Prosperity’s Purposes and Perils, Pt. 1
Children would just love to have their lives to be like some Disney World amusement park each and every day. You know, for every childhood-ousted tooth to have the Tooth Fairy leave money under their pillow, and every Christmas to hear the clatter of tiny hooves on their rooftop signaling that Santa had come to fill their stockings with goodies for good little boys and girls like themselves.
Each Christmas season there is that good little do-bees-posturing amongst the children preparing for the night when Santa Claus comes to their town. And even now vast segments of modern religion picture God as the North Pole’s St. Nicolas who visits every house in Christendom before the dawn of every new day. No more of these 12 days of Christmas confinement. Now every day is Christmas. Of course, they tell mom to be sure to leave fresh cookies and milk (tithes and offerings) on the table near the fireplace to put Santa-God in a good mood and convicted with the sense of obligation to leave something special. It is the now more than ever the popular give-to-get strategy.
THE PURPOSES OF PROSPERITY
1. TO MAKE US CONDUITS, NOT CONTAINERS
The truth that Christians are conduits and not containers is verified over and over in Scripture with words like these from the lips of our Lord in Matthew 10:8,
“Freely you have received, freely give.”
What could be clearer than that? Or again the powerful words of II Corinthians 9:7,
“…for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Everybody is cheerful when they receive, that is, if it is what they need and what they really like. That is a no-brainer. But nowhere does God say,
“…for God loves a cheerful receiver.”
No, but what He does say is that “He loves a cheerful giver.” Loves him mind you! I believe that God loves all people! But for him to single out one type of person for whom He has a special affection really tells us where God is on all of this. If you will:
“DIVINE LOVE IS ALL ABOUT CONDUITING AND NOT ABOUT CONTAINING.”
And again the well known words of the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 8:14,
“…at this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their
abundance also may become a supply for your want, that
there may be equality.”
If you will:
SELF’S-WANTS, BUT TO INCREASE OUR COMPASSION
FOR OTHER’S NEEDS.”
The fact is:
SELFISH DESIRES AND DECREASE THE CAPACITY TO BLESS OTHERS.”
That is why we read in Proverbs 1:32 (KJV),
“and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.”
Allow me now to quote from my new book Modern Christianity Corrupted on page 102, “We have a grandfather clock in our house, and we so enjoy the soft tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock of the clock’s faithful rhythm. The rhythm of greedy corporate, executive America is by no means soothing, but instead has become most irritating and offensive with its get-get, get-get, get-get beat. The rhythm of Religious Humanism is equally a complete turn-off with its unending give-get, give-get, give-get self-dealing. The rhythm of true Christianity is alone life-giving with its give-give, give-give and give-give loving heartbeat.”
Where then does receiving fit into the Christian life? Very simple, in the Christian life receiving is but a hyphen to bring us to the next act of giving. Receiving in true Christianity is never an end, but always a means to the next give. To stall at any time on the hyphen of receiving totally ruins the Christian cadence and short-circuits Christ’s love to the world. And so the rhythm goes on – give-give, give-give, give-give. That is the Bible’s true “Prosperity Gospel.”
By way of contrast, any religious philosophy that majors or stalls on the hyphen of receiving displays the rank worldliness of its theology. Not only that, but it reveals its childishness as children in the main are containers and not conduits when it comes to giving and sharing. That is exactly why Paul states in the great love chapter of I Corinthians 13:11,
“When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason
as a child; when I became a man I put away childish things.”
You see, little children have lots of infantile convictions. First one is that nothing can be fully enjoyed or experienced that can’t be put in the mouth. I mean anything and everything. Second one being that mother’s milk and baby food must be supplemented by intensive foraging on the floor for low-lying foodstuffs that range from marbles to insects. Third one being that nothing can be fully satisfying if it has to be shared. If siblings are called upon to share and share alike, they become the embodiments of the “Brothers Grimm.” Children, who are stuck on the hyphen of receive, have no concept of the words of Jesus in Acts 20:35,
Let’s bring this down to terra firma right where we live in the 21st-century world of plenty and want, feast and famine. The Bible teaches us throughout that we are blessed to be a blessing. No doubt about it! The example of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 will do for starters. If this horrifying story teaches us anything it is this:
“EVERY MAN WHO HAS BEEN GIVEN WEALTH BY GOD IS DIVINELY PURPOSED TO
TO BE A CONDUIT AND NOT A CONTAINER, TO BE A STEWARD
AND NOT AN OWNER.”
