Posts Tagged ‘prosperity gospel’

1 Samuel 19:1-10 (Part 1 of 6)
Saul Tries to Kill David

Joel Osteen. Creflo Dollar. Jim Bakker. Jen Hatmaker. Male. Female. Stretching gospel truths or departing from them altogether. It’s not just a now problem, but it has been a problem throughout the past decades and throughout the centuries since Jesus ascended. There are false teachers out there. They will teach you what sounds like the gospel but is not the gospel altogether or is a twisting of Scripture to meet cultural acceptance – which is the worst kind of false teaching. Sounds good. Meets our fleshly desires not to have our favorite sins exposed against the harsh truth of the Bible. We must be weary of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who portray themselves as purveyors of God’s truth but they are ravenous wolves on the inside. Jesus warns us about these false prophets in Matthew 7:15. In this blog and the next five, we will look at some of the false teachings that are prevalent today that we as Christ followers and as Christian pastors should be wary.

We must always compare what we are hearing from the mouths of pastors to Scripture. We must ourselves as pastors to check ourselves against Scripture when we speak even informally to those that we lead in our local flocks. There are some very common lies that are purveyed by those who claim to be prophets or pastors today. We must be weary of these lies that are passed off as gospel truth.

The first false doctrine that wildly popular today is the prosperity gospel, as it is known by its detractors. Undoubtedly, some adherents of the carnal prosperity message are motivated by greed. For them, preaching Jesus is a means of financial gain, something Paul rebuked in the strongest possible terms, speaking of men “of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5).

Yet many sincere believers embrace this message too—and back their case with Scripture. They point to the covenant blessings the Lord promised to Israel for their obedience, including financial prosperity (Deut. 28:1-13). They highlight verses in Proverbs and Psalms that link financial prosperity to generosity, hard work, godly living and faith (e.g., Ps. 112). They remind us of wonderful promises, such as those found in Proverbs 3:9-10—and how Jesus reiterated these in the New Testament with teachings such as, “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). And they quote Paul, who wrote about the financial principles of sowing and reaping (1 Cor. 9; 2 Cor. 8-9; Phil. 4:11-19).

This philosophical twist on the message of these Scriptures turns the focus on others to a focus on ourselves. It is an if-then proposition. If we give money to the church, God will bless us back financially. If we invest in God’s causes we will reap financial gain on this side of heaven from God. God will bless us financially if we do His will and if we are not getting a return on our investment we must have some unconfessed sin in our lives. This message is so in contrast to what the Bible teaches us as a whole. The Bible wants us to take care of others because we love God and we love others. Love is not an investment. Love is given freely without expectation of return to us. God is not our investment banker. God is not our vending machine. He is the sovereign ruler of the universe who cannot be manipulated by us. God teaches us in His Word and through Jesus that we are to have more concern for the well-being of others than we do for ourselves. We are to store up treasures in heaven not on earth (Matthew 6:19-24). Jesus did not die to make us financially secure. He died to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). We are not to live according to what the people of the present age covet (1 Cor. 7:29-31; 1 John 2:15-17).

The prosperity gospel is an abomination to the faith. There is guarantee that God will bless those who live according to His will but it is not guaranteed that those blessings will be monetary or any other form of earthly financial blessing. Our blessings may come in the form of loosening our grip on our things and seeing things from God’s perspective and we look for ways to bless others with our money or property without expectation of repayment, glory, or reward. Our blessings come from seeing our money and our property as tools for ministry. We become outward facing instead of inward facing. Those are the blessings of aligning ourselves with God’s will. We are not in this ride with Jesus to make ourselves rich. In fact, those that are truly sacrificial in their faith often encounter great suffering and financial loss to serve the Lord. But true faith thinks not of material gain but of the pleasing of God in all that we do. True faith doesn’t care about material things. True faith does not do things for God because we expect a return. True faith just loves God and wants to follow what He commands whether we are financially rewarded for it or not.

