Thursday, July 30, 2009

Show Me the Money!

This is such a great article. Be sure to read the whole thing.

It basically takes a census of the prosperity movement. Who are these people that go to these churches? The study surveyed 35,000 people that are a part of this (largely Pentecostals) and they found that on the average, these people that are told if they will give their money to the church then God will make them wealthy and they will have God's favor, make less per year than other Christian groups!

The results show that Pentecostals have the most high school dropouts, the fewest college graduates, and the fewest post-graduates. But the most interesting thing is that they earn the least annual income of any other Christian tradition polled. This is shocking, considering that a main feature in popular Pentecostalism is the Prosperity Gospel, where church members are promised that God will make them rich beyond their wildest dreams if they tithe generously and believe that they will receive the money.

So do they lack God's favor, or do they lack faith? And what about prosperity proponent Paula White, who, I believe has a church in San Antonio (or at least used to). She and her husband (who she is now divorced from) are millions of dollars in debt. Where is the favor of God?

Answer: There never was favor from God - just manipulation from greedy false teachers! Here is my favorite paragraph in the article:

My point is that while the world howls at the scam artists who fail to deliver on big promises, Christianity has its very own Ponzi scheme that’s alive and well. At least when Bernie Madoff promised big returns he actually delivered (if only for a moment); the prosperity gospel doesn’t even do that much. When Joel Osteen, Ken Copeland, Paula White, or Benny Hinn take your money, you’ll never see it again (unless you happen to glimpse one of their private jets leaving a runway for Bermuda).

I know, I know: Judge not, lest you be judged Pastor Phil! (If I had a dollar for every time that verse is used out of context, I could start a prosperity TV ministry and finally make some SERIOUS money!)

We should be outraged at this in the same way we are outraged at corrupt politicians. Our Senators and Congressmen are supposed to be in Washington for the good of the people, but many times they turn it into what is good for them personally. This is no different, except a lot more is riding on it! Ministers are supposed to be God's voice to the people, rightly interpreting God's Word to deliver God's message and to steer His Church in the right direction. Unfortunately, just like corrupt politicians, they make it into what is good for their bottom line.

C'mon Church! Discern, discern, discern! Don't exchange the Truth of God for a lie.

Monday, July 27, 2009

File Under: "Wake Up American Church!"

This is a headline from not 20 or 30 years ago, but from today:

"According to the Associated Press, a 33-year-old woman and mother of three has been executed in North Korea on charges of distributing Bibles, which are banned in the communist country, and of allegedly spying for foreign nations. A July 24 report from the Investigative Commission on Crimes against Humanity, quoted by the AP, says that Ri Hyon-ok was executed in the northwestern city of Ryongchon bordering China on June 16, and that her husband, children and parents were sent to a political prison the day after her execution."

Let that sink in...after she was executed, her husband, children and parents were sent to prison!!!! You can be sure that the spying charge is just to make it look more reasonable to the rest of the world, but is trumped up bunk. The whole article is here.

Praise God that there are Christians in the world with this kind of devotion to Jesus. I am writing this as I am sitting outside by my pool on my day off, both of which are things that a Chinese Christian knows nothing about. Put in front of the mirror of this kind of sacrifice, I pale in comparison.

There are people that would say that is a useless exercise in guilt, because I can't help where I was born, and they are right. I can't help that I was born in a free country, but that isn't even the point. I don't feel guilty because I am an American, I feel guilty because I am a lazy American.

There are things that I could do that would show my devotion to Christ and to the Gospel and I don't do them, not because I am afraid of death or prison, but because I never get around to it.

Thank you, Ri Hyon-ok, for the sermon of your life that God used to speak to me today. Far from being tragic or wasted, your life will be used to reach others for Christ all over the world.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Can God use you more powerfully if you are a "good" speaker?

"Paul was a scholar and an orator of the highest degree; he was not speaking here out of a deep sense of humility, but was saying that when he preached the gospel, he would veil the power of God if he impressed people with the excellency of his speech. Belief in Jesus is a miracle produced only by the effectiveness of redemption, not by impressive speech, nor by wooing and persuading, but only by the sheer unaided power of God. The creative power of redemption comes through the preaching of the gospel, but never because of the personality of the preacher.

