Posted in Christian Life & Theology, Stuff No One Talks About

I Wish the Prosperity Gospel was Real

I wish the Prosperity Gospel was real. I really do. For those who do not know what that is, it is a false theology/belief system within Christian doctrine that says “God wants—and even promises! —health, wealth, happiness, and whatever my heart desires.” Of course, the ends to the means is on the part of the Christian to “have enough faith” to essentially change God’s mind or move His hand. Basically, in this version of Christianity, God is a genie, just existing to grant our wishes–I mean, reward us with blessings for our strong faith.

Wouldn’t that be nice? To just declare healing for a physical or mental ailment with just a small twist of Isaiah 53:5? Or to demand—because let’s be real, that’s what we’re doing—financial prosperity (i.e good jobs) because “God supplies all my needs” while having a selective memory and choosing to forget that “if a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat” (2 Thes. 3:10)? In a world where instant gratification would be the perfect utopia, it makes sense why we long to prostitute the God who makes demands of us.

If the Prosperity Gospel was real, I think we would be worse off because of it. I can’t speak for all Christians, so I’ll speak for me. I know I’d probably be worse off.

I wouldn’t have to struggle with trusting God to provide, or even doubt His goodness because I would know that He would want me to be happy, that that would be His primary concern, and that He would do anything and everything He could to make my happiness a reality. I wouldn’t have to contend with C-PTSD or depression or anxiety because His flesh was ripped and shred 2,000+ years ago; ergo, I could just claim my healing and instantly be made whole, just like the Scripture says (if you just twist it a little, it says that)! However, on the flipside, if something went awry—if something I prayed for didn’t come to pass—then I would be the guilty party for not having enough faith that God would do what I had petitioned Him to do.

In a world where instant gratification would be the perfect utopia, it makes sense why we long to prostitute the God who makes demands of us.

I think, for me, I want the Prosperity Gospel to be true because, if it were, then I am absolved from any real responsibility in my relationship with God. If this doctrine were true, I could, in essence, pimp God out and make Him submit to me. Per the belief system, if all He wants is my happiness, I don’t really have to adhere to His standards or expectations of living holy. And in that, I’d be no different than an agnostic or atheist.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

If You Were a REAL Christian, You Wouldn’t Doubt (Part 2): Is There a Reason to Doubt God, Ever?

On a Facebook thread I’m currently following concerning the need for good apologetics, as nonexistent apologetics and intellectual doubts are contributing to many leaving the Christian faith, someone made this comment:

No one leaves the faith for intellectual reasons. Those who left were never of us 1 John 2:19.

I am upset, but more so deeply heartbroken by this person’s statement, as it demonstrates both his ignorance and a lack of grace.

Review of the Past Year

I feel like I can speak on these things with some authority, as I’ve been there before.

This time last year, I had renounced the Christian faith and identified as a deconvert who attended church only because of familial obligations and fear of repercussions. I had both emotional and intellectual reasons for leaving the faith. I spoke honestly with more Christians during that time than I had my entire life as a believer.

I had people respond to my stance as the gentleman above did, including one brute who told me that because of my doubt, I never knew God and needed to repent. I had good Christian friends who, once they learned of my disbelief, decided they’d rather throw away our friendship than be associated with an unbeliever. Yet, I had other Christian friends who patiently, and with much grace, loved me right where I was and answered any and every question I could think of. (Shout out to Pastor Doug for his patience, wit, and kindness! And to Paul C, Michael P, and Timothy M also, for answering both my intellectual and emotional doubts!) They loved me back to the Gospel and I am grateful for their presence in my life.

Addressing the Naysayers

Let me get this out of the way first: I am not encouraging senseless doubt of God simply for the sake of doubting. There is a difference between that kind of doubt and doubting with a purpose.

Contrary to popular belief, there are intellectual reasons for doubting the nature, character, and motive of God (e.g. The Problem of Evil). Granted, none of those reasons are ultimately good or sustainable for continued disbelief in and of God, but they do exist.