That was the idea that came to mind this morning when I read this passage about the choice that Jonathan had to make – to be obedient to his father or to honor his friendship with David, to follow his father’s command which was not biblical or to follow that which was right and true according to God. With that idea in mind let us read about the choice that Jonathan had to make:

Chapter 19
1 Saul now urged his servants and his son Jonathan to assassinate David. But Jonathan, because of his strong affection for David, 2 told him what his father was planning. “Tomorrow morning,” he warned him, “you must find a hiding place out in the fields. 3 I’ll ask my father to go out there with me, and I’ll talk to him about you. Then I’ll tell you everything I can find out.”

4 The next morning Jonathan spoke with his father about David, saying many good things about him. “The king must not sin against his servant David,” Jonathan said. “He’s never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. 5 Have you forgotten about the time he risked his life to kill the Philistine giant and how the Lord brought a great victory to all Israel as a result? You were certainly happy about it then. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it at all!”

6 So Saul listened to Jonathan and vowed, “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be killed.”

7 Afterward Jonathan called David and told him what had happened. Then he brought David to Saul, and David served in the court as before.

8 War broke out again after that, and David led his troops against the Philistines. He attacked them with such fury that they all ran away.

9 But one day when Saul was sitting at home, with spear in hand, the tormenting spirit[a] from the Lord suddenly came upon him again. As David played his harp, 10 Saul hurled his spear at David. But David dodged out of the way, and leaving the spear stuck in the wall, he fled and escaped into the night.

In this passage, we are challenged by the concept of obedience to our parents (which is a biblical command) or to obey what we know to be right and true by God’s nature. It is clearly a principle of Scripture that when a father instructs a son to break God’s laws, the son should obey God rather than man. This principle assumes that the son is old enough to be accountable and to be able to discern the difference between an unbiblical command from a parent and what God’s nature is like and what God’s Word tells us to do as to what is right and wrong. A son’s role is to be respectful, helpful and obedient to his parents (see Ephesians 6:1-3 as a New Testament example of this command), but always to be understanding that any commands given by our parent should be compared to Scripture. We must pray as children that our parents are seeking after God’s own heart themselves and would never force us to choose between obeying them and breaking God’s commands.

This very same principle is what we must apply when it comes to the lies that Satan guises in the form of heresies such as the prosperity gospel. We must always compare what we hear from our pastors to what we find in God’s Word. We must understand the message of the entire Bible. We must read and know our Bible so that we know the nature of God. God is not in the investment return business. We do not invest in him to get money back. We do not obey him so that we can have material things. In fact, true faith teaches us that the things that we use to care about so much are just vapors in the wind. True faith calls to care about only that which matters in eternity. If we are being told something different from the message that we know is the tenor and tone of the Bible then we must walk away from it as heresy. We must call heresy what it is and warn others. The true message of the Bible is simply this…loving God, loving others. It is not an eternal plan to make us materially rich on this side of heaven. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The funny thing is that the person of true faith just sees whatever money God grants them as tools for their ministry not as something to be hoarded and accumulated. Sure, we must make sound financial decisions as Christians to ensure that we can take care of ourselves when we are old but thinking of God as our investment banker and thinking of our money as an indiciation of our blessing from God is just plain heresy.

We must compare what we hear from our pastors to Scripture always. We must always obey God and not a preacher. If a preacher is obeying God then he will never ask us to believe something that is in opposition to God’s Word. Pray for your preacher to be one who never strays from God’s Word. I thank God that my current senior pastor, Tim Bowman, and my former senior pastors have all been men who bow down to God’s Word and have never preached anything other than what is consistent with God’s Word.

Amen and Amen.

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Judges 18:1-31 (Part 3 of 3)
Idolatry in the Tribe of Dan

Often, we hear people say things like, “got my bonus today. Feeling blessed.” Or “Just got back from my mission trip and realizing how blessed we are in the United States compared to Haiti.” Or “just got our new car and man are we so blessed by God.” Or “Finally closed on our new house today. Feeling blessed!” Why is it that we equate material things with the blessings of God? On the surface, the phrase seems harmless. Faithful even. Why wouldn’t I want to give God the glory for everything I have? Isn’t that the right thing to do? Doesn’t God bless those who are faithful to Him? Not that it isn’t God’s sovereign prerogative to bestow earthly financial blessings upon His children but it is not because there is causal relationship between my earthly financial wealth and my obedience to my Lord and Savior.

