No words of explanation are needed. Just listen to this young theologian speak her heart out and let’s ponder on what she believes and the way she articulates her faith. May God bless her abundantly. May you and I have a faith like hers. Amen.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18: 1-4 NASB)
My challenge to the prosperity Gospel preachers who promise “Your Best Life Now” is simple. They should go and live in the Middle East or in Asia for a year or so. As well, they should try convincing the local believers, through a series of messages from the Bible, that affliction and persecution could not be a part of the life of a follower of Christ. How do you talk to a mother whose young sons have been brutally beheaded by terrorists? How and what do you say to the parents of young girls who have been abducted to serve as sex slaves of Jihadists? How do you share your power of positive thinking to a group of Christians whose ancestral villages have been looted and burnt? How do you console young orphans whose parents were brutally massacred in front of their eyes?
I am confident that the worldview and theology of the preachers of prosperity gospel will be altered in just a few days. Instead of preaching what they have been over the years, the suffering believers would teach them at least the following two things:
1. Persecution is a given; it is expected and even anticipated in the life of a follower of Christ.
For example, the local believers would point out to these preachers a few forgotten verses of the Bible, such as the following:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15: 18-20).
“…In fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” (John 16: 2).
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (I Peter 2: 21).
2. God makes persecution serve His kingdom.
These believers outside the western world continue to experience persecution in everyday life. They would show the preachers of prosperity gospel that in the past God did make persecution serve the Great Commission and he continues to do so today:
“That day [of the Stephen’s martyrdom) a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word” (Acts 8: 1-4.)
Michael Green puts it succinctly when he describes this phenomenon of believers’ evangelism saying, they went about “gossiping the gospel.” God used the persecution to move his people into the mission he gave them for the world:
“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews” (Acts 11: 19).
In Acts 8: 1, Luke mentions that in Antioch many of these scattered believers also shared the gospel with Greeks also. Thus, persecution led to fulfilling the Great Commission by sending the people of God to not just to Jerusalem and Judea, but also to Samaria and beyond to the Gentiles.
Are you personally involved in sharing the gospel with others? Is your church readily engaged in evangelism and witnessing? Or is the mission only confined to writing a check for an unknown missionary somewhere in the “third world”?
I often come across people citing a famous best seller, “Your Best Life Now,” penned by a very popular preacher in the United States. This is not the only book of this kind available to those who are looking for “positive thinking” or “prosperity gospel” literature. However, it amazes me to see how easily Christians could be led astray from the biblical truth. We often neglect the fact that anything that is positive, uplifting, and encouraging does not necessarily have to be true and biblical. Here are a few samples from “Your Best Life Now”:
“Don’t just accept whatever comes your way in life. You were born to win; you were born for greatness; you were created to be a champion in life.”
“It’s our faith that activates the power of God.”
“God wants you to have a good life, a life filled with love, joy, peace, and fulfillment. That doesn’t mean it will always be easy, but it does mean that it will always be good.”
Now, I submit that all of this looks good from the outside until you start comparing it with what the Bible teaches. Jesus Christ never promised that if you followed Him everything will be well with you. Neither did He promise that He will make everything lovely and painless and that you will have the best of your life here on earth. If you finish reading the book mentioned above, you will be certain to come out convinced that suffering, pain, sickness, financial difficulties, and persecution are not at all part of the life of a follower of Christ. However, this is not what the Bible teaches. To find the truth, one only needs to look closely in the Scriptures instead of blindly following false teachers.
For example, in the gospel of Luke (Chapter 21), Jesus’ disciples drew his attention to the magnificent buildings of the Temple in Jerusalem. This gave Jesus an opportunity to teach them the real challenges of life as his follower in this world. The disciples were, of course, interested in knowing when the end will come, instead Jesus directs their attention to what they might have to face in their life before the end comes. Jesus Christ not only plainly stated that disciples will have to face much suffering, pain, and persecution; but he also warned them against false teachers who might deceive them:
“5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life” (Luke 21: 5-19)
In the midst of problems, agony, sickness, and persecution, Jesus’ clear message to his followers is to stand firm in their faith. No, not because it is “our faith that activates the power of God;” rather, it is in the very nature of a loving God. Despite our lack of faith, God uses His unlimited power to protect us and bring us out victorious from our sufferings and to, ultimately, give us our best life that is yet to come in eternity. It is for this reason, Jesus said:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 1: 1- 4).
May we be faithful in heeding the Scriptural teachings and in following what Jesus teaches us in the midst of a life full of suffering, sickness, pain, and death. Amen.
The horrifying news of a terrorist organization recently beheading 21 young Coptic Egyptian Christians was heartrending. However, this is not the first time Christians have been killed for their faith. Persecution has been a part and parcel of Christian faith from its inception. The problem is not persecution, because Jesus Christ clearly stated: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16: 33). Instead, the real problem is a Christian faith without knowledge of persecution or that perceives little inconveniences as persecution. Many of us would identify ourselves as Christians without the blink of an eye. But few would take the time to pause and think what it actually means to be identified as a Christian. The season of Lent provides us with such an opportunity to hit the pause button on our busy schedules and take time to reflect on our faith.
In the first three centuries of Christian faith, when the church was persecuted daily by kings and governments, one would not venture out to declare him/herself a Christian unless it came out of deep-rooted inward conviction and unwavering commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. When it was not fashionable to call oneself a Christian, if someone dared to declare one to be a Christian he/she knew that it involved the persecution; the burning in fire, the burning as torches in the night tied to posts and pillars, the hanging on the cross, and being thrown in the boiling oil. It involved being banished from their society, thrown in prisons, left to die in dungeons, and being offered as food to hungry animals. To identify as a Christian meant to be ready to not just be ridiculed and frowned upon by people and governments; but it meant to be ready to sacrifice not only one’s property, but family, dear ones, and his/her own life for the sake of one’s faith. However, what the persecution ultimately did for the church was to purify it. The fires of suffering and martyrdom refined the church of dross and made it so strong that it not only survived but has thrived over the centuries.
Therefore, in the wake of growing worldliness and corruption in the church, let’s make use of Lent to pause and ponder on what it means to be a Christian today. What is our inner conviction? Who are we committed to and for what? Are we ready to face opposition to the practice and propagation of our faith in Christ? How will we respond if someone takes away our little conveniences such as a parking spot closer to the door or a familiar cushioned seat in the church? Will we leave a church just because we can find a better “deal” for our children at the new church down the lane? Will we stop financially supporting a church just because the pastor preached the truth instead of trying to be politically correct? Will we take the time to fast and on these issues? Will we take time off to go back to the Scriptures because we truly believe that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man [and woman] of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17). And as we do this during Lent, let us hope and pray that God will deliver you and me from lukewarmness, loss of devotion, loss of zeal for the Lord, and prepare us to be truly Christian.