Thursday, January 17, 2008

Starbucks vs. the Prosperity Teachers

There are few greater controversies in the church today than that of prosperity. On one side there are those who believe that money does not mix with the kingdom of God. The results of this are churches that can’t afford to project what they believe beyond the exit doors and missionaries who have to…basically not be missionaries. No one gets to go. The End!

On the other hand there are those who believe that God simply exists to serve us when we ring the bell asking for whatever we think we need. Some churches based on this philosophy simply grow obese with ostentatious extravagance while the world around it dies in godless ignorance. This extreme is also erroneous. However, resources are needed to advance the gospel.

I was once preaching and asked the church how many wanted more money from God than they personally needed. No one raised their hands. I then asked how many would like to reach their community, help the poor and reach the nations with the gospel. They all said, “Yes.” “Well,” I asked, “how can you do this unless you actually believe God for more than you can use for yourselves?” The lights went on, and most understood. God is generous, and He not only wants to meet our needs but reach others through the overflow in our lives.

Most would agree with this, but we still have a problem with method. Some teachers of prosperity would suggest that if you want more resources, more things and greater blessings that you should give abundantly and in faith… to their ministry. To this I would like to suggest a slight modification that would test the teaching and in fact it will actually bring out the true nature of what God wants to do.

This is the change. They should preach, “If you want to be blessed (actually, if you want to be a blessing) give abundantly and in faith to…someone else’s ministry. Give to your neighbor in need, give to the poor, and give to missions even in other ministries.” This would bring a quick balance to excesses, and it would bring much-needed resources to those who need it most.

This even works in the world as seen in the recent Starbucks
Cheer Chain phenomenon. A guy drives up to the Starbucks drive-thru, pays his bill, and says, “I want to pay the bill for the guy behind me as well.” The guy behind him then drives up to the surprise that his bill has been paid, so he in-turn pays the bill for the guy behind him. This goes on for hours as each surprised customer pays for the next customer’s bill. Actually, it is reported that this is a promotional idea by Starbucks, and they sometimes ask people to do this.

Well, that is the point that I am trying to make. God is asking us to bless others who can bless others who can bless others. No one preacher is the recipient and God’s kingdom is advanced in many seen and unseen ways. In all fairness I must add that I have friends in the Faith Movement who embrace this balance and are very generous to missions, the poor and others in need. The key is the attitude of the heart. God wants to bless because He loves us, and He wants us to be able to bless others.

One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed. Prov 19:17

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt 6:19-21

But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, Matt 6:3

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

A New Leaf or a New Day

The New Year is a time when many people make resolutions, goals or radical commitments for change. There is very little spiritual significance in the change of the number 2007 to the number 2008, but there is a lot of momentum when whole societies try some kind of change all at the same time.

A number of years ago I started to go to the gym – oh, I need to resolve to go back – but I started my routine a few months before the holidays. After January 1st my trainer, Anatoliy, said, “Watch, the gym will fill up the next few weeks, people will exercise themselves sick and then give up.” True to his prediction, we watched in awe and humor as new faces came and went. The main problem was that people had unreasonable goals and they were trying to undo in 5 visits the damage and excess of living that they accumulated over their entire lives.

Christians often greet the New Year by thinking that God wipes away the past year and that all they have sown in the past will somehow cease to exist at midnight on December 31st like Cinderella’s ball costume, only in reverse fashion. The sad news is that this simply is not so.

However, the good news is that with God we do not need a New Year to make things right. God’s mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness never fails. Goals for the New Year are good, but the best way to realize them is not a sudden unrealistic surge of activity. Setting the daily goal to meet with our God insures a stable life where mercy is ever-present and foundations are laid at a rate where they can solidify to make us strong throughout the year.

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;Great is Your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"Therefore I have hope in Him."
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the Lord. Lam 3:22-26