Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Celebrating an odd anniversary and claiming a spirit of thankfulness

Nine years ago today the doctor gave me two choices. The first was to be placed in a medically induced comma for six weeks during with time they would do six to eight surgeries. The mortality rate was normally 60-80%, but because of my condition she thought the mortality rate would be 90% or more. Furthermore, if I did survive the goal would be to have me strong enough to go home for St. Patrick's day in March. The other option was for them to make me comfortable for my passing, because unless we did something I only had hours to live. Obviously we choose the first option. So today my family and I celebrate the anniversary of a decision that took us into a dark season of surgery after surgery, seemingly countless sessions of physical therapy, and many days when death seemed much closer than life. But because of our choice to try "life" I have had the opportunity to see my children grow up, so spend wonderful days with Beth, and to experience a season of ministry when I have gotten to witness God move in ways beyond my wildest imagination. While some will go into tomorrow thankful for the bounty of the food on the table, I come with a spirit of thanksgiving -celebrating the memories of this past nine years - celebrating the love of a family that sustained me then and now - celebrating a family of faith that embraces me - celebrating a God who is in the healing and redeeming business. I cherish each day of these past nine years - days that once seemed in real doubt - and now I come with wonder and anticipation to see what God will do next. Happy Thanksgiving. Tom

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

“A Healthy View of the Promise of Prosperity” Deuteronomy 30:5-11 NSRV November 6, 2010

You can almost see people’s jaws tighten at the mere mention of money at church. We sit there waiting to have guilt heaped upon us; to be told that whatever we give it is not enough. In other moments we hear a preacher offer a litany of Scriptures to tell us what is expected of us and if we only give the right amount with the right spirit and in the right way that God will give us everything we need and more. The only problem is we see some without faith who have everything and some with great faith who seem to have very little. We end up landing somewhere between frustrated and confused. So, the pastor speaks our jaws tighten and many of us simply shut down. Over the next two weeks I want to invite us to take a healthier look at the promise of prosperity and what it means to people a people of blessing. Relax the jaw and breathe easy. I promise you no guilt and that I will try to help dispense with some of the confusion. Let’s start with the promise of prosperity.

Frederick K. C. Price of Ever Increasing Faith Ministries states that a vital part of understanding God’s promises of prosperity is understanding The Law of Divine Return (Luke 6:38). He explains; “Give to God and God gives to you; prosperity begins with an investment. There is a universal law of divine reciprocation. You give; GOD gives to you. When you sow a seed, the land offers a harvest. That is a reciprocal relationship. The land gives to you, if you give to the land. You deposit money in the bank and the bank pays you interest. That is called reciprocation. However, there are many people who wish to receive without giving anything, especially when dealing with the things of GOD. They know that reciprocation is fundamental in the system of the world. And, nevertheless, always expect GOD to send them something when they haven't invested in the kingdom of GOD.” (1)

The television evangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn offers you a very special product. You can get a Prosperity Prayer Shawl. The advertisement proclaims; “This unique tallit (prayer shawl) can enrich your prayer life, even as it serves as a reminder of God’s ageless desire to prosper and bless His children. The prayer shawl, features 12 faith-building prosperity Bible verses, as well as an unforgettable scene from “Autumn,” one of the world’s most beautiful masterpieces from Nicolas Poussin’s “Four Seasons” collection. The original painting, displayed permanently at the Louvre in Paris, is also known as “Spies with Grapes from the Promised Land.” By special arrangement, Benny Hinn Ministries has arranged to make this breathtaking work of art, featured on the Prosperity Prayer Shawl, available exclusively to partners and ministry friends. Literally wrap yourself in God’s promises as you fellowship with Him! Request your Prosperity Prayer Shawl for your seed-gift of $50. (2)

Each morning you can watch Kenneth Copeland teach on multiple cable stations. He contends; “ primarily, God requires us to be faithful stewards of His anointing. When we’re faithful stewards of the anointing, we’ll walk in love to guard its effectiveness in our life. We’ll walk by faith to keep the anointing flowing strong. A good steward of the anointing also knows that money isn’t for hoarding—money is for giving. He doesn’t love money—he loves people. He uses money to bless people. When you live like that, God will see to it that you have all the money you need. Why? Because God’s priority is to destroy yokes and remove burdens by the power of His anointing through you. He desires to bless His people. And when your life lines up with God’s priority, He’ll see to it that you prosper spiritually, physically, financially and any other way you can think.” (3)

BiblicalProsperity.org boldly states; “So many Biblical Prosperity Quotes tell us the same thing over & over: God’s promise is one of Wealth and Abundance. We simply need to know the ‘how’, and God will take care of the ‘what’.” (4)