When we equate the two, we are saying several things. First, we are saying that God is in the behavior modification business. If we do “x”, then God will reward us with “y” from an earthly storehouse. It is similar to the way that we will most likely reward my 14 month old granddaughter here in a year or so from now when she successfully poops in the potty rather than in her pants. God does not work that way. He does not want us to only obey him because we are going to get some kind of reward from it. Second, to say material wealth is an indication of our blessed state from God is just downright offensive to a Christians around the world who get by on wages for a month that we earn in one or two hours at work here in the United States. Does the fact that the average American earns $50k per year mean that we are innately more blessed than some Haitian Christian who works hard to feed his family on the equivalent of $100 per month. Are we more blessed by God than him? He may in fact be more in love with God than you or I but by our measure of blessing we are saying that he is less blessed than you or me. Third, what if I am living like hell and being hypocritical (going to church on Sunday but living unethically and unlike Christ the rest of the week), but yet I have a successful business or a successful career, is my success an indication of approval from God? And finally, if I am suffering and am not being financially blessed, am I hiding some unconfessed sin? That sentiment is an affront to Christians in countries such as North Korea, China, or any predominantly Muslim country. They are often more obedient to the Father’s will and more in love with Jesus Christ than the average American Christian but yet many languish in prison for refusing to renounce their Savior. But yet by the standards of “feeling blessed” because of some financial gain that has happened to us, they by this measure must be doing something wrong. The evidence of God’s blessing is our earthly success, right? We have the same mentality about our nation and it trickles down to us individually. We think that we are in God’s favor as a nation because we have been so richly blessed collectively with a standard of living that far exceeds 95% of the rest of the world. We must being doing something right in God’s eyes, right? Otherwise, we would not be receiving the payback that we are getting in earthly riches compared to the rest of the planet, right? We can allow ourselves to start thinking that as individuals as well.

That’s the thing that I thought of today when I read through Judges 18 for the third of three reads through it today. Here, we see that the Danites were successful in conquering the lush and wealthy town of Laish. The question that you must raise when you read this passage is, though they were successful in conquering the region and town of Laish, does it make it evidence of God’s blessing? Let’s think about that as we read this passage:

18 Now in those days Israel had no king. And the tribe of Dan was trying to find a place where they could settle, for they had not yet moved into the land assigned to them when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the men of Dan chose from their clans five capable warriors from the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol to scout out a land for them to settle in.

When these warriors arrived in the hill country of Ephraim, they came to Micah’s house and spent the night there. 3 While at Micah’s house, they recognized the young Levite’s accent, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here, and what are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” 4 He told them about his agreement with Micah and that he had been hired as Micah’s personal priest.

5 Then they said, “Ask God whether or not our journey will be successful.”

6 “Go in peace,” the priest replied. “For the Lord is watching over your journey.”

7 So the five men went on to the town of Laish, where they noticed the people living carefree lives, like the Sidonians; they were peaceful and secure.[a] The people were also wealthy because their land was very fertile. And they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby.

8 When the men returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their relatives asked them, “What did you find?”

9 The men replied, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. What are you waiting for? Don’t hesitate to go and take possession of it. 10 When you get there, you will find the people living carefree lives. God has given us a spacious and fertile land, lacking in nothing!”

11 So 600 men from the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 They camped at a place west of Kiriath-jearim in Judah, which is called Mahaneh-dan[b] to this day. 13 Then they went on from there into the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah.

14 The five men who had scouted out the land around Laish explained to the others, “These buildings contain a sacred ephod, as well as some household idols, a carved image, and a cast idol. What do you think you should do?” 15 Then the five men turned off the road and went over to Micah’s house, where the young Levite lived, and greeted him kindly. 16 As the 600 armed warriors from the tribe of Dan stood at the entrance of the gate, 17 the five scouts entered the shrine and removed the carved image, the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the cast idol. Meanwhile, the priest was standing at the gate with the 600 armed warriors.

18 When the priest saw the men carrying all the sacred objects out of Micah’s shrine, he said, “What are you doing?”

19 “Be quiet and come with us,” they said. “Be a father and priest to all of us. Isn’t it better to be a priest for an entire tribe and clan of Israel than for the household of just one man?”

