is PROVISION!  It is provision for the things that God is calling us to do.

The way that the Great Commission Matthew 28:18-20 plays out in each of our lives is going to look different.  Some individual journeys will require more resources than others in order to accomplish the commands that God has set before you.
Provision will come in different forms and quantities depending on the need.  If you find yourself with more than you need your first thought should not be, hey now I can buy that thing I've always wanted.  It should be God, all my needs are met and I have an abundance.  How would you like me to use it to benefit your Kingdom?  If your not sure yet and don't have peace about what to do then don't do anything.  Wait.  You may spend God's provision on something other than what he provided it for.

I have heard many stories of individual disciples and pastors alike who took this approach to managing God's provision.  Many of them had desires that were unnecessary to the furthering of the Kingdom.  But, they put God first and sometimes found themselves blessed with the very material thing that their hearts desired.  This without having to spend an ounce of the resources provided to them by God.  Now, I will grant you that this requires radical trust and obedience in your Heavenly Father but isn't that the point? 

Philippians 4:19 says, "And my God will supply all of your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."  This verse is often quoted by itself as an encouragement to others in need.  However, unfortunately, I have not often heard it taught in the entire context of which it applies.  You see, Paul is saying this to the church at Philippi because they had been faithful in supporting Paul's needs while he was in prison.  And God had been meeting his needs through this church why?   Because as he makes clear all through Philippians, he considers nothing of value except furthering the cause of Christ and knowing him more.  He has learned to be content in every circumstance trusting that God will provide.  So God was faithful to supply Paul's needs through the Church and Paul tells them that because of this all their needs will be met.  

So often I have heard people talk about obedience to God, referencing the benefits almost as if they were bait.  If you do this, God's gonna bless you.  Then they often tell a bunch of stories about all the material blessings they received as motivation for obedience and that is exactly how people receive it.  It misses the whole point.  I know the bible includes mention of the blessings as well, but the blessings should not be the focal point.  Obedience is the focus.

   How about this?  Obey God because he commanded you to.  Obey God because in his infinite goodness he sent his Son to take the punishment for your sins.  So you would not have to experience the wrath that God has toward your sins.  Obey God out of a heartfelt gratitude for drawing you unto himself and saving you for all eternity.  Because of these things, YOU GET TO KNOW GOD!  And, YOU GET TO BE KNOWN BY GOD!  How about that?!  Compared to that, any other benefits, blessings, prosperity are icing on the cake and they pale in comparison.

 What's more is that when you come to this realization then your heart longs for His presence.  Your heart longs to obey Him.  You don't do it because you feel as though you have to.  You don't do it because your gonna get some material blessing out of it.  You do it out of an overwhelming gratitude to your Savior King.  You do because you finally understand what it means to LOVE HIM!  You finally desire the Giver over any gift, material or otherwise.  You will be willing to die for the cause of making sure that you are doing all you can to share the Gospel with those who have never heard it.  You will be eager to set aside personal desires in order to help make sure someone overseas or maybe even in your own town has clothes and food and medical provisions.
James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

These are the purposes for provision/prosperity that are nearest and dearest to God's heart.  These are the reason that God wants to prosper his people. He loves us enough not to give us everything we want, but everything we need.  Let us trust him enough not to pursue God's riches but his presence.  Believing that he has our best in mind and will withhold no good thing from us if it is in our soul's best interest to receive it.  Let us purpose in our hearts to fully understand God's heart.  His heart is that we as his church would long to glorify his name by using their resources to live lives worthy of the Gospel, striving to meet urgent spiritual and physical need around the world.

I pray this will come to pass in your life in increasing measure in the future.