If you will:
“WE ARE NEVER TO BE ABSORBED IN GOD’S BLESSINGS, BUT TOTALLY ABSORBED
IN THOSE WHO THE BLESSINGS ARE DESIGNED TO BLESS.”
The Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 turns out to be a much bigger story than most people at first realize or understand. It still doesn’t dawn on many of us yet today the huge role that beggars play in our lives. As insignificant and even pathetic as they appear, somehow beggars play a bigger role in our eternal destiny than even our doctrinal systems. Why? Because as you read on in the story, the rich, selfish, compassionless wretch who totally ignored the sore-infested beggar at his front door, got caught and was sent to Hell. Whoa!
You might say that this story of the rich guy and Lazarus, which to many readers seems at first to be a back page trivial non-event about some rich guy and a threadbare non-person, in the end the story really catches on fire in Hell for all to see. Jesus is not over-dramatizing here, for to God it is a #1 front-page headline tragedy. We should remember that the next time we see ‘cold bums’ huddled around a barrel of fire, and look down our snooty noses at them. In that barrel we could be looking at our own eternal destination. We must come to terms anew with the “bum” at our doors in an age in which we have grown immune to famine and starvation causing death on a massive scale.
This is huge throughout the Bible. That is why Jesus refers to us in His parables as stewards. (Luke 12, 16) John Wesley makes this observation:
“WHEN THE POSSESSOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH BROUGHT YOU INTO
BEING AND PLACED YOU IN THIS WORLD, HE PLACED YOU
HERE NOT AS AN OWNER BUT AS A STEWARD. AS
SUCH HE ENTRUSTED YOU WITH VARIOUS
KINDS OF GOODS.”
Notice that we have not been given, for that would be to make us containers. Rather we have been entrusted by God as stewards. That makes us His conduits.
John Wesley continues:
“BUT THE SOLE PROPERTY OF THESE (GOODS) STILL RESTS IN HIM (GOD)
NOR CAN EVER BE ALIENATED FROM HIM, AS YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN
BUT HIS. SUCH AS LIKEWISE ALL YOU ENJOY.”
“NONE OF US PROSPEROUS ONES ARE PROPRIETORS, BUT WE ARE
DEPUTIES OF GOD TO ACT AS GOD WOULD ACT TO
RELIEVE THE OPPRESSED.”
Revolution In World Missions by K. P. Yohannan is one of the most convicting and inspiring books on Christian missions that I have ever read. It is published by GFA Books which is a division of Gospel for Asia. I recommend it to you unreservedly along with all of his other books. He writes, “In 1998, personal expenditures in the United States averaged $19,049 per person, of which $1,267 (6.7 percent) went for food, leaving a comfortable $17,773 for other expenses. In India, the average person had only $276 to spend, of which $134 (48.4 percent) went for food, leaving a scant $142 for other needs for the entire year. I had lived with this reality every day, but Americans have real trouble thinking in these terms.”
Yohannan goes on, “Often when I spoke at a church (USA), the people would appear moved as I told of the suffering and needs of the native evangelists (Asia)). They usually took an offering and presented me with a check for what seemed to be a great deal of money. Then with their usual hospitality they invited me to eat with the leaders following the meeting. To my horror the food and the ‘”fellowship” frequently cost more than the money they had just given to missions. And I was amazed to find that American families routinely eat enough meat at one meal to feed an Asian family for a week. No one ever seemed to notice this but me, and slowly I realized they just had not heard the meaning of my message. They were simply incapable of understanding the enormous needs overseas.”
But you see, all of that is because the vast majority of Americans are containers and not conduits. While vast segments of humanity are starving to death, Americans are being crushed to death under tons of gold and silver. Every Christmas children ask their parents, “Is Santa Claus real?” Likewise, every day people watching on TV the 24/7 giving-to-get, container-religion on display ask the question, “Is Jesus Christ real?” Any prosperity gospel that concludes in self and not in others is a false gospel and a corrupted religion. It has nothing to do whatsoever with Christianity.
But the fact is that most of suburban American Christianity has become a container rather than a conduit for those in rural Nigeria who live on less than $2 a day. While Americans regularly go out for burgers and a movie, children in Calcutta are eating garbage and dirt sandwiches. While our children go to bed each night fully fed, warm and cuddly with crowded shelves awaiting them the next morning in the kitchen, millions of the world’s children lay down on dirt unfed with emptiness repeating itself each next desperate day. And so we read in I John 3:20,
“But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need
and closes his heart against him, how does the love
of God abide in him?”