20 The young priest was quite happy to go with them, so he took along the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the carved image. 21 They turned and started on their way again, placing their children, livestock, and possessions in front of them.

22 When the people from the tribe of Dan were quite a distance from Micah’s house, the people who lived near Micah came chasing after them. 23 They were shouting as they caught up with them. The men of Dan turned around and said to Micah, “What’s the matter? Why have you called these men together and chased after us like this?”

24 “What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter?’” Micah replied. “You’ve taken away all the gods I have made, and my priest, and I have nothing left!”

25 The men of Dan said, “Watch what you say! There are some short-tempered men around here who might get angry and kill you and your family.” 26 So the men of Dan continued on their way. When Micah saw that there were too many of them for him to attack, he turned around and went home.

27 Then, with Micah’s idols and his priest, the men of Dan came to the town of Laish, whose people were peaceful and secure. They attacked with swords and burned the town to the ground. 28 There was no one to rescue the people, for they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. This happened in the valley near Beth-rehob.

Then the people of the tribe of Dan rebuilt the town and lived there. 29 They renamed the town Dan after their ancestor, Israel’s son, but it had originally been called Laish.

30 Then they set up the carved image, and they appointed Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses,[c] as their priest. This family continued as priests for the tribe of Dan until the Exile. 31 So Micah’s carved image was worshiped by the tribe of Dan as long as the Tabernacle of God remained at Shiloh.

Here, in this passage, we see that just because the Danites successfully defeated Laish doesn’t mean their actions were right. Their idolatry showed that God was not guiding them. Today, many justify their wrong actions by outward signs of success. They think that wealth, popularity, or the lack of suffering is an indication of God’s blessing. However, many stories in the Bible indicate that evil and earthly success go hand in hand. Success does not indicate God’s approval. We should not allow any personal success that we have to become the measuring rod of whether or not we are pleasing God. We should always compare our actions to the commands of Scripture (whether we receive an earthly blessing from it or not) to help determine whether we are doing what is pleasing in God’s sight or not. Regardless of whether there is an earthly blessing or not, we are laying up treasures in heaven when we lovingly obey our Lord’s commands.

I don’t think that it says anywhere in the Bible that there is a direct correlation between our earthly comforts and financial windfalls and obedience to God. There is no direct correlation between earthly success and being a faithful Christ follower. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Blessed are those who receive earthly comforts”, “Blessed are those who own a beach home at Ocean Lakes”, “Blessed are those who have incomes in excess of $100k per year.”, “Blessed are those who have the ability to buy a Lexus”. Quite the opposite is true. The Beatitudes do not promise us earthly blessing. Jesus promised us the kingdom of heaven if we live in a manner consistent with God and not live in a manner by which we measure blessing by earthly standards.

Certainly, God may well give us resources in this life that are far beyond what we deserve or imagine but never should we equate the two – blessing and earthly wealth. If God does give us earthly wealth as Christ followers, it is because He expects us to use our wealth to bless others and use our wealth to be generous in a manner that brings glory to Him not ourselves. With wealth, we have the opportunity not to demonstrate how righteous and holy we are but to use our resources generously to help the less fortunate, the widows and the orphans and so on, and to give Him glory by the eternal things that we invest in with our wealth. We must use our wealth to invest in things of eternal value rather that the temporary trappings of this life that will be gone within a few generations.

So, let’s take a moment to disassociate being blessed financially here on earth as an indication of God’s favor. The Bible clearly demonstrates that mostly the opposite is true. If earthly blessings were the calling card of God, everybody would be Christ followers. However, we are citizens of heaven as Christ followers and our principal idea of blessing should be to please God and trust Him to provide for us here, what we need and not necessarily our wants and earthly desires, on earth but richly bless us in heaven.

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:1-25 (Part 5 of 6)

Love the Lord Your God

 

The prosperity gospel. We can expect only good things when we follow God with all our hearts, right? When we obey God’s Word, success and prosperity will be all we know. If you are suffering, it is because you are not obeying God’s Word in some way, right? It can become so easy to think that.