1 Peter 3:15 instructs us to “honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (HCSB).” Note that the Scripture doesn’t specify “reason.” Not a “only if I think this is a legitimate, valid concern” reason or a “this has to line up with my interpretation and view of Scripture before I answer” reason. No, you and I are to give a defense if asked for any reason for our hope in Christ.

A Final Word of Advice

Do not push away or give easy, Christianese pet answers to the kid in your church wondering why he should believe the Bible as opposed to the Qur’an or Book or Mormon. Do not scoff at the college sophomore and tell her she just “needs to have more faith” that God will “work everything out for her good” when she wonders where God is after life throat-punches her repeatedly. Give them a reason for your hope without invalidating their questions and experiences, without being an intellectual snob, and do so in and with the love of Christ.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

For Intellectual Christians who Struggle with Accepting the Grace and Love of God

I see you. I understand your plight and I know that the struggle is, like, so real. It’s a challenge sometimes to accept that a holy, righteous God could love you in spite of all of your wrongdoings and mishaps. I, too, have wrestled with countless questions and doubts concerning the certainty of my salvation and faith, whether or not God really is who He reveals Himself to be in the ancient Script, and most recently, how to love God with my heart. That last one has kept me up for most nights than I care to admit.

The ancient Script instructs us in Luke chapter 10 and verse 27 to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Perhaps it is the result of being naturally inquisitive or having the privilege of attending a Christian university for a short time after high school, where I was introduced to Christian apologetics, church history, and Biblical hermeneutics. Maybe it’s a combination of those and other factors that make the “love… with all your heart” part of that commandment difficult at times. Or it could be something else entirely. I think being inquisitive is both a blessing and a curse. I had a tendency to approach God like, “I need to know everything about you before I give you my heart.” I always imagine Him chuckling in response and saying something like “You can’t know everything about Me, but I know everything about you, so give Me your heart. I’ll keep it safe.” It wasn’t always like this though. Loving God with my heart was easier, once upon a time.

My upbringing was like that of a typical fundamental Christian environment, only with a single parent who also happened to be a workaholic and dedicated to church ministry. I say that not to condemn, but to state the facts. My childhood faith was molded from all the great essentials: church attendance every time the doors opened, Veggie Tales (Barbara Manatee was my jam!), Gospel music, and Bible studies in my mother’s bedroom that usually, if memory serves me correctly, started and ended with prayer.

I miss those days. They hinged on blind faith with the assurance that anything I wanted to know about God could be found in the Bible. It was never explicitly stated, but I inherently knew that I wasn’t allowed to ask questions regarding the nature of God or the Bible’s inerrancy, lest I wanted to be accused by the church elders for my lack of faith.

These days, my childhood faith isn’t sufficient for the arguments, circumstances, and plethora of ideologies I face in adulthood. People who mean well misquote Scripture to blend in with their own agendas, God remains a mystery, and I struggle to let go of my sin and vices. I self-flagellate to the point of self-hatred, with my theological fear in the forefront of my mind, and rely on my intellect more often than I should to save me because it’s easier for me to deal with facts than emotions.

As it currently stands, my biggest theological fear is John 5:39-40 which states, “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. And you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” Looking back on things now, I realize that that particular fear did not enter my heart and mind until after I returned home from my Christian university. When you have homework assignments like “Read all of Galatians 3 and find 40 instances of the word “faith” as it pertains to the original Greek according to Strong’s Concordance,” the temptation to view the Bible not as the word of God, but as a mere textbook that you hope has the right answers within its pages is suddenly real and strong. You may even start viewing God not as “Lord” or even “friend” but as something to be figured out, some puzzle that needs to be solved. When you’ve been accustomed to doing things a certain way (like using Scripture as a legitimate source for academic papers!) it is hard to reposition yourself to change.

Prime example: the first Sunday morning I attended my now-former home church, it was like culture shock. I was torn between what I had learned and what I had been taught to do prior to college. I started to shun all emotionalism as the intellectual side increased. Back then, I was an intellectual snob (my parents can attest to this). I wasn’t trying to be—I just wanted to share what I had learned and maybe find some like-minded people to converse and grow with—but I came across as a conceited know-it-all. Over the years, I would hope that by connecting with various brothers and sisters in the faith, I’ve become less prideful and pretentious, and instead, grown in humility and grace.

