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Archive for the ‘stumbling through scripture’ Category

Itaas mo!There is a curious belief among Christians on the notion of culture and the sense of right and wrong. As an elder of my church once mentioned in an online discussion, there is no set-on-stone standard on whether something is acceptable or not – for an Irish Christian, it may be acceptable to drink beer, but for others, it’s not. So he said that to be safe, we should follow the verse that puts forward love (as Ailene wrote here) instead of our own convenience. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” (1 Co 8:13)

While the verse gives us a way to live without causing others to stumble, the very idea that culture determines what should be acceptable and what is not just sits… wrong with me. While this undoubtedly happens – our way of thinking is largely determined by the society we live in, after all – it reminds me of a sentiment I always hear from Christians today: that it was ok to drink wine back in Jesus’ time, but it is no longer ok now. Two thousand years of history has somehow ‘corrected’ something that Jesus let pass – and actually participated in.

Of course, culture played a part on what is acceptable and what is not – even Jesus said that God allowed the Israelites divorce back in Moses’ time because their hearts were still hard back then (Mat 19:8). However, I have trouble accepting that God’s sense of right and wrong is swayed by mortal trends. He is beyond us, after all.

God didn’t seem to be influenced by what the rest of the world is doing – when He gave Moses the Levitical law, the provisions He made for women, for orphans, for the widowed and for slaves were all revolutionary back then – the Jews treatment on the abovementioned groups were far more sophisticated compared to their neighboring nations precisely because that is what God has commanded. Even Jesus’ treatment on women was revolutionary – some would even say scandalous. He gave them respect, attention and gentleness that no society at that time bestowed on women.

This tells me that my Lord, as the God that He is, is the one leading and dictating what is right and what is wrong – not just gently nudging what society or culture can accept. If it was ok for Him back then to drink wine, then why should it be different now? My God is the immutable God, after all.

The trouble lies, I think, not with our God changing His mind, but in our propensity to twist what is perfectly acceptable to God and make it detestable. This is the very character of sin – something pleasurable to God horrendously perverted. Eating becomes gluttony. Drinking becomes getting drunk. Sex becomes sex before marriage. Gentleness becomes cowardice. Strength becomes violence. Firmness becomes cruelty. The desire to do what is right becomes legalism.

In our fear of perverting what God has given us, or (perhaps more honestly,) in our effort to look like we’re not sinning, we run away from the wholesome and delightful pleasures that God purposely made to delight His children.

Our God created every pleasure in this world. Let me repeat that because it’s so important – OUR GOD CREATED EVERY PLEASURE IN THIS WORLD. The devil is the one who introduced perversions in that pleasure to make it harmful and detestable. Our God is not a miser – He is not a bitter old man in the sky looking out to smite any Christian who has any fun. He made all the pleasures in this Earth precisely because He wants to give joy to His children.

I think this is a duty that we Christians always neglect – that we represent our God in this fallen world. Widespread is the belief that Christians are tame, stiff people who have no fun at all. That is why they think of us as corny or flaccid – the world rarely sees a joyous Christian. Most people would want us as neighbors but not as someone they would hang out with.

That is why I laugh whenever I see young men shouting and jumping around while praising God in FullCup – even if I personally find such energetic displays perhaps a tad too much. For why should the devil have all the fun with Rock and Roll? I want to run screaming in the streets and bug every single person I see to look at those boys – that’s the joy brought by my God! Wouldn’t you want something like that in your life?

While it is also true that we should be mindful if we’re making our fellow believers stumble, I ache for the time when we are all mature enough in the faith to show the world that Christians aren’t afraid — that NOTHING in this world can overwhelm us, whether it is troubles or pleasures. I long for the time when we approach pleasures not with trepidation or hypocritical disgust, but with gratitude, humility, and restraint: gratitude to our God for giving pleasure to this world; humility in recognizing that we don’t deserve any of it; and restraint by only partaking of these pleasures the way that God intended.

So… you think we can holler “bottoms up!” soon for our God? Ü

 

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(photo illustration by Michael Elins)

Does God want you to be rich? Time Magazine‘s recent cover story explores the boom of a rising church in America that concentrates on prosperity theology. (So we’re both on the same page, please click on the link and read the article before going further.)

To be fair, aside from the occassional reminders on the duty of tithing, most churches rarely preach about money and its good stewardship. Preachers can be passionate about familial issues, sex, or even politics, but oftentimes, the issue of money is given a wide berth from the pulpit. Maybe they feel that a believer’s stand on that issue should be obvious (The love of money is the root of all evil – 1Timothy 6:10); maybe the preachers think that there are far more pressing issues that need to be discussed with the congregation; or maybe the preacher just finds talking about the subject a little disconcerting (I know I do), but the end of it is — most believers only have a rudimentary understanding of biblical principles in dealing with this ever-insistent daily concern.