Real and effective fasting by a preacher is not fasting from food, but fasting from eloquence, from impressive diction, and from everything else that might hinder the gospel of God being presented. The preacher is there as the representative of God— ". . . as though God were pleading through us . . ." (2 Corinthians 5:20). He is there to present the gospel of God. If it is only because of my preaching that people desire to be better, they will never get close to Jesus Christ. Anything that flatters me in my preaching of the gospel will result in making me a traitor to Jesus, and I prevent the creative power of His redemption from doing its work."

-Oswald Chambers

This is precisely opposite of what you hear from successful preachers (at least the ones that write books and speak at conferences). Your communication skills need to improve to reach more people. Which do you believe?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sanfords, 2.5

Ok, time to beat the dead horse again.

Mark Sanford, for all of his shenanigans, is already old news. Unfortunately, I still have a few things to say about it, so we will be stuck in the past for a little while longer.

I think there are three kinds of married people:

1) Those who will have an affair because they want one.
2) Those who will have an affair because they weren't careful or smart.
3) Those who will never have an affair because they were careful and smart.

I really don't have anything to say to the first group. Of course, hardly anyone will admit they are in this group. They will couch it in excuses, but they aren't that hard to spot. It usually surfaces as soon as any kind of discipline comes into play. They view themselves as mistakers rather than sinners. I have learned to not waste too much breath on them after a certain point, because God needs to deal with them and nothing I say is going to help.

The second group is different, Although, once the affair has begun, they automatically jump to the first category if they don't immediately repent of it and break off all ties. Before that happens, however, I believe there is a measure of naivete that exists that makes us vulnerable to adultery. Maybe they truly weren't looking for it, but found themselves in the middle of it anyway. This is why affairs never need to happen and never should happen in the Church. If we are careful and smart - they never would! (except of course the ones in category 1)

Here is what I have learned over the years to do for me. Consequently, I require it of all my staff:

- Never counsel a woman alone unless a female is in the main office. Anytime someone needs to meet with me after hours, my secretary either comes back to the office, or she finds another female to come sit at her desk. For you, this may mean not huddling off in a corner somewhere with a person of the opposite sex having private conversations.

- Never ride in a car alone with a woman. Rarely, I will make an exception to this one, but it is so rare that nothing could ever come of it. Occasionally, it is unavoidable - but it must never be common. Those of you who work in sales or have jobs that require you to travel with members of the opposite sex, need to work something out. All that travel time is time that you spend talking to another woman instead of your wife, and if your marriage communication is typical, it's probably a lot more time than you spend talking to your wife. Out of boredom you start sharing details about thoughts and opinions, life experiences, etc., and that is just not smart or healthy for your marriage.

Those of you who travel and have to meet with women away from home for business, need to bring a friend or wait until you can meet with them in some kind of official capacity when other people you work with are around. Never, never, never meet in a restaurant where it is just the two of you. Why would you ever need to do that?

The usual response to something bad happening out of that is, "Well I would never!" How do you know? What if the other person flatters you and propositions you while you are alone with them? Are you that strong to turn them away and tell them in no uncertain terms that that is innapropriate? Or would you waver, maybe just for a few moments, because it is kind of nice to be wanted in this way....

If you are still adamant that you would be 100% bullet proof in a situation like this, at the very least consider how you would explain that episode to your wife! "Well, we were alone at this restaurant, you see..." yeah, I don't want to have that conversation either. Most men would probably keep it to themselves which is not a good alternative. It's better to stay away from the possibility.

- Never discuss marital problems with a person of the opposite sex.

Don't complain about your wife to them, don't talk about her weaknesses with them, nothing. And don't let them complain to you either. A manipulative person can exploit that in a NY minute.

- Always tell your spouse when a person is flirting with you or sending you "that" message.

This is my favorite. Usually, Amy spots them before I do, but occasionally I get to share the news with her and it's fun to watch her go to work! It also has the added benefit of communicating to her - I'm all yours.

This has probably only happened 3 or 4 times in all my years of ministry (which is amazing because I'm so obviously handsome) but occasionally I will get a look from a woman that tells me, if I wanted to pursue something with them, I could. Telling Amy about it takes it completely out of the realm of possibility because she will definitely be keeping an eye on that person (welcome to the competition for the understatement of the year!).

Look, you may think I am being ridiculous, but Amy never has to worry about me straying. There is a 0% chance I will ever cheat on her, unless I stop doing these things to protect myself and then she would spot that right away. This is for my protection, for my families protection, and for the protection of Jesus' name and reputation.