If any of this sounds familiar, know that you are not alone in your struggle with merging both your heart and mind to God. There seems to be a great divide between the heart and mind, at least in our Western culture. My advice is to you and myself is this: Give yourself grace and be patient. This process is a marathon, not a sprint. I find that being still, in both mind and body, helps me focus on God as God and helps me connect with him as a daughter, not just an intellectual being. Be still and know that He is God. He awaits you.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

The Hope of the Messiah in the Midst of Pharisees

When I was washing my cup out late last week, I washed the outside first and then the inside. I usually don’t do that. I usually wash it the other way around. I didn’t think anything of it until Holy Spirit reminded me of this verse:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may be clean also.” (Matthew 23:25-26)

The phrase “the hope of the Messiah” kept echoing in my head because of a comment I made on Steven Colborne’s page, in which I encouraged him to “spread the hope of the Messiah.” (Steven is an awesome Christian writer, go check him out!) I keep thinking about “the hope of the Messiah” in relation to the dirty cup analogy and wonder if the two could ever coincide. When I started to look at Scripture, particularly at Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees, for the probably the first time in my life, I felt something other than disdain for them: pity. And I can’t help but wonder: Can the hope of the Messiah reach a Pharisee?

No doubt, the Pharisees (and Sadducees) were deserving of the judgement of Jesus, as they are described in the Scriptures as “vipers and snakes” and, if this were fiction, they’d be the obvious antagonists in our hero’s story. They piled on endless laws in addition to the law of Moses, which kept people from experiencing God the way He was meant to be experienced—wholeheartedly. They said one thing but did another. Do you know anyone like that? Are you like that?

***

Let me bring this a little closer to home: Do you or someone you know tithe in the church but refuse to give mercy to those who need it? Do you gossip about others and then get upset when you hear, through the grapevine, that someone has said untrue things about you? Do you lead in ministry and then come home and try to play God’s role as ultimate authority with your spouse and/or children? Do you pray for forgiveness for your own sins, while withholding forgiveness yourself? Do you pray long, elegant, and loud prayers that make people remark in either awe or envy of your “high spiritual standing/closeness to God” while you condemn those who sin differently than you? Have you ever thought, “I know I sin but at least I’m not as bad that person. He’s way more sinful!”? Do you look down on those who are less intelligent than you are regarding Biblical and spiritual things? Does any of this sound familiar?

I’m not trying to condemn or harp on you, I promise. I can’t do that because I’m guilty of at least two of those things. I just want you to look in the mirror. We all are like the unwashed, dirty cups Jesus accused the Pharisees of being. We all have things we would rather not bring to the surface, so we hide them and judge others in a vain attempt at appearing holy or saving face in front of people.

And yet, there may be hope.

Though many of the Pharisees despised Jesus and sought to kill him, there were some who believed in secret, yet did not confess their belief because they were afraid of the Jews and losing their standing with them and other religious leaders. We know from the Scriptures that Nicodemus, a Pharisee and teacher of the law, came to Jesus at night, according to John 3:1-2 which states:

There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him” (HCSB).

Nicodemus recognized, even just for a second, that there was something different about this outlandish Jew from Nazareth.

And then there’s the greatest Pharisee of all: Paul.

You know Paul, right? Formerly Saul of Tarsus, the unforgettable poster boy for the Sanhedrin, and—oh, yeah!—killer of Christians. God blind sighted him on his way to Damascus and his life was forever changed (after regaining his sight three days after). God used Paul, who could easily be called the greatest assassin of the Biblical era, to not only give the Gospel to the Gentiles and write almost half of the New Testament, but to also teach the other Pharisees and religious leaders that there is no need for 600 additional man-made rules to complement the Gospel of the Messiah. So, take heed. There is hope yet for the Pharisee if they truly encounter Jesus and take His words to heart.