 

For example, Elena and I are living in a season of blessing right now. We have no children at home. We have successfully paid off all of our debt with the exception of one car (that we had to buy recently, a 2007 gently used Toyota 4-Runner, due to my 1997 Ford F150 deciding to blow its engine). My job at Fujikura America, Inc. provides for us generously so much so that Elena has not HAD to work since January 2010. We are able to be generous to our church and our family. We are truly blessed. We thank God for it. It is not lost on us that this season is a special season right now. We know that it is a season. It is not some permanent thing that we are entitled to.

 

Elena and I, both, before we met have known the struggles of tight finances. I personally know of poor decisions that led to poor credit ratings. I personally know of having such a bad credit score that you give up on getting anything on credit. I personally know of having high interest, secondary market loans because of my credit score. I personally know of cringing every time the phone rang with a number not already identified in contacts because it was most likely a bill collector. I personally know of going through divorces and splitting up property, signing away property, and how a divorce can drain your finances. I personally know of having that mindset that I don’t care if unsecured creditors don’t get paid. As long as they don’t take my car and my ability to take vacations, I’m good. I remember that mentality. I would not return there for anything. Elena and I have worked hard to get our, and particularly my, financial situation under control. It involved choices of taking a vacation or paying off old debts. It involved self-control rather than self-indulgence.

 

Having said all that, we are tithers and more now. We live in a season where we can give generously to our church. It is easy for me to fall into the trap that one thing leads to the other like it is some investment/payback scenario. It is easy to think that because I am being generous in tithing that it leads to financial and other blessings that I live in at the moment. I could fall prey to the prosperity gospel syndrome rather easily. It is easy to think that when you are in a season of blessing. That one thing has to do with the other is an easy trap to fall into even when you know the truth of the Bible. It is easy to think that our obedience should be rewarded in ways that are tangibly human in nature. It is easy to believe that worldly rewards and pleasures are the results of our obedience to the Lord.

 

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning when reading through Deuteronomy 6:1-25 another time. This morning, I thought about this concept of obedience and blessing being connected in our minds. Today, in this passage, I focused on vv. 24-25:

 

6 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

 

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

 

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

 

13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.

 

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

 

Here, in vv. 24-25, we see that obedience and blessing are connected. It says that. Does the phrase, “so He can continue to bless us and preserve our lives” mean that we can expect only good things and no suffering when we obey God? What is promised here is a right relationship with God for all those who love Him with all their hearts. It speaks of a good relationship with God and the ultimate benefit of having a close relationship with Him. It is not blanket protection against poverty, adversity, or suffering. When God speaks of the blessings that come from obedience is understanding the right order of things between us and Him. When God speaks of blessings that come from obedience, He is speaking of the inner joy that comes to you in knowing that we will not be led astray by the Creator of All Things. It is the joy of knowing that God’s commands are intended to keep us from harm and to position us for eternity with Him. When God speaks of blessings that come from obedience, He speaks of the love that we have for God that makes us desire to do what He says not out of obligation but by nature of wanting to please Him. The blessings of obedience are the changed heart and changed mind.

 

A person that knows He is blessed by God is one who knows we are mere travelers here on earth and that we have the greatest of all places to call home – in heaven praising our Savior all the day long. A person who knows He is blessed by God lives a life of joy not by earthly standards but by eternal ones, where we know what we deserve (hell) and how we avoided it (Jesus Christ). We are joyful and blessed through that not by how much money we accrue after being obedient for a while.

 

We are not guaranteed a rose garden when we are obedient to the Lord. We may actually end up worse off by earthly standards if we are obedient to the Lord. We may suffer because of our obedience. We may even die because of obedience to God. The blessings of obedience are eternally oriented and not that God is going to put cash in your account just because you are obedient. If you are expecting earthly wealth as a direct result of trying to be obedient to the Lord, then, we have become misguided.

 

I think the thing that Elena and I have learned over the past decade together is that the true blessings of obedience to the Lord, particularly financially, come in the form of a changed mindset. We view the world through new lenses now. We see that our money belongs to God. He gives me the talents that I have to go out and earn the money that I earn. We then see it as our obedient responsibility to live on 90% or less of what I earn so that we can be obedient to the Lord – not because we want some payback, but rather because we desire to be obedient to the trusted, true, eternal Word of God. We have learned to live a more simple life. We have learned to be content not chasing after things and toys. We have learned that new and improved is not always better. We don’t have to have the newest toys are cars. There is wondrous contentment that comes from getting off the American Dream merry-go-round. That’s the blessing is the changed mindset away from things and onto pleasing God. There is contentment that comes from lovingly obeying Him. That’s the blessing not how much God has blessed us in our bank account.