Hear me! For us not to send bread to the world’s starving multitudes is no different in its consequences than a hateful suicide terrorist blowing up the innocent. Each time we refuse to be that constant conduit of God’s love is to indifferently step over another dead body on the streets of Calcutta.
2. TO REVEAL OUR TRUE CHARACTER
It was Oswald Chambers who observed:
“CRISES ALWAYS REVEALS CHARACTER.”
How true! On our journey through this world, it is most common for all that several large rocks have a way of falling onto the railroads tracks of life to derail us for a most painful season. We all have those hurtful-yet-broadening experiences that come muscling their way into our lives. How we handle them tells us volumes about who we really are.
However, it is not only the hard times that reveal our true selves, but it is prosperous times that denude our real character. It is what man does in the midst of and with his abundance that reveals who he really is on the inside as clearly as a billboard erected on his front yard. When a man is bulging with affluence, it causes the front door of his heart to gape open for all to see. The fact is:
“WHILE POVERTY CAN TURN EVERYTHING UPSIDE DOWN, PROSPERITY
WILL TURN EVERYONE INSIDE OUT.”
Mammon has a way of revealing the monster in man. On “Black Friday” of 2008, the day after Thanksgiving, a long line of impatient shoppers in Long Island, N.Y. stood in the wee hours of the morning waiting for a Wal-Mart to open. They pushed and shoved, and pressed upon the glass doors. A lone employee unlocked the store to the public, intending to maintain control. Moments later, the man was dead – trampled to death by people more concerned with finding the best bargains than with the loss of a human life.
The story does not end there. According to police reports, consumers were actually angry when the store closed on the day of the employee’s death. And after the news spread on the Internet, blog writers and commentators blamed Wal-Mart! In their eyes, the store was to blame for hyping sales and over-effective marketing. The reasoning went – the man was in the wrong place at the wrong time. No, the fact is that he was trampled to death by some very fiendishly selfish characters.
Listen now, for what follows is a powerful revelation of how:
We must grasp firmly the following:
A PURPOSE FOR THE BLESSED ONE THAT GOES MUCH DEEPER
THAN THE BOUNTY THAT GOD HAS BLESSED HIM WITH.”
You may recall the time when God gave King Saul orders through Samuel in I Samuel 15:2-3 to do the following:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel,
how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from
Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has,
and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child
and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
God could not have been clearer as to what He wanted done. But then we read in I Samuel 15:9,
“But Saul and the people spared Agag (King of the Amalekites) and the best of
the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and
were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and
worthless, that they utterly destroyed.”
Then when Samuel came to Saul and asked him about the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the cattle in the background, Saul came up with this cock-and-bull story to cover up his rebellious and covetous heart in I Samuel 15:21,
“But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things
devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”
To which Samuel immediately responded in I Samuel 15:22-23 to clear the air of Saul’s smokescreen,
“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the
voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to
heed than the fat of rams.”
“For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and
idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has
also rejected you from being king.”
Wam! The real question is answered here as to why God brings us to wealth. Most people in the world would say that the purpose of wealth is the wealth itself, and that there is no higher or deeper intent beyond the “Eureka Windfall.” However, does God give us wealth so that we can spend it on our comforts and conveniences like huge homes and expensive vacations? Does He bring us to luxury so that we can live in its lap? Is the end purpose so that Harold the hardworking business owner can provide his family with a comfortable, seamless life style of fun and frolic? Is the goal the American Dream in which Johnny and Judy won’t miss a moment of the good life?
No! No! No! A thousand times no! First of all we receive to give. Second, God gives us these things as a test of our character, and Saul flunked the character-litmus test flat. The spoils of war revealed his greed for bounty rather than His allegiance to God, and his covetous heart rather than a submissive spirit to Divine commands. So God removed the crown from his head and the scepter from his family. Hear me:
“BECAUSE SAUL COMPLETELY MISUNDERSTOOD THE PURPOSE OF
WEALTH, HE CONQUERED AMALEK BUT DESTROYED HIMSELF.”