Pastors, lest you think you might offend someone by suggesting that they are being inappropriate with another person, you need to nip this as soon as you start to see it happening. I am not shy about addressing this with people who go to my church, especially those who volunteer in a ministry. I have had an affair happen in a ministry. Everyone saw the warning signs and nobody wanted to be the one to act judgmental and two families were destroyed (not to mention all of the fallout on the church level).

Now, i just look at it this way: If they accept my gentle rebuke, then they are wiser and the church is safer for it. If they don't, and they get all offended, I just assume they are in the 1st group. And if they are in the first group, I don't care if they are offended because to let them continue just invites more chaos and disruption to the life of the church.

Not convinced? Well, fine. If we are going to look at these kinds of measures as extreme, can we at least do one thing? Can we stop blaming Satan for all the affairs and divorces? And can we stop asking God why we are losing our families and why we are alone and miserable? At this point it's not God or Satan's fault.

When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don't be deceived, my dear brothers.
(James 1:13-16 NIV)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sanfords, pt. 2

I know that I said that I would post a follow up to the Sanford post "tomorrow". What I forgot to tell you is that I subscribe to the "Gap" theory of blogging, that 1 day doesn't have to mean a literal 24 hrs. I also said that I would talk about a biblical way to solve their problem, and maybe stay together, but that is going to have to wait too.

Instead, I want to look at his statement again, because it is very instructive for those of you who are unhappy in your marriage, or in other ways, might be prone to an affair. Take a look:

"South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said Tuesday that he “crossed lines” with a handful of women other than his mistress - but never had sex with them."

He also said that, “This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story,” Sanford said. “A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.”

This is why I'm not a good counselor. I don't have the patience to sit and listen to all of these excuses of why people do terrible things. If there is one thing that this was not - it's a love story. (Did I say that right?) All that we need to know is in those two short paragraphs. I could have saved him the trouble of going through the whole sordid tale.

He said he had crossed the line with a handful of women in addition to his mistress. What does that tell you about him? It tells you that he did not simply fall in love with a forbidden women; all of this happened because he was a chronic cheater! He was testing the water, looking for the one that he wanted to actually sleep with! He was seeking out a relationship, he didn't stumble into one. Anybody with knowledge and proximity to him probably saw this coming for a long time.

I have heard journalists blame it on a midlife crisis, and, you know, it's so tough out there for men. He wants you to believe that he is just a decent man that fell in love with the wrong woman. Unfortunately for him, he told us too many details for us to believe that is true. He was a married man who sought out and would not be denied his adultery.

I'm sure *some of you think I am being too hard on him. You might be thinking words like, judgmental and mean, or uncompassionate. You might post comments like, "judge not lest you be judged," or "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Or maybe even, "The early bird gets the worm." Of course that doesn't have anything to do with anything, so I would soundly rebuke you...but I digress.

Listen, I need you to hear me on this - I am not judging his soul, because I don't know the guy and I can't do that anyway, but I am judging his behavior and calling him on the baloney he's peddling. Our postmodern culture wants to have a qualifier on all truth. "Well, you have to take in to consideration what he was going through and the situation at the time, and if his mother held him too close, or not close enough, blah, blah, blah." In other words, I can't say what he did was wrong, because maybe in his situation it wasn't wrong, or at least it can be explained. People are way more upset that he left the country without handing the reins of power to someone else, than they are about what he did to his wife and family.

You need to understand that doesn't have any basis in Scripture. Jesus (or any of the Bible writers, for that matter) did not deal in relative truth. There is right, and there is wrong, and the Bible gives us enough knowledge to know the difference and the responsibility to do something, or at least say something about it.

The Apostle Paul, in his writings, sometimes came off very abrasive, because he would call out sin and bad behavior when he saw it in the Church...and he would name names!!!! How about that for a church newsletter?

All that to say - it is perfectly alright, and even necessary to point out what this is: a bunch of excuses and rationalizations for sin. That is how the Church stays protected from false teaching, by fiercely defending Truth. It's not judgment, which is God's job - it is discipline, for his sake and for those who would follow his lead.

Okay, so, what do we take away from this and how do we learn from it? Well, I am going to have to finish this "tomorrow" because it is 3 a.m. (don't ask). Suffice it to say, for now, that this situation is completely avoidable and there is no excuse for it. None. Not one.

In the next post, I want to talk about the 3 different kinds of married people and how you can avoid the trap of adultery (in thought or deed!). I know, you are hanging on pins and needles (how do you hang on a pin, anyway?)

*if there are more than two people who read this blog, I can officially use the term, "some".