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 20:17-19
Jesus Predicts His Death the Third Time

Everything goes in cycles. Especially in college football. I remember when I was between the ages of 15 and 29, from 1977 to 1991, my favorite college football team was one of the most consistently winning football programs in the country. Those were the Charley Pell/Danny Ford years of Clemson football. Only four other programs won more games during that period of time than the Clemson Tigers. They would win the national championship in 1981. After the national championship year, they only lost more than 2 games per season twice. They were just shy of being a national title contender each of those years because they would lose a game here and there because Danny Ford refused to fully invest in a passing game. His teams were marked by rugged ground games and fierce defenses. Those defenses were some of the best to ever play at Clemson. During that time period, I was a young man and there was an expectation every year that Clemson would be a top 15 team and if they got the right breaks would finish in the top 5. They were that consistent. It was glorious time. We, who were young Tiger fans, thought this ride would never end. We thought success would always be with the program. However, that is never true. The run ended with some poor coaching hires and coaching hires that flirted us with the glory years of old but would never get us over the hump. It was not until the 2010 season that Clemson began its return to glory. There were 20 years of mediocrity that we dealt with as Clemson fans. We were beginning to think until 2010 that Clemson was locked in mediocrity. We had returned to the dark ages of 1960-1976, a time that I remember little of. That is what makes this current run so sweet to me. We were a few special teams mistakes of winning the national championship this past season and it was the fifth season in a row that my dear Tigers have won at least 10 games. This year we finished 14-1 – not too shabby. Even the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide who has won 4 national championships in the last 7 seasons will cycle. Bama fans remember the Curry years and the Shula years. It is just the nature of things that success in college football cannot be sustained forever. Just ask the Miami Hurricanes. They were one of those four teams that won more games than Clemson in the 77-91 seasons but their run came to an end as well. Since the early 90’s, the mighty Canes of the 80’s and early 90’s were no more (with a brief run in the early part of this century).

I would imagine that the disciples felt the same way about their run with Jesus over those magical three years of His earthly ministry. If Jesus had sold merchandise back in those days, His disciples would have been proudly wearing their Jesus jerseys as they were part of this up and coming program of Jesus University. It was the new thing. It was the wow thing. They were part of the new wave. Yeah, they would have been wearing their jerseys. Jesus was rising up in the polls and was about to take on the established programs and take them down, Pharisees University and Sadducees University. They were the established teams and Jesus’ team was the new team. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the old programs that relied on running games and defense and the Jesus’ team was the hurry-up, no huddle team that was wowing the crowds. I make light of it here but you get the idea. Jesus’ style was something the Israelites had never seen before. Jesus was performing miracles. He was telling people that God loved them no matter what their past may have been. He was forgiving people of their sins. He was saying that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were whited burial caves that were beautiful on the outside but all ugly, smelly, and dead on the inside. He said it was the heart that matters and not the motions that you go through. He said eternal life was determined by how much you loved and obeyed God and not some punchlist of religious do’s and don’t’s. He was drawing large crowds with His message of God’s redemption and God’s desire for our obedience in our hearts. His message of redemption was radical and new. He was the rising star in Judaism. His message was new and fresh. Their message was of judgment and permanent banishment if you did not perform. It was old and tired. The disciples must have been enjoying the ride. In the next passage, you will see them jockeying for position within their perception of Jesus’ new world order.