No matter how rich or poor you are, money concerns are pervasive — they affect your lifestyle, your plans, your reactions to certain things, even the way your family or your church is run. I’ve been with people who don’t know when the next meal would come and worked with one of the richest men in this country, yet both wake up in the morning and go to bed at night thinking of the same thing: how to get more money. Yet Jesus, on perhaps His most important sermon, seemed to dismiss it altogether (Luke 12:27). Why would you even concern yourself with such things, He asked.


This seemingly sweeping dismissal of Jesus is backed by the promise that God will take care of you — you only need to have faith. While it is easy to believe that as I type this in my airconditioned office, it is quite another thing to sing “God is good, all the time” while your stomach shivers with hunger pangs and your little girl is tugging at your shirt, asking why she doesn’t have anything to eat.


Perhaps this is the reason why prosperity theology is enticing for those who already believe. Why shouldn’t you have both Jesus and a prosperous life, after all? If you believe that the Father loves you and He is able to do anything and that He owns everything, why not ask for and expect an affluent existence?


Prosperity theology is not without biblical verses to back it up. The bible is replete with promises of abundance and blessings to those who follow the way of the Lord. For a person who wants to believe in a God who promises not only salvation from sin but also prosperity in this life, hearing the relentlessly upbeat television sermons of Joel Osteen would seem like a booming voice straight from heaven itself.


As the TIME article mentioned, the most obvious problem with prosperity theology is that it shifts your attention from the gift-giver to the gift itself. “God becomes a means to an end, not an end in Himself,” says Southwestern Baptist’s Phillips. This is in no way different from the 19 year old chick who marries a multi-millionaire octagenarian because she ‘really loves him‘. If we find this girl’s act repulsive, how would it compare to accepting the blood of the Messiah so we can have a top-model car?


For the believer with no discernment, it would be hard to distinguish this shift in focus. Like all effective lies, prosperity theology has some elements of truth in it and then changes it into something else. Instead of eternally standing in gratitude and awe for the redemption of one’s soul, the spotlight of adoration shifts to “gaining the whole world and also my soul.”

Prosperity theology could also foster discontent. Osteen’s best-selling book, ‘Your Best Life Now’, focuses on financial gain and material wealth, sugar-coated in what he calls as what is meant by Scripture. In Osteen’s view, believers should expect bigger and better things because God can’t wait to pour out His blessings for His children. He implies that because God wants to help you, the world will give you preferential treatment. In other words, God wants to make it easy for us.


This flies in the face of what Jesus actually said — that the world will deny you because after all, the world denied HIM. The New Testament is riddled with warnings and reminders that the Christian life would be narrow and difficult (Matthew 7:14). And that we should be ready for trials and persecutions (2 Timothy 3:12). In the quest of ‘feeling good’ and ‘getting more out of life’ however, prosperity theology is ready to twist Scripture for its own insidious end. Daryl Wingerd of Christian Communicators Worldwide wrote a critical review of Osteen’s book. Do yourself a favor and read just how subtle are the questionable claims of Osteen’s book by clicking here.

Prosperity theolgy also implies that people who are suffering are those who don’t have enough faith. As mentioned in the TIME article, Rick Warren, author of the book Purpose-Driven Life, scoffs at the idea that God wants everyone to be wealthy. “Baloney,” he says, and I can’t help but agree. The very idea that faith automatically converts into worldly blessings speaks of an arrogance worthy of a pharisee. What of the blind, those that have cancer or who live in war-torn places? The ones who die despite all the prayers, the ones who fail in spite of placing complete faith in the one true God? Are we all egoistic spiritual retards to claim that it’s their fault they didn’t get better?

This is my second-most pressing trouble with prosperity theology (the foremost being the shift of adoration from the gift-giver to the gift) — that our attention is directed to what happens to us instead of who we become despite what happens to us. Knowing the God of the Bible, I get the impression that He is far more concerned with our character — how we react to Him more than what happens in our physical bodies. Hello, remember that dude named Job?

Although it cannot be denied that God blesses everyone — believers and even His enemies (Matthew 5:45) — God wants more for us. Scratch that — God wants the BEST for us, and that certainly goes infinitely far beyond material wealth. All my childhood and adolescent years I wondered why God allowed me to be poor, now I know — I know I needed to experience poverty so I could become more and more like His son than have a more difficult time going to His kingdom than the camel passing through the eye of a needle.

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