In Jesus name,

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Purpose of Prosperity is Provision Not Self Indulgence (Part 1)

When I think about the prosperity gospel I just wanna scream, The Prosperity Gospel....AAAAAGGGGH!!  It's ironic I suppose because I have been hearing it, to some degree, from one source or another for years.  I was even sold on it to some extent for a little while.  Who wouldn't want to serve a God who is just waiting to poor out blessing on you.....especially if it's for your benefit?  That is in fact, where the problem lies.
    Contemporary Christianity has created a concept of Jesus as a drive-thru window.  Burger King Christianity, my way, right away.  Pull up, name it, claim it, and it's yours.  Or rather pull up to an empty building, speak that restaurant and food into being and enjoy your meal.
     These ideas tend to be based on a scripture taken completely out of context.  Romans 4:17 says, "As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations.  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were."
This scripture is speaking of Abraham's faith and trust in what GOD had spoken.  This is the only place that uses this phrase about speaking things that are not as though they were and it is referring to God as the speaker, not us.  Yet we have taken this phrase and made it the basis for the "name it and claim it" concept.  This text in Romans is also part of a much larger multi-chapter discourse by Paul regarding salvation and righteousness.  It was not written as a discussion of how we can get what we want by placing demands on God.  We can proclaim HIS WORD which is still HIM speaking, but the results and timing are still up to him.
     Regarding getting what WE want, here is what the bible says about that.  "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4).  "This is the confidence we have in approaching God:  That if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him". (1 John 5:14-15)  
     Ok, so far we know that if we are delighting in the Lord and are asking for his will to be done in our lives that we will have that.  So how do we know what his will is?  Well, to know that we must do something.  In Romans 12:1-2 Paul states, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  THEN you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will."
    One of the biggest problems in the world today is that we want God to do everything for us but we don't want to dig deep into our relationship with Him through prayer, study of the word, and application of the word to our lives.  We want to quote a few bible verses and go on living life our way.  That is not living according to his will.  If  you are not living according to his will then you probably WILL NOT pray according to his will.  If your lifestyle is selfish, your prayers most likely will be also.
Following Christ means loosing everything for him.  In fact in Luke 14:26-27 Jesus says, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."  In Vs 33 after a couple of examples he says, "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."
     Jesus, Paul, and John all drive a much tougher line in regards to what obedience and discipleship looks like than is taught and received in much of the church today.  However, what we need to realize is that we are not actually loosing or sacrificing but gaining and benefiting for as Paul said, "to live is Christ and to die is gain"(Philippians 1:21)  Paul goes on to say, "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."(Philippians 3:8-9)
Can you say that?  When your life reflects a relationship with Jesus in which nothing else has value compared to potentially sharing in the same suffering as Christ did and dying as Christ did, then you can say that that HIS will is of most interest to you.
         Another misconception is that because all God's promises are Yes and Amen(2 Corinthians 1:20), that must mean they will happen when we want them to.  That is not the case.  God knows our heart and and only God knows his divine plan for our lives and the lives of everyone we impact. The timing of God's provision, healing, any other promises and whether it happens in this life on earth or eternity spent with Jesus is entirely up to him. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."  
           To many faithful followers of God have died afflicted and not living in abundance to suggest that God always answers every prayer as yes, in this life.   Paul himself prayed to be delivered from affliction and God did not say yes because he knew that Paul would know the glory and strength of God better in his weakness. Paul also knew that whether having much or having little he could be content knowing that all things were possible through the strength that Christ provides. We must trust that God's plan for our lives, though difficult at times, is perfect and for our greater good.  He will sustain us and provide for our every NEED.  No matter the trial or tribulation, by His grace we can stand, knowing that his strength is made perfect in our weakness.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Philippians 4:11-13) 
 Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

In the interest of brevity I will stop here and continue in part 2 of this post title.  I wanted to deal with some misconceptions regarding this topic in setting up to present that the bible does in fact promise prosperity and to discuss the "why's" of that truth.  It is much less shallow or selfish and much more purposed towards God's glory than today's church culture in much of American Christianity would have us believe.  So if I have peaked your curiosity, good.  If you are not a free subscriber to this blog then subscribe or come back and check out part 2 for the conclusion.  If I have made you mad or you think I am nuts, that's ok too.  At least read part 2 and get the complete thought process before you write me off or label me a heretic. Stay tuned.