Here though, Jesus is warning them that what they perceive as this popularity ride will soon come to an end because Jesus has a higher purpose to achieve than to be the #1 ranked religious leader. He tells them plainly for a third time in Matthew 20:17-19 that His trip to Jerusalem will end in His death:
17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Jesus clearly tells them that this seemingly popular ride that they are on is not the purpose. They seem to be perceiving in human standards that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to claim his throne like a national champion in football and that He was going to knock of the equivalent of Alabama in doing so. He was going to take down the old order and establish a new one. In context of the next passage, you know that’s what these guys are thinking as the move along toward Jerusalem with the throngs of people that were headed there for Passover. I bet they were seeing Jerusalem during Passover as it was going to be the crowning achievement of their season with Jesus. With the crowds there, Jesus would most assuredly take on their perception of the Messiah that they desired. The one who would vanquish the old order of the religious establishment and then take on the Romans and run them out. They wanted that. They wanted to be a part of that. Jesus knows this is in their hearts. That’s why He takes them aside and reminds them for a THIRD time that He will be killed in Jerusalem. He reminds them that this is not a popularity ride. If that is what they were thinking, He’s telling them that the popularity ride is about to come to an end. The message is clear. But do they get it? They will if they don’t already. Being part of the popular new team in town is all well and good while the ride lasts but will you be there when the ride ends?

It was never to be about popularity. Jesus came to Jerusalem to fulfill a specific purpose. It was not to be popular. He came to die as a sacrifice for our sins. He came to not to commit suicide in some rebel cause. He came to be a sacrificial Lamb for the atonement of our sins. No one else could do that. He lived the only sinless life that has ever been lived. The cross was the mechanism of the day for God in the flesh to be the atoning sacrifice to end all atoning sacrifices. He was perfect and no more sacrifices were to be needed. He came to be put on the cross for our eternal health. He was investing in our eternal future. He was not here to be the most popular religious figure. He had a reason. He was here to fulfill God’s redemptive promise that He made in the Garden of Eden. It was to be fulfilled. The disciples were not opened to this until His resurrection. Then they understood it was not about a popularity ride. Then and only then could they appreciate the years that they spent with Jesus.

Are you like that with Jesus? Are you with him for the popularity ride? Are you with Jesus because it seems to suit your desire to be a championship team? Jesus is here to tell you that if that is the Jesus you desire then He is not that. Jesus is not here to meet your ego needs. Jesus is not here for your political advantage. Jesus is not here for you to be seen at His side. He is here for a specific purpose. He is here to die for your sins. He is here for you to make Him your Lord and Savior. He is here to be your rock and your salvation whether you are on top of the mountain like a successful football program or whether you are in the valley mired in mediocrity and/or suffering wondering when it will all end. Jesus came not to be your self-help guru. He came not to make you wealthy and successful. If that is the Jesus you want, He is not that. He came to be your Lord and Savior. He came not for popularity. He came to fulfill a specific purpose – to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for your sins so that you can be reconciled to God and live eternally with Him in heaven. You may achieve wealth and fame as byproducts of your relationship with Jesus but they are just byproducts of a life lived in honor and obedience. He did not promise us popularity. He did not promise an unending string of championship seasons. He came to be your Lord in championship seasons and losing seasons. He came to be your Lord in good times and bad. He came to be your Lord no matter what. He came not to give us success but to give us eternal life. Amen and amen.

Matthew 7:24-29
The Wise and Foolish Builders

We hear a lot of talk these days about the prosperity gospel or “gospel lite” churches. These are the churches where you are taught that good times are a product of your mindset. These are motivational speaker churches. They teach you that if you think Jesus thoughts that your life will be better and that your prosperity is a measure of God’s love. These gospel lite churches are similar to Bud Lite which is low calorie version of regular Budweiser beer. It looks like the same beer but it does not have all the content of a regular beer. Gospel lite churches always focus on the good time gospel and they teach their people that our faith is an emotion only thing. We must have “that feeling” all the time. That Jesus high is what we want. That feel good feeling of being in the zone. If you don’t have that feeling, you gotta go back to a gospel lite church and try to rekindle that feeling. Just like a drug addict’s perfect high gets harder and harder to find, we switch churches when we no longer get the high we need at our current gospel lite church. When the storms of life come, the gospel lite church’s theology unravels and people fall away. In the gospel lite church, the good times are an indication of our blessing from God. Good times are God’s way of letting us know that we are being good. I guess in a gospel lite church, we would have to avoid a passage like the one that concludes the Sermon on the Mount.