When I listen to these voices and others like them, it seems that our relationship with God can be defined in terms of an economic exchange. We give to God and God’s causes and God is obligated to give us economic prosperity. I understand the motivation of those who hear them. So many people live paycheck to paycheck. So many deal with the reality that there is more month than money and dream of a time when there is more money than month. Many – so many – long for something in their life to change; so many dream of a life without worry and money enough to thrive. That “many” probably includes many of us in this very room. So, they know what they are doing is not working and they see it is for others. These preachers and teachers make their pictch and is seems logic to the ear and easy to the heart. Those who are wealthy have discovered the secret to God’s prosperity – and those who are not wealthy have an inadequate or inappropriately designed relationship with God. They look for the magic words, that other way, and these preachers and teachers offer the way and load their pitch with Bible verses. The problem I have is although they offer lists of cherry-picked scriptures, it seems to run counter to the teaching I hear from across the breadth of Scripture. For example, Jesus tells a story that seems to run directly counter to their perspective on prosperity. Listen as our choir shares the tale. (Choir sings “Poor Man Lazarus”)

Those who attempt to reshape God into a source God of obligatory economic prosperity do a profound disservice to all who hear them. They has so baptized God in the transactional consumer culture that little remnant of the sovereign, powerful, living, and loving God remains. The God of the prosperity gospel is a modern version of the golden calf, a God shaped by human hands to fulfill human wants and human expectations. A healthy understanding of the promise of prosperity does not call for us to reshape God, but to allow ourselves to be reshaped by God.

In this service we have heard from the Psalms, a story from the Gospels, and now turn some of the earliest writings in the Old Testament. Look with me at Deuteronomy 30: 5-11. It speaks with power to the promise of prosperity. It reads; The LORD your God will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. Moreover, the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. The LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on the adversaries who took advantage of you. Then you shall again obey the LORD, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and the LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the LORD your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

The exiles this passage is written to find themselves in the same situation as many of those we discussed for before. They were on the economic outside looking in and dreaming of a time and place where they could live the lives they hoped for. The word of the Lord comes to them with a promise of prosperity. But it is very different than the ones pitched by a stream of preachers and teachers in our era. The word comes that God is going to move and they will be restored to their homeland and they will know God’s prosperity. They hear with joy he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. But this prosperity will not be defined by what they have, but rather who they are. Moreover, the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. The promise was that God would mark their hearys so that they would love God with all that they are, not that they can exist or survive, but thrive – to really live – as the people of God.

The passage then takes a second run at it to make this promise clear. It tells them that God will handle their enemies and will make sure that they will prosper in the fruit of their bodies, the fruit of their livestock, and the fruit of their soil. In other words, God will provide everything you need – but wait – this was not a magic promise found in a prayer shawl or by chanting some special words or by investing your seed faith dollars – no, God anticipates the response to His provision being an authentic relationship of followship. That they – and we – would want to obey the teachings of God and that we will turn to God with all our heart and all our soul because that is where we find real life. The promise of prosperity is God’s provision born in a living and loving relationship of faith. The only divine transfer of wealth this passage, and the breadth of Scripture, proclaims is that we are invited to live in the wealth of God’s love – we are invited to live in the riches of God’s grace – we are invited to live in the splendor of God’s presence – we are invited to live in the grander of God’s power – we are invited to live in the trust of God’s provision of our needs. We are invited to turn to God and love him with all of our heart and all of our soul. The Biblical truth is that the promise of prosperity is for a real, prosperous, and trusting relationship with God that will shape the way we live our lives. God is no grand lotto ticket, no supernatural pull on the arm of the one-armed bandit, no roll at the religious roulette table. No, in an authentic relationship with God we will know prosperity beyond what our bank balance can portray. It is a promise of life, real life with God.

This changes everything that happens when we give to God. We become clear that it is not a gift born in anticipation of an economic exchange. It is a gift of gratitude born in the depths of our relationship with God. There is no guilt or shame, because we give out of the joy of our relationship rather than the burden of obligation. The offering plate becomes a high moment of worship because just like a song or a prayer, it is a moment when we can celebrate God’s provision and give with celebration as we love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and might. It is transformed into an act of the generosity and gratitude for the life – and joy – and hope –and grace – we find in God’s promise of real life with Him and through Him. Amen!


(1) Frederick K. C. Price, of Ever Increasing Faith Ministries available at http://www.angelfire.com/sc3/wedigmontana/Prosperity.html on 11/5/10
(2) Available online at http://www.bennyhinn.org/products/product_detail.cfm/itemid/734 on 11/5/10
(3) Kenneth Copeland, available online at http://kencopeland.com/172/kenneth-copeland-prosperity-promises/ on 11/5/10
(4) Available online at http://www.biblicalprosperity.org/2010/08/gods-promise-prosperity-abundance/ on 11/5/10