 My ultimate goal is that God gets the glory in my life and the life of every reader of this blog.  If challenging you to pursue biblical truth and grow in your relationship with God is not the primary purpose behind every post then my efforts are meaningless.  If you have not trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord then I pray my posts point you to him and that his Holy Spirit will draw you unto an eternal life that begins as soon as you are born again in Christ.

In Jesus Name,


Saturday, October 13, 2012

The sufficiency of God's grace

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the cares of this world that we forget why we are in this world to begin with.

 It is so easy to forget that the only reason we exist is because Almighty God created us.  The only reason that we wake up each morning and make it through to the next night is because God allows it.

 If we are genuine, God-fearing, God following, bible obeying, believers in Jesus then that makes us children of the Most High.(John 1:12-13)  If we are indeed Christians, we still find it easy to forget that the only reason we have eternal life is because God, by his GRACE, sent his son to drink the cup of God's wrath toward our sin.  The wrath, that we deserved to be the objects of, because of our sin.  We so easily forget that only by his GRACE, he sent his son to die our spiritual death for us, conquering that death so that we can have eternal life.  We forget that even the faith that we are saved through is a gift of God's GRACE.  We so easily forget that nothing we have done or will ever do can save us.  We are saved, our salvation is kept, and we are eventually made perfect in heaven ONLY BY HIS GRACE.(Ephesians 2:8-9)  Until then, we press on toward perfection as Paul did knowing that in our areas of weakness God will show himself strong because his grace is sufficient to do so.(2 Corinthians 12-9)  In this way, only he gets the glory.

It is also in his loving GRACE, goodness, kindness, and mercy that we are blessed to live in America with the freedom's that we have while others around the world are dying daily for the right to proclaim the name of Jesus.  That we live in an area that is saturated with the Gospel being preached so that we would have the opportunity to hear, believe, and obey while billions around the world have never even heard the name of Jesus.  We forget that by his GRACE most reading this live in a country that is still one of the most financially prosperous countries in the world.  A place where most of us don't have to worry about where our next meal is coming from or whether we can get medical care.  This while billions are dying around the world unnecessarily of starvation or preventable disease.

So let us begin to remember.  Let us remember the reason that we wake up each morning.  Let us remember how blessed most of us are to have a dry, safe place to call home.  Let us remember how blessed most of us are to know where our next meal is coming from.

And, most especially if we are believers, let us remember  that we have eternal hope, joy, and peace available to us in Christ Jesus.  All we have to do is live out our gratitude by putting the Holy Spirit in the drivers seat each and every day.  Submitting our lives to Jesus's Lordship in every aspect of our lives.  Making our faith and our salvation known by the fruit of our lives.  Fruit that is obedient to the word of God.  Fruit that takes care of the needy locally and around the world.  Fruit that puts our brothers and sisters needs ahead of our own. Fruit that causes us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others because we have a revelation in our hearts that all around us people are living spiritually dead lives that will lead them to hell if they are not born again. (John 3:7)  Fruit that causes us to more lovingly be patient and kind with our children and our spouses.(James 2:14-26)  Fruit that causes us to submit to our authorities.  Fruit that causes to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  Then your every need will be met.(Matthew 6:33)  Do not grow weary in doing good for in due season, you will reap a harvest.(Galatians 6:8-10)

Each night before you go to bed confess your sins and repent (turn away) from them.  Then you will have forgiveness(1 John 1:9).  Each morning, wake up and thank him for new mercies and compassions.  For the Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.(Lamentations 3:22-25)  You don't have to seek out his blessings.  If you simply seek Him, desire Him, live for Him, His GRACE  and blessings will abound in ways you could never have thought of yourself.  You will know his presence like you have never known it before. You will have your hearts desire because God's biblically based and spirit-led will for your life becomes your hearts desire.(Psalm 37-4)

So let us stop living selfishly and LIVE FOR THE LORD!  He loves you!  He created you by his GRACE, He saves you by his GRACE, and by his all sufficient GRACE He will never fail you!

In Jesus name,