We also hear people in today’s world that have refashioned the values that God gave us in His Word and called it out of step with human progress. We are now saying that we are our own judges of what is right and wrong. We define it, not God. Anyone who believes the old values of the Bible is out of step with our modern enlightenment. These, too, are the people to whom Jesus speaks in this passage.

Jesus says, in Matthew 7:24-29,

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Then Matthew concludes the passage by saying “28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Notice that Jesus does not say that if the storms come. The imagery used is that a storm is already going on. Jesus is that if we live according to His Word, we will have a solid foundation for life. If we have a firm foundation in Him, we can survive the storms of life. The storms are coming and good time theology is not going to get you through it. Good time theology doesn’t even require real salvation. All you have to do is think happy thoughts and get your Jesus fix on Sunday. Jesus tells us that we will be persecuted for His name. That’s where the good time theology checks out. Hard times for a believer in good time theology? But I have got the sticker on the back of my car? I buy all the latest self-help books from the coolest Christian motivational writers! I go to a cool church! I have the appropriate amount of disdain for all the old-school churches! I faithfully hang out with all my peeps at my cool church! I know all the buzz words! I buy all my church’s merchandise! Hard times, I don’t deserve that! I am doing all the right stuff! But do you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ? A real relationship with Jesus Christ is going to involve going against the tide of public opinion. A real relationship with Jesus Christ is going to involve the Holy Spirit convicting you of your sins which can be a painful experience. All of these things are going to bring internal and external conflict. When we read God’s Word, not just some cool Christian authors book that occasionally quotes Scripture to support his motivational point, when we really read the Bible, it is going to convict us through the Holy Spirit of changes we need to make in our lives. It is going to convict us of our selfishness and push us toward serving our fellow man so that God is glorified. It is going to convict me of sacrifices that I need to make, gods that I need to remove from my life. And that’s just the internal war that is waged within us after salvation. Externally, the Holy Spirit is going to push us to stand up for what is right, according to God’s Word, even when it is not popular. The Holy Spirit will convict us that we can live on less and give more away. We may even face hard times based on stupid decisions of our current life and of our past. How does the gospel of good times stand up against that? It does not. We must have Jesus’ solid rock foundation. In Him, we can survive the storms of life. In Him, we know that all of this temporal life is simply temporary. We do not put our faith in the things of this world. We put our faith in our eternal home in Jesus. When we base our theology on the blessings of this life, we will be building on sand.

At the same time, in society, we see that Biblical values are being shunned as old-fashioned and unenlightened. Today, we see shifting sands of morality. What was once considered abhorrent morally is now glorified and acceptable. This is the shifting sand of mankind. We determine our own morality now and the line is ever-changing as we push the line toward behaviors we want to try. My morality is not your morality. As long as I am not hurting you personally, who are you to tell me how to live my life? Soon there will be no morality based on this premise. We are a society now about doing what feels good not caring whether it is right or not. We determine what is right and it changes. We are like a kid who is left alone with a candy jar and is gorging himself into sickness. When we get rid of God, ignore Him, we are the kid in the candy jar. We are gorging ourselves on what makes us feel good. Only God’s Word is timeless. It never shifts with the times. His ways are eternal. He does not waver. Everything else is shifting sand. Everything else matters not in eternity. Eternal things are the things that matter. God’s Word is eternal and we should be paying attention to it.

So, you can see here, if you are a true Christ follower, this is the world in which you live. Are you not going to be in conflict with it? The storms are going to come. We are going to be in conflict with worldly values. If we believe that Jesus is just a good feeling that we seek then we are in for a surprise. Jesus is foundational change in our lives. He changes us through the Holy Spirit. In so doing, we will be brought in conflict with the world. The rains will come. Choices will have to be made. You may even suffer for having stood with Jesus. We may even suffer because of mistakes we make. We may suffer for no apparent reason other than we live in a fallen world. We may suffer cause other people are looking out for themselves and not us. We will suffer. Good time, good feeling theology will not carry you. Only the solid rock foundation of God’s Word, all of it – even the parts that are convicting and painful. Only the solid rock foundation of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Only the solid rock foundation of true salvation. When we have this foundation, it does not matter what the world brings. We have the hope, the joy, and the perseverance to make it because we are after our eternal home. It is our solid rock. All other ground is sinking sand.