Fred smith, a Christian businessman, puts it this way, “God entrusts us with money as a test, for like a toy to the child, it is training for handling things of more value. The way you handle the money you have shows God what your character is like. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate to God, to those around you, even to yourself, whether you have the character that reflects God or the kind that reflects greed.”
But come now, I don’t think that King Saul is that far from any or all of us. After all, he won the battle fair and square, and therefore the spoils were his! Sound familiar? I wouldn’t doubt for a moment that the following thoughts crossed his mind, “It’s mine after all, I earned it, and I fought hard for it. It belongs to me, and I’ll do with it whatever I want.” Of course, we have all thought it even if we never spoke it, “Hey, this is my money, and I’ll do with it as I please.”
All of that of course is not a servant’s heart, but rather an owner’s boast. Of course we are not owners of anyone or anything as we have already seen. God owns everyone and everything. Allow the Word of God to burst your boss-of-my-stuff bubble. We read in Psalm 104:24,
“O Lord, how many are Thy works! In wisdom Thou hast made them all;
The earth is full of Thy possessions.”
We read in I Chronicles 29:11,
“Thine, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty,
indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth….”
We read in Haggai 2:8,
“‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord of hosts.”
Then there are those that I have met who first want to become one of Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches millionaires before they relinquish ownership of their finances to the Lord. Once they realize their lofty financial goals, then they will really start giving to missions. Until then it is not God but their Stockbroker who holds the purse, plans the strategy and leads the way.
In many religious people’s lives, the Stockbroker and not God is the main player in his life who goes before the investor like a broom sweeper in the sport of curling. The broker advices him where to place his next curl of the 40# stone, and then makes a spectacle of himself on behalf of his client as he rushes in front of the sliding stone feverishly polishing the ice in its path with his broker-broom. The sweeper-broker not only has an ongoing influence on the curling-stone’s progress, but works to slow down or speed up the stone so that it will come to rest in the middle of that far away target.
But until then, the client’s curl-hurls (investments) and the broker’s broom (guidance) will have to stay in motion for many years to come. The sliding and the polishing will go on and on hopefully in more of a hit than a miss pattern. Then one day when the big-dollar dream has been realized and the investor realizes his glittering harvest of silver and gold, then he can finally turn over some of his winnings to the Big Broker In The Sky and become an investor to get still more from the Bank of Heaven.
“What are you doing?” I asked the lad.
“I go to school,” was his reply
“Why do you go to school?”
“To study,” he said.
“Why do you study?”
“To get smart.”
“Why do you want to get smart?”
“So I can get a good job.”
‘“Why do you want to get a good job?’
“So I can make lots of money.”
“Why do you want to make lots of money?”
“So I can buy food.”
“Why do you want to buy food?’
“So I can eat.”
“Why do you want to eat?”
“Why do you live?”
At that point, the little boy thought for a moment, scratched his head, looked at me in the face and said, “Sir, why do you live?” He paused for a moment in mid-thought, then gave his own sad answer, “To die!”
The question is the same for all of us. Why do we live? What is the basic purpose of our living in this world, as you and I claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ? It is to accumulate wealth? Fame? Popularity? To fulfill the desires of the flesh and of the mind? And to somehow survive and, in the end, to die and hopefully go to heaven?”
No. The purpose of your life as a believer must be to obey Jesus when he said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel….” If all of your concern is about your own life, your job, your clothes, your children’s good clothes, healthy bodies, a good education, a good job and marriage, then your concerns are no different from someone who is lost in Bhutan, Myanmar or India.”
In that connection, Yohannan states on page 152, “The average North American Christian gives only 50 cents a week to global missions. Imagine what that means. Missions is the primary task of the church, and our Lord’s final command to us before His ascension. Jesus died on the cross to start a missionary movement. He came to show God’s love, and we are left here to continue that mission. Yet the most important task of the church is receiving less than one percent of all our finances.” Dear God, to try to be co-laborers with Christ in building the Body of Christ with 50 cents a week, makes about as much sense as Americans trying to build up their physical bodies with dollar-menu cheeseburgers and french fries.
The question then remains, “In the midst of our financial spending, who are we really and what are we all about?” The answers are there if we dare to honestly look. And look we must, for time and money are way too short to bring the world to Christ. As the fall season is upon us again, I also sense so strongly in my spirit that the foliage is looking very tired on the branches of world history, and the leaves are falling to the ground faster and faster as the end of the age arrives. We must now make all of our time, energy and finances available to the work of missions, for the night cometh when no man can work. The facts in this regard are:
“IF WE REALLY BELIEVE THAT CHRIST’S COMING IS IMMINENT, WE WILL PUT HIS
MONEY TO USE IMMEDIATELY TO SAVE THE WORLD.”
“IF WE DON’T IMMEDIATELY PUT HIS MONEY TO USE FOR ETERNAL PURPOSES, IT
WILL BE MISUSED FOR TEMPORAL PREFERENCES.”
“HOW CAN WE CONSCIENTIOUSLY PRAY FOR THE LORD TO PROVIDE FINANCES FOR
OUR OUR NEEDS, WHEN WE HAVE HIS MONEY THAT WE WILL
NOT USE FOR HIS WORK?”
3. TO MAKE US THANKS-GIVERS TO THE LORD
THOUGHTS AND EXPRESSIONS TO HEAVEN.”
Let’s face it, people in America roll around in their blessings without the slightest thought as to where these blessings came from. Barely a trace of thanksgiving to God can be found in the noontime work-lunch room. When in fact Americans in the main ought to be the most thankful people to God on the face of the earth. If they do express rare thanks to someone, it with about as much gusto of gratitude as when they deposit their 25 cents at a tollbooth and the arm raises allowing their continuance on their journey. They function in life with the same amount of thankless, automatic repetition.
Allow me now to quote at this point from my book Modern Christianity Corrupted and pages 101-102-103, “It is disheartening to watch people in public eateries and fast-food restaurants when food is served to them. They dive right in like animals without bowing their heads to say thanks to God Who provided it all. The Apostle Paul alludes to this very thing when he comments on these pig-trough thankless grunters and devourers in Romans 1:21,
“…they did not honor Him as God or give thanks….”
Not thanks to God. Just oink-oink, chomp-chomp, and later burp-burp! Not one word of gratitude to or thought of God before or after their feeding frenzies. Concerning natural man it is accurate to say that he has only a mouth to eat but never to say thanks – all teeth to chomp and no tongue to praise God. And when his stomach is full, his heart is an empty hole of ingratitude.”
America is getting further and further away from God, and are becoming some of the most thankless people on earth. God is becoming increasingly a smaller factor and even now a non-factor in much of American society. People who live close to God are invariably thankful people. We read in Psalm 75:1,
“We give thanks to Thee, O God, we give thanks, for Thy name is near;
men declare Thy wondrous works.”
The words, “Thy name is near” mean to the Psalmist that God is near to His people. Out of that sense of Divine nearness and God’s wondrous acts on their behalf, double thanks swells within their hearts. However, people who live far from God are invariably thankless people. They may be poor or wealthy. Monetary circumstances are not the deciding factors. Some of the wealthiest people I have known have been the most unthankful to God. Some of the poorest people I have known have been the most thankful to God. Yes, and vice-versa as well.”
But all of this is tied to together. Ungrateful people will never be conduits but always containers, because ungratefulness and compassion cannot coexist in the same heart. Listen:
“AN UNGRATEFUL HEART IS ALWAYS A HARD AND COMPASSIONLESS HEART, FOR
A MAN WHO THINKS HE HAS IT ALL COMING TO HIM WILL HAVE LITTLE OR
NO TENDERNESS FOR THE NEEDS OF OTHERS.”
This can be illustrated from Scripture over and over again, but we will only mention two, one of which is the case of Joseph and Pharaoh’s butler. It is very simple, for it was the lack of gratitude in the heart of the butler to his friend Joseph that was accompanied with an equal lack of compassion for Joseph who was his fellow prisoner. Where there is a lack of the former, there will always be the absence of the latter. An unthanked person who met the needs of another will always become a forgotten person. Jesus knew this only too well in the case of the 10 healed lepers.
In conclusion, so often people treat God like the thankless vendor treated the merciful daily jogger. The vendor sold bagels for 50 cents each at the street-corner food stand. A jogger ran past and kindly threw a couple of quarters into the bucket, but did not take a bagel. The jogger did the same thing every day for months. One day, as the jogger was passing by, the vendor stopped him. The jogger asked the vendor, “ You probably want to know why I always put money in your bucket, but never take a bagel, don’t you?” “No,” said the vendor, “I just wanted to tell you that the bagels have gone up to 60 cents.” A nation or a church that thinks that “God Owes Them” will always be thankless and demanding. That is exactly